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Strategy and innovation

CFO Frontline Report 2023: the profession looks up.

The CFO is emerging as a key figure in organisations. An intelligent combination of prudence, anticipation and 360 vision that has been essential to weathering the perfect storm of the last three years.
CFO Frontline Report 2023
Strategy and innovation
Content type
Written by
Editorial Dept
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12 minutes
08 Jun 2023
The annual CFO Forum event saw the release of the second edition of the CFO Frontline Report prepared by Bankinter. A Spanish survey where CFOs assess their current position and envision the future for the profession.

This year the study is entitled “The CFO in the face of uncertainty” (El CFO ante la incertidumbre). And this was the hot topic of conversation at the report's presentation, held at Bankinter's head office. In the current context, the Finance area has had to split up, or even multiply itself: as a guarantor of financial management and as the CEO's right hand in leading the organisation's strategy and showing solvency before investors.

Two roundtables moderated by Emma Montserrat, head of Corporate Banking and deputy general director at Bankinter, featured the CFOs of AERTEC, Avangreen, CIE Automotive, Domingo Alonso Group, IFC (Cantabria Labs), Sprinter and Teknia. If we were to summarise the day in a word cloud, there would be three concepts in large print:

uncertainty, optimism and prudence.

CFOs today, in 5 headlines

CFOs today, in 5 headlines

  • Information from other departments and details are the main source of concern for CFOs in Spain. Last year, this ranking was led by financial and accounting legislation, which now moves to fourth position, after treasury and the relationship with the CEO.
  • 64% of CFOs see themselves as number 2 in the company, behind the CEO. 31% believe that they are in third position. Only 5% of the CFOs surveyed see themselves in fourth or fifth place of relevance within their organisation.
  • A higher, more versatile finance function that absorbs other areas. CFOs view their roles as strategy-oriented. It happens in all sectors, but especially in industry. Almost 70% of respondents regard themselves as a strategist, 8% more than one year ago.
  • The half-full bottle: 69% of CFOs see a moderate growth scenario and 16% even describe it as high. Only 15% see stagnation or recession on the horizon.
  • The CFO's recipe for the current storm and for consolidating the path of profit involves rising prices (this is recognised by 72% of respondents), transferring them to the end customer, as well as reducing costs (67%). As phrased by Javier Hernández Bermejo, Bankinter's head of Medium-sized Businesses, most of them have gone into “protection mode”.

Uncertainty becomes business as usual

The question used to be: When will this restlessness end? The question today is how to live in this state without losing direction or ambition: keep growing and maintaining profitability.

“There is increasing uncertainty. Uncertainty has become business as usual. There is no choice. It is what it is”, said Jacobo Díaz, CFO of Bankinter, during the report's presentation.

“But, he stressed, we must be optimistic: we have solutions, tools and many capabilities in our teams. Together, we will manage”. “I consider myself reasonably optimistic”, stated Lorena Blanpain, CFO of Grupo AERTEC, echoing the feeling of prudence and hope that invades all professionals in the financial area when it comes to the recovery of pre-pandemic levels.

“The facts make you optimistic”, agreed Borja Agüero, CFO of IFC (Cantabria Labs), who is more concerned about the scarcity of strategic raw materials and the high cost of financing. “But there are still opportunities out there; we must continue investing”, he said.

Chief financial officers in Spain, as indicated in the report and stressed by Javier Hernández Bermejo, are still confident about growth in the medium term. But at the same time most of them have gone into “protection mode”.

“We can say that CFOs don't relax, and proof of this is the 14% increase in average concern found in the CFO Frontline Report”, pointed out the head of Medium-sized Enterprises at Bankinter.

The results are good. Are we doing something right?

The results are good. Are we doing something right?

This session was marked by the great paradox of our economic environment. War, geopolitical crisis, pandemic, inflation, interest rates, shortage of raw materials. A storm that cannot deny an apparently contradictory empirical fact:

business results in Spain are extraordinary. This must have something to do with the work of financial areas.

“What are CFOs doing to enable us to — in this perfect storm, in one of the worst years in history, 2020 — achieve a positive net profit?”, asked Iratxe Pardo, CFO and head of treasury at CIE Automotive. “First”, she answered her own question, they “stay ahead, try to smell the trends. And above all diversify. A key element is geographic, technological and commercial diversification”.

And a more transversal model in companies for more efficient management. It is as if this tsunami has accelerated processes, such as digitalisation, and triggered a level of transparency and communication never before seen in organisations.

A thesis supported by Julio Antoranz, CFO of Domingo Alonso Group: “The figures are better than forecast. We have had a perfect storm for 3 years, continuous crisis, but it has made us better. It has kept always on guard and ready for everything”.

“The reality in this first quarter is still growth; prices are stabilising; energy is giving us some breathing room; and sales have grown. We're still sailing the storm pretty well”, explained José Pérez-Mila, CFO of Sprinter, for whom dark clouds, for a commercial firm, begin to form due to some stagnation in employment and lower household savings.

A CFO's concerns are currently internal, according to Manuel Gómez Gutiérrez-Torrenova, CEO and CFO of Avangreen. “There are a number of radically different variables: the cost of capital and the cost and shortage of raw materials”, said the energy company's CEO. In the technology sectors, the funnel created with microchips and that is affecting project execution has not yet been overcome.

Julio Antoranz also talked about internal concerns. “The focus is not so much on business, since there is a growth in sales; the challenge is internal, in structure. Now the market pulls, but you have to work harder to have the same sales. And you will earn less. I don't think it's bad. The wrong thing to do would be to keep the mindset of a few years ago. We must accept that interest rates are here to stay, just like the volatility of inflation. It's a new economic environment”, said the CFO of Domingo Alonso.

The Finance area is a centre for knowledge

“The Finance area is a centre for knowledge”. The 8 traits of the new CFO

Climbing positions

Everyone agrees that chief financial officers are a more transversal, strategic and respected profile in organisations. “An increasingly important figure in the management committee. CFOs climb positions in crisis situations” observed Javier Hernández Bermejo, head of Medium-sized Businesses at Bankinter.

Focus on profitability

Lorena Blanpain, from AERTEC, made it clear: “We are the financiers and we have to devise the growth plans. Growth, yes, of course, but not at any price. It's not about binging, and not being able to digest it. If the numerator is growing, but the denominator — EBIT or EBITDA — stagnates, CFOs don't like it: spending a lot of resources to earn the same. The focus on profitability”.

A facilitator and a challenger

The financial department is a service area for all areas. With a CFO willing to help and collaborate with everyone. “They work hard on empathy. The key to this is transparency and information”, said Javier Hernández Bermejo. As Borja Agüero, CFO of IFC (Cantabria Labs), said, “The department has always been very siloed, very technical, accounting-based, financial; and now it's the first that, thanks to the role of the CFO, has managed to become mainstream. CFOs are capable of challenging; they are business challengers, someone capable of making things happen. That's what matters nowadays: you need things to change very fast”.

Quick to make decisions

Data and digitalisation have allowed CFOs to push aside traditional work and focus on strategy. But also to substantiate and lend authority to the management's decisions. “We are quick to make decisions because we have the data, fast and of good quality”, explained Iratxe Pardo, from CIE Automotive. “In strategic decision-making, with so much uncertainty, CFOs emerge as a key figure within the organisation. You have to leave the basic reporting, finance and tax package and get into strategy. To the extent that digitalisation gives you those tools, you have to go out there, generate more business and profitability, find M&A and financing opportunities”, said Manuel Gómez Gutiérrez-Torrenova, CEO and CFO of Avangreen.

Always alert

Being in protection mode is not incompatible with being able to read the times properly, and knowing what is happening beyond your office and your organisation. “I encourage the Finance areas to raise their heads from their screen, and listen a little to the environment. You have to be very alert”, emphasised Ana San Vicente, CFO of Teknia.


“Courage is born of prudence, not of recklessness”, stated Calderón de la Barca. These times call for prudence. “An investment can be good, but badly executed. Here, we have to be relentless. The investment is going to be pushed by a CEO. We must not stop it, but success can depend on how it is done”, pointed out Julio Antoranz.

The communicator

CFOs have to spend a lot of time talking outside. The number is not an end in itself: it is a means to make a decision. If you get very good and very beautiful figures and they stay there, you have lost value, according to the CFO of Domingo Alonso: “You have to take the number and go and explain it. People are out there in the trenches, in the business and you are the one who has to go there”. A horizontality that should not make us forget, as José Pérez-Mila (Sprinter) pointed out, that collaboration committees should not be mistaken for decision-making committees. If the limits are not clear, decision-making begins to get clogged and slow down. “We can't all be everywhere”, he summarised.

An organisation's grey matter

The Finance area “is a knowledge centre”, in the words of Iratxe Pardo, from CIE Automotive, “with an absolutely 360 view of everything that is happening in the organisation”. For Ana San Vicente, from Teknia, “having complete information, in a timely manner, is essential. Given the Finance area's close position to the general management, we CFOs have to navigate in certainty, instead of thinking or believing something. We have to be guarantors of communication channels and transmit key information to other departments”.