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CSR: what are the conditions for the CFO to remain the control tower in the company?

Analysis, management, decision support: the CFO has always been the main contact for the general management to guide the company's strategy. Will it be able to maintain this role in the era of societal and environmental issues? Yes, under certain conditions.

By Cécile Lafon, Partner at Talan Consulting and Valérie Camon, in charge of the EPM offer at Talan in Lyon

Tools for producing quality CSR reports

If they want to produce the reports required by the CSRD in a fluid, rapid and automatic manner, companies and their financial departments will have to equip themselves with an appropriate technological solution. Indeed, these reports (called "ESG" - environmental, societal and governance) are based on data that the company is not used to collecting or processing - internal data, such as the technical specifications of products, but also external data, such as the energy mix of the markets in which the company operates.

For CFOs, using new tools is not unusual. However, in terms of CSR, the challenge is not only to provide data that is as reliable as accounting or tax data, but also to be able to advise senior management on how to reconcile economic performance with the company's environmental and societal objectives in the most harmonious way possible. Although this mission may seem ambitious, it is not insurmountable as long as one has a tool capable of ensuring the collection, processing and analysis of CSR data.


Training in societal and environmental issues

But technology is not everything: at the same time, CFOs must develop an awareness of CSR issues. But corporate financiers have not been trained for this. Admittedly, the lines are moving: several major institutions have set up courses in sustainable finance. The aim is to train financial profiles capable of placing CSR issues and economic performance on the same footing. But it will be a few more years before current students are able to take charge of large-scale projects such as the one that is now required of companies. For the time being, companies have no choice: they must rely on their 'caped' profiles, many of whom began their careers at a time when the balance of power between the economy and ecology was in favour of the former. Under these conditions, they will not be able to do without continuous training.

To be successful, CFOs must learn to integrate societal and environmental issues into their day-to-day thinking, which is still based on purely accounting and financial elements.

Accepting to grow along with the company

In the months and years to come, taking CSR issues into account will change the habits of finance departments. But beyond the technical and regulatory changes, it is above all their vision of the company and its performance that they will have to question. For from now on, creating wealth is no longer enough: to remain on good terms with civil society and consumers, companies must become exemplary in ethical and moral terms. And the same is true if they want to attract the best talent: once attracted by the most successful multinationals, employees are now looking to 'mission companies' - and are less concerned about pay, as long as the work is meaningful.

Because it has always been the company's control tower, the finance department will be involved in these changes, whether it likes it or not. The Enron scandal forced it to improve its risk management; the 2008 crisis forced it to make an effort in terms of transparency and communication. From now on, the finance department must successfully acculturate itself to CSR issues, even if it means changing its name. This is the only way for it to continue to fulfil its mission as a watchdog and to help the company transform its business model to be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.