“The role of the CFO has become one of the most complex and demanding in the C-suite. From financial expertise to strategic decision-making to risk and stakeholder management, successful CFOs should possess a diverse skill set to help guide companies through ever more complex business landscapes and financial and regulatory environments.” PwC
With technology powering much of business innovation and transformation, PwC expects CFOs will be expected to bring together equal parts business, strategic insight and tech experience as they together alongside their C-suite peers.
FutureCFO spoke to Rizza Maniego-Eala, chief finance officer (CFO), treasurer and chief risk officer (CRO) with Globe Group to peer into her observations and experiences on the role past, present and future.
Focus and priorities in 2023
Globe Telecom is a provider of telecommunications services in the Philippines. The company reported 158 billion Philippine pesos during its 2022 fiscal year.
Maniego-Eala says in 2023, the company was focused on how to continue ensuring long-term value creation while juggling near-term value protection against the backdrop of high inflation, a weak economy, and a volatile market.
She acknowledged that 2023 saw the company operate in a challenged macroeconomic backdrop. "Coming out from a period of significant opportunistic investments, the focus is on reaping the benefits from those capital expenditures and ensuring the Group maintained its momentum to prepare properly so that we are in the right position when the market recovers,” said Maniego-Eala.
“In 2023 our initiatives revolve around efforts to maximise the network and increase utilisation,” she explained. She added that in parallel, the company was going through a capex rationalisation exercise, and cost transformation initiatives to enable it to maintain profitability margins despite a weak economy.
The sum of many responsibilities
As for what it means to be an effective CFO, she said it is going beyond Financial Analysis and Reporting, being more proactive involvement in the operations and overall strategy development and execution of an organisation.
Maniego-Eala says the CFO has gone beyond the traditional Finance organisation to essentially oversee and help shape the entire organisation. “To do this, one needs access to the right type of information, which the Treasurer and CRO functions provide,” she continued.
The treasurer’s role gives her more concrete control and visibility of the company's capital movement, which is key to making sure Globe is operating as efficiently as possible.
“As a Treasurer, I am able to identify internal operational weaknesses by looking at and following the flow of cash or capital in the books of the company,” she continued. “By following the movement of capital, one can find operational bottlenecks quickly, which allows immediate mitigating actions.”
She went on to add that this allows for more robust cash flow generation, which aids in capital management and provides flexibility when the company goes out to seek capital from debt and/or equity markets.
As treasurer, she is the link to external financial institutions. This allows her to build the right relationship with banks and other financial institutions that ensure immediate access to cash, which is important for Globe, which is operating in such a dynamic industry.
Maniego-Eala reveals that as the CRO, she identifies the company's top risks and provides action plans to mitigate these risks. She lets her stay ahead of trends, and institute the proper policies that will ensure the company's financial sustainability.
“As most, if not all risk, go back fundamentally to financial sustainability, being a CRO gives me the right information to properly craft the company's policies that ensure Globe remains a going concern and keeps operating, regardless of what risk materialises,” she explained.
The role also enables her to instil proper governance measures across the organisation, which help set the right culture in the company, that ultimately results in good financial performance.
Great expectations in 2024
Maniego-Eala is not shy to admit that 2024 will be another challenging year, and Finance will be tasked with the difficult job of enabling top-line growth while protecting the bottom line. She concedes that it will be an even trickier balancing job for a CFO and his/her Finance team in 2024.
“The accountability will be to maintain equilibrium on when and where to spend the capital versus which efforts need to be deprioritised,” she revealed. “This is because capital will continue to be a scarce and expensive resource in 2024.”
“The push is still to optimise cost structures and to mine efficiencies in the operations to improve profitability but in 2024, there will be a need to deliver top-line growth, in line with market improvement, especially toward the back half of the year.”Rizza Maniego-Eala
She believes this will require ensuring the right governance processes and policies are in place to be able to manage the flows of cash and ensure it gets routed to the right areas of the company while allowing for innovative ideas to be heard and have a proper investment allocation pool.
The number one challenge
“Cost transformation initiatives will always be challenging, in any year,” concedes Maniego-Eala. She reasons this is because rolling out cost transformation initiatives requires a huge effort in change management, which will always invite some pushback.
Maniego-Eala also acknowledges the difficulty of altering an organisation's culture and mindset. For her, it requires the buy-in of and full support from all senior leaders. “This shift in mindset and values will likewise necessitate hard conversations, which not all leaders will be equipped to handle,” she opined.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that results from these efforts will not materialise immediately, especially if there are divisions not aligned with the strategy.
“And this is the challenge because as a CFO, it is my responsibility to drive this initiative and ensure organisation-wide alignment and execution,” she concluded.
Technology of most value to finance in 2024
Asked which technologies will be of most value to finance, Maniego-Eala picked out artificial intelligence (AI), robotics process automation (RPA) and blockchain – for their promise to improve the accuracy and timeliness of reports, which can lead to better strategy development and execution, while reducing costs and optimising operations.
“While we have rolled out RPA even before the pandemic, I believe AI, in particular machine learning (ML), will radically modify how things are done practically across all industries,” beamed Maniego-Eala. “I am both excited and worried about the speed of change that AI will bring. As such, an organisation must constantly understand and anticipate both the opportunities and risks that this technology has to offer.”
Expectations for 2024
Maniego-Eala expects the market to begin to improve and macroeconomic pressures to start easing after the first half of the year. “We have been seeing signs of improvement happening already in 2023 and I am optimistic that this will continue to improve come 2024,” she hoped.
“The challenge then, as with any other transition period, will be properly executing the strategies we have laid out. As the CFO of the group, my role is to make sure everyone works as one cohesive team so that we can execute properly and maximise the opportunities that 2024 will present,” concluded Maniego-Eala.