CFOs Can Play An Apostle Role In The Digital Age

by Sohini Bagchi    Jun 09, 2017


Indian companies have expressed a positive sentiment towards increasing spending and investment this year, despite several challenges. As per findings of the American Express Global Business & Spending Outlook 2017, more than half of senior finance executives of Indian companies agree with the Make in India initiative, the government’s focus has been to enhance ease of doing business, manufacture products locally, and ensure 100% foreign direct investment pan-industry.

Moreover, with the rise of globalisation and better foreign trade relationships, India is soon expected to become one of the leading players in the global economy. Witnessing the business environment become favourable both domestically and internationally, companies are confident to invest in new technologies, enter new business markets, increase exports, make strategic acquisitions and partnerships, to spur business growth. In an exclusive interaction with CXOToday, Saru Kaushal, Vice President and General Manager, Global Corporate Payments, American Express discusses the spending priorities of companies this year and highlights the changing role of CFOs in the digital economy.

CXOToday: According to the survey companies are looking to moderately increase their spending and investment? How can companies ensure more growth with moderate investment?

Saru Kaushal: Indian businesses are optimistic about increasing its business spending and investments this year, but in parallel wants to moderately but efficiently spend on verticals across HR, technology, finance, and customer service. This is to support top and bottom line growth while improving profitability. Companies are prioritising a fair amount of their budget on marketing, mobile apps, social media, and other new age technologies. The role of a CFO has become crucial, as he or she is responsible for the company’s growth while also ensuring controlled investment.

CXOToday: The government has been focussing a lot on digitisation through its initiative like Digital India. How can companies ensure digitisation in financing? As CFO or head of finance, what would you advise CEOs to stay afloat in the digital world?

Saru Kaushal: With the government’s campaign to promote digitisation, companies are realising the importance of establishing digitised processes in business functioning. Strategies like installing biometrics and digitising record systems, are helping companies increase productivity, save time, and enable flexibility for employees to work remotely.

The first and by far the most important move is for companies to establish a formal digital financing system. This helps organisations control their budget, keep tab on overspending, map expense trends, and accordingly take strategic decisions to optimise growth. Companies are investing in automating finance functions, which are directly monitored by finance and compliance heads. This avoids any scope of fraud, while also eliminating the hassle of seeking claims and approvals from various departments.

For example, we at American Express help companies digitize day-to-day financing with Buyer Initiated Payments, an automated virtual card payment solution which extends credit line to a company along with additional benefit of an extended payment term. To control and manage travel and entertainment expenses, American Express also offers Business Travel Accounts and has tied up with ‘Uber for Business’.

CXOToday:  Do you think the role of a CFO is changing today with growing industry for CFOs to become more participative in the more strategic decision making of the company?

Saru Kaushal: The dynamic business environment is influencing the role of CFOs in organisations, which is not just limited to accounts and finances, but has evolved to become a ‘business enabler’. In about more than half of corporates in India, the most senior finance officer is ultimately wielding more influence over strategic decision-making, than the company’s other executives. In that sense, he or she can play an Apostle role in the organization.

CFOs have begun to support their organisation’s development and strategic goals, taking the lead in developing and defining the overall strategy of the organisation to increase top-line growth. Today CFOs are working collaboratively on the important decision-making of strategic alliances, mergers and acquisitions, while also focussing on adopting innovative techniques and solutions to manage expenditures efficiently.

CXOToday: How is increase in exports an importance business growth factor for companies?

Saru Kaushal: With India building better trade relationships with leading world economies, Indian companies see the opportunity in exporting to international markets. Indian SMEs and manufacturers are becoming optimistic and ready to face global competition. This trend enables companies to create their brand visibility in the global market, however, makes it even more important to invest in high quality standards to match foreign competitors.

CXOToday: Indian companies are heavily investing in building better customer care service. How can CFOs play a major role in this revolution?

Saru Kaushal: About 84% of companies in India have expressed the will to invest in customer service in the interest of long term business growth and the company’s reputation. Over the past two years, pressure on companies to compete among the quality of customer service has increased. Even customers in India are seen increasingly spending more on good service experience, and have expressed their willingness to spend an average of 21% more on brands that provide better service.

Companies are instilling a culture of customer service across business verticals. Thus CFOs are ready to invest in customer service staff acquisition, customer service training modules, CRM technology systems such as IVR, text message, and mobile apps. Many companies are issuing mobile devices and laptops to their employees with a focus on improving accessibility, speed response and query closure, realising that customer service should be the core value of the business.

CXOToday: Companies are resorting to cutting down staff strength due to automation. How according to you will automation impact the future workforce? How prepared are companies?

Saru Kaushal: Companies are investing heavily in hiring and training best-in-industry talent to garner optimum business results. As companies seek innovative business ideas for business growth, an intelligent workforce is the current demand of every business. This helps lead not only a vertical, but also helps companies seek future business opportunities. Additional perks of family holiday packages, corporate cards, media insurance, flexible working hours and dynamic environments, are being developed by organisations to retain their workforce. Clearly, companies are realising the importance of talented workforce, and value them.

Automation is complementing the workforce and helping employees complete tasks efficiently, avoiding human error in less time. But in no case, could automation ever replace manpower. Companies are investing in automation to optimize the workforce’s time, having machines do clerical tasks to free up human intelligence for innovative thinking.