Today, in many sectors, the CFO is the gatekeeper of a company’s cost and growth agenda. Yet business growth and organizational resilience are under extreme pressure. CFOs now operate in a competitive landscape where risks are evolving, pervasive, and interconnected. Accounting and finance leaders must make strategic plans and set goals for their team and organization despite a high level of uncertainty.


Jason Dess, global lead of the CFO & Enterprise Value practice at Accenture, says that risk is everywhere (see Figure 1): Risk lives in your organization’s data (quality, availability, and privacy); your people (access and retention of talent, skills development, well-being, and burnout); your operations (cyber, resilience, and controls); your financial results (credit, currencies, crypto, and customer); and especially the macro environment (geopolitical landscape, technology, and competitors).




According to the Accenture Risk Study: 2024 Edition, 77% of those surveyed said risks are increasingly difficult to detect and manage. CFOs’ levels of concern over many risk categories are on the rise. Some, such as disruptive technology risks, have made significant gains since 2021—a real challenge as technology is a great enabler of growth for CFOs—and 81% of survey respondents said risks in other sectors are now important to their business (see Figure 2).




“Risk contagion is a mounting issue that CFOs need to be aware of across their value chain,” Dess says. “As disruption continues at a frenetic pace, the importance of managing risk will become even more critical across many industries.


Jason - new headshot

Jason Dess, Accenture


“CFOs should be considering how to detect risks that are hard to see or even understand; how to manage a web of risks that impact and threaten all areas of their business; and how to mitigate risks that create exponential threats,” he says. “Risk will never disappear, but when you’re prepared for it, you’re better able to respond to it, manage it, and mitigate it—and if you do this properly, it can actually drive revenue.”


Major Issues, Challenges, and Concerns for 2024


The macroeconomic environment is a bit uncertain and has been for some time, increasing the challenge of predicting how the global economy will perform in 2024. Tom Panther, CFO of Fleetcor Technologies, Inc., says that he always looks closely at the United States, which is the company’s largest market, and Brazil and the United Kingdom, its other two major markets, as well as continental Europe.


“Those economies have had persistently high inflation that has been followed up with high interest rates, and most people and small businesses have burned through all the COVID stimulus and savings,” Panther says. “I think the macro environment is just a cooling; we’re moderating our outlook, but our expectation is that none of those markets is going into deep recession.



Tom Panther, Fleetcor Technologies


“We’ve seen some recent reports around inflation coming down both here and in some of the other major markets that we operate in, so we hope those areas are going to have a soft landing, but we’re going to be mindful of how those economies perform,” he says. “We’ll make sure that we continue to position ourselves from a liquidity, a balance-sheet, and a resource-allocation perspective to be able to operate in a slowing macro environment.”


The biggest challenge in 2024 for Weis Markets, Inc.—a Pennsylvania-based food retailer that operates 197 stores, a distribution center, a store support center, and manufacturing plants for meat processing and dairy products—is achieving strategic business goals despite the changing marketplace impacted by ongoing inflation, rising interest rates, and declining government benefits. At the same time, says Michael Lockard, senior VP, CFO, and treasurer of Weis Markets, the company is dealing with continuing supply chain disruptions that result in out-of-stock items and significantly longer lead times for essential supplies and equipment orders. The retailer also faces the continuing labor workforce challenge of attracting and retaining talent in the post-pandemic environment across all of its facilities.


“To address these challenges, we’re focused on improving efficiencies and our understanding of customers’ evolving behaviors. In addition, we continue to work on being an employer of choice,” Lockard says. “Our company has a strong balance sheet, an engaged and experienced associate team, and stable third-generation family ownership, which allow us to focus on long-term profitable growth.


Michael Lockard 2

Michael Lockard, Weis Markets


“We prudently reinvest in our store base, including new stores, remodels, store projects, as well as e-commerce and company-wide technologies that accelerate business process transformation and offer a consistently strong associate and customer experience,” he says.


Staying on top of technological advancements will become an even greater challenge in 2024 with the rapid advances in generative AI and other innovations. The increase in data volume has significantly evolved the CFO role in the last few years, and tech is now a fundamental part of the job description. To be successful, CFOs must keep up with the latest innovations and identify opportunities to implement them.


“This new technology will likely require learning a new skill set and investing in employee training,” says Michell Guzelgul, CFO of Empeon. “Personally, I’m looking into additional training to help me master tech we’re considering implementing at Empeon.


Michel Guzelgul

Michell Guzelgul, Empeon


“Additionally, with 2024 being an election year, I’m preparing for shifting regulations and policies that directly impact our healthcare customers,” he says. “Having candid conversations with our customers about the impact of these regulations and ensuring our solutions help them to remain compliant will be key.”


Trends to Watch This Year and Beyond


The ever-expanding data landscape presents opportunities and challenges for CFOs. Guzelgul predicts the importance of data management and analytics will continue to grow, driven by increased data volume and complexity, the push for improved efficiency and accuracy, and an emphasis on data-driven decision making.


“We must harness this wealth of data to extract its value and make informed decisions—traditional tools like Excel are no longer sufficient to handle the evolving demands of finance,” he says. “CFOs must keep up with technology to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their financial operations.


“By doing so, we can adapt to the changing landscape and drive positive transformations that benefit our entire organization.”


What CFOs Look for in Finance Candidates

A key part of the finance team’s role is extracting value from complex data, synthesizing it into critical takeaways, and communicating the results with the C-suite, says Michell Guzelgul, Empeon’s CFO. To accomplish this, candidates must have a firm grasp of data management, analysis, and visualization. They must also possess a learning mindset, as he predicts that the financial landscape is going to shift dramatically in the next few years. Being willing and able to develop new skills and learn new technology is critical to success, Guzelgul says.


Finance candidates better have the right core competencies for the role—the skills, relevant experience, and smarts are table stakes, according to Tom Panther, Fleetcor’s CFO.


“To me, those skills get candidates in the door, but the differentiator then is their character: Do they have a fire in their belly? Are they good communicators? Do they have ambition? Where is their tenacity and persistency to solve problems and think outside the box?” Panther says. “The character piece separates the people who we’re trying to bring into the organization from the rest.


“Our expansive footprint requires people to be good problem solvers; they should be able to function autonomously, bring ideas and solutions,” he says. “I’m looking for people who can connect the dots and think conceptually.”


Michael Lockard, Weis Markets, Inc.’s CFO, is looking for the following in finance candidates:


In-demand skills:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Financial analysis
  • Budgeting/forecasting
  • Tax management
  • Accounting: account reconciliations
  • Leadership
  • Communication

Types of experience:

  • External audit
  • Industry accountant
  • Business analyst


  • Dependable
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Adaptable/flexible/change management
  • Customer service mindset
  • Ambitious


Today, a significantly higher percentage of the American workforce has the option of working remotely in some capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels. Work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid work schedules have been and will continue to be a key driver in increased eat-at-home spending compared to eat-away-from-home.


“We also expect increased customer adoption of e-commerce solutions and preference for a unified omni-channel experience,” Lockard says. “As a result of lingering post-pandemic-related supply chain issues, more companies are investing in end-to-end manufacturing and distribution to minimize service disruptions.


“As CFO, I work with a team that anticipates and adapts to these emerging trends,” he says. “Our management team understands the need to stay competitive while offering flexibility to the entire workforce where practical.”


Lockard and other Weis Markets finance leaders support these efforts by helping the rest of the management team to set targets and goals that factor in increased investments in talent, e-commerce, omni-channel/digital marketing, and supply chain solutions. This includes analyzing available trend data and providing relevant insights to help decision makers at every level of the company.


“The goal is to understand how our business is doing in close-to-real time, identify where performance can improve, and then clearly communicate needed adjustments to achieve success,” Lockard says.


Strategic Planning and Goal Setting


At Fleetcor, the finance function is heavily involved in working alongside the business to set the company’s strategy—not just the CFO, but his whole team. Panther says that the finance team has a four-pronged process for setting strategic priorities and goals: evaluate, diagnose, report, and allocate.


“That’s the way I think about the office of the CFO and what we’re doing to help drive the company,” Panther says. “We evaluate the company’s performance—its strengths and its weaknesses.


“We diagnose how it’s doing,” he says. “We report that out and then decide how we should allocate resources in order to make sure that we optimize the portfolio.”


Finance professionals assess the company’s performance. They ask themselves: Where do we want to go as a team and an organization? Then, they discuss strategic and tactics to figure out the best way to get there.


“When I’m sitting with people who don’t understand finance—often they think it’s boring or they can’t relate to it—I say, ‘We’re kind of like your financial physician. We take scads of information. We analyze it,” Panther says. “If all I did is dump that information in your lap, you probably wouldn’t understand anything about it.


“It’s my job as a financial physician to then evaluate that information, diagnose how you’re doing, report it back to you in a digestible fashion, and then go tell you what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at so that you can be a healthier individual,” he says. “That’s where our role fits in within the organization, making it healthier financially.”


At Fleetcor, strategic planning is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary process: In addition to the C-suite, finance, IT, marketing/business development, and HR are all in the room. Fleetcor executives formulate the strategic business plan and the financial plan in concert. The finance team helps to provide answers—supported by numbers—to questions such as: How are we doing? What’s the momentum of the company? How is this line of business performing relative to budget and its forecast? What are its pain points?


“My team is very involved in pulling together analysis related to those plans and then saying, ‘OK, now where can we go in 2024? How do we take what we have and move it forward?’” Panther says. “The team is very involved in the sizing and the evaluation of various initiatives that we have underway and asking, ‘Are we getting the right return on our spend?’


“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on sales and marketing in order to be able to achieve top-line organic growth of 10%—you just don’t grow at 10% year after year without cultivating that with investment,” he says. “My finance team is very involved in working with the business and looking at how we spend those sales and marketing dollars in order to be as effective as possible and generate returns.


“For 2024, internally our focus is continuing to go down our strategic path around simplification and growing the company; deepening, not broadening, is a real focus of ours,” Panther says.


The Rise of Sustainability and ESG Standards


While sustainability; climate-risk disclosure; and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations and requirements add an additional layer of complexity to the finance role, Guzelgul says that most finance leaders are happy to see these criteria become increasingly important to organizations. These standards create additional societal benefits at both the micro and macro levels and hold leaders and businesses to a new level of responsibility, he says.


“Long gone are the days of just maximizing profit at all costs, Guzelgul says. “Finance leaders now have to stop and ask themselves, ‘How does the following short- and long-term financial planning impact our employees and customers, and what impact will this have on society as a whole?’


“With this new way of thinking, the benefit of being a private company is that the answer is no longer strictly about maximizing profit but rather maximizing the overall benefit of everyone, even if that comes at a cost to the company,” he says.


Since Weis Markets is a U.S.-based publicly traded company, its executives closely monitor the evolving government regulations and have committed to fully comply with any future updates to them. The senior management team and board of directors already integrate ESG issues into the company’s culture with a mission statement that includes being good stewards of the environment and giving back to the communities that the company serves.


“We have a robust sustainability program, which started in 2008 and has resulted in reducing [the company’s] greenhouse gas emissions by 57%,” Lockard says. “It also helps reduce our impact on the communities we serve and improve efficiencies that often result in significant cost reductions, as detailed in our annual sustainability report.


“In our most recent year of reporting, 55% of our waste was diverted from landfills,” he says.


Associates at every level of Weis Markets—in-store, across the supply chain, at manufacturing plants, and at its support center—have supported the growth of the company’s sustainability program. Its accounting and finance associates are now more involved in this space, particularly with the evolving external reporting guidelines, standards, and requirements, such as the proposed climate disclosure rule of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), which, once officially approved, will require companies to provide an accounting of their greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental risks they face, and the measures they’re taking in response.


Overcoming Supply Chain Challenges


Weis Markets’ accounting and finance team members have worked capably in support of the organization’s dynamic supply chain and procurement processes. This has allowed the company to stay agile and quickly adapt to an evolving business landscape.


“We have streamlined our procure-to-pay cycle for vendors by reducing prior inefficiencies in due diligence setup, purchase order creation, and invoice processing,” Lockard says. “We have also increased electronic disbursements and remittances.”


Supply chain disruptions are ongoing due to world events and inclement weather, but Weis Markets executives strive to be adaptable and provide customers with alternative product options, he says. The company is also investing in software and facilities to stay ahead of the disruptions within its control.


“As finance leaders, we need to actively monitor trends and quantify their impact on business performance,” Lockard says. “Being food retailers, we need to be keenly aware of the trends that impact our product supply chain and our customers’ demand for food-at-home purchases.”


Evolving Technology and the Finance Function


Despite many finance executives dipping their toe to test out the fast-evolving AI phenomenon, it’s still early days as far as mass application of such technology to the finance function. For example, collaborating with IT and vendor partners, Lockard and fellow Weis Markets executives are monitoring the dynamic developments in AI in order to complete proof-of-concept tests for use cases with an acceptable return on investment within the accounting team and finance function.


Rapid developments in generative AI are transforming—and will continue to substantially transform—the finance function and accounting profession. However, Empeon’s Guzelgul predicts that technology won’t replace humans.


“Finance professionals must learn new skills to leverage AI and remain relevant in the current environment,” he says. “Ultimately, generative AI will alter our workflows, increase our efficiency, and empower us to extract more value from the plethora of financial data available.”


Over the past year, Empeon has placed an emphasis on automation in all aspects of its business. This has been especially true in the finance department. The company has developers working around the clock to automate all manual tasks.


“We’re reaching the maximum efficiency that automation can provide and are in talks with several AI-based accounting software vendors to help plug in the holes where humans are still needed, allowing people to focus on more important matters,” Guzelgul says. “These AI tools will help reduce and catch errors by utilizing historical data and provide recommendations for improvement in areas we generally wouldn't think of.”


At the store level, Weis Markets has invested in dual-use checkout lanes, shifted from mainly paper ads to more personalized digital marketing and coupons, and provided more e-commerce choices for its customers. At the distribution center, the company is investing in software to streamline warehouse operations across multiple locations. To upgrade in-store support, Weis Markets invested in work collaboration tools to keep associates engaged, connected, and productive while still promoting a safe and healthy work environment.


“We’re realizing the benefits of investing in software that will upgrade our company’s entire fresh food operations life cycle along with equipment that can streamline the self-checkout point-of-sale experience,” Lockard says. “In October 2023, we began to realize the benefits of executing Project Sunrise, which is the implementation of software, which will transform our legacy human capital management and financial systems and processes.”


Fleetcor has been a very acquisitive organization, and with that comes the need for constant integration of software and IT. The company is working to migrate its various businesses onto a common enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.


“Optimizing those platforms, especially across an organization as large as Fleetcor, can really drive our ability to evaluate, diagnose, report, and allocate because we’ll be on common platforms, and we’ll have the ability to mine data,” Panther says.


Fleetcor’s finance technology architecture framework is a common ERP built with a reporting tool like Hyperion, which is supported by data lakes. Panther says he’s a big believer in data lakes that allow his team to capture application-level, customer, and vendor information.


“You put that in a data-lake environment with people on my team who know how to mine and query that data and work in very nimble and agile environments,” Panther says. “What I’ve seen over the course of my career is significant value-added impact from people who can work with data in an agile fashion.


“The tech stack that we’re building—common ERP; a planning, forecasting, and reporting tool; and a series of data lakes supported by a business intelligence tool—allows us to do data mining and enhances our advisory support of the business,” he says. “We’ll stay contemporary in the AI arena, but right now, I’d rather focus on building that core platform that I just described, rather than jumping out to the outer rim.”


WFH, Hybrid, or Back to the Office?


Lockard says that Weis Markets’ leadership teams understand that the company’s in-store and supply chain associates have limited options to work remotely due to the nature of their work. In recent years, he says, the company’s leaders have worked diligently to keep employees safe and support them.


“We’re grateful for their continued contributions and proud of the high level of service they’ve maintained through extraordinary circumstances,” Lockard says. “When possible, we offer flexible hybrid schedules to our support associates, initially for safety and health reasons but later to stay competitive in the marketplace for talent, providing the tools and flexibility they need to remain connected and productive, but we work in a business where personal interaction is an important part of the culture and customer experience.


“I have learned to better acknowledge that no company is perfect and admit that we don’t have all the answers,” he says. “I believe we can strike the right balance by being authentic leaders, actively listening, getting feedback through periodic surveys and town hall sessions, and communicating clearly and frequently.”


In terms of tips for managing remote work teams, Lockard encourages Weis Markets associates to use their cameras (except on camera-free Fridays) in video-conference meetings to better promote engagement and teamwork. Company managers attempt to adjourn meetings five minutes early in order to allow transition time before the next meeting.


“We utilize a shared calendar for management to intentionally plan days to provide food to the entire department in order to build teamwork and reinforce the company culture,” Lockard says.


Currently, Empeon allows its employees to choose whether they work from home or come into the office. Some prefer the office, while others work better from the comfort of their own homes.


“We want to ensure our people are working in the environment that best suits them and their needs,” Guzelgul says. “Thankfully, we haven’t needed to adjust our management style much, as Empeon was ahead of the curve on the WFH concept and has had this model in place for years—we’ve fostered a unique environment built on trust and work-life balance.


“When you provide employees with the comfort of WFH and remove the stress of things like their daily commute, you would be surprised by the increase in efficiency and quality of life reported by employees,” he says. “To execute a successful WFH policy, organizations must provide employees with the guidance, feedback, and up-to-date equipment necessary for them to be successful in their role.”


Fleetcor asks candidates for open positions whether they’re willing to come into the office. Panther believes that in-person interactions in an office are crucial.


Governance and Professional Ethics


Weis Markets recently implemented the new SEC governance requirement to implement a clawback policy for recovery of erroneously awarded compensation and cybersecurity oversight from the board of directors. Executives receive annual training using learning management software regarding the company’s business code of conduct, which includes information on its ethics hotline.


Empeon’s Guzelgul says he believes that business leaders must strike a balance between running a successful business and maintaining ethical responsibility, with an emphasis on transparent and sustainable decision making. This includes the ever-evolving expectations of customers, vendors, employees, and other stakeholders.


“It’s a complex and delicate balance that requires empathy and strategic viewpoints to ensure you’re considering everyone’s needs and maintaining overall employee well-being too,” Guzelgul says. “At the same time, discretion is needed to stay focused and maximize the utility for the company; therefore, this delicate seesaw is always top of mind, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve.”

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