Q&A with Telefonica: how to manage the financial conscience of a company

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Prior to his session at CFO Rising Europe to be held next week, Mark Evans, chief financial officer at Telefonica UK (O2) speaks to GT News about how a CFO can stay ahead when new technology emerges.

How has the role of the CFO evolved?

The CFO has always been responsible to manage the financial conscience of the company, which includes understanding the needs of the investors, overseeing major deals, building the financial and performance reports and ensuring that we comply with the numerous standards that exist. Today however much more is expected from the CFO as we’re asked to contribute to the business strategy as well as acting as business partners for the other disciplines that exist across the organisation. Being involved right at the start of a proposition design is a great example of this, as opposed to acting as gatekeeper and waiting for a business case to be presented. If we can play a role in helping identify the customer needs and shape the proposition, the CFO has the ability to add value at the earliest opportunity.

In your opinion, is the telecoms industry more accepting of digital change than other industries? Why do you think this is?

The pace of change in the digital industry has been huge this year and I can only see it growing further. Digital technology adds value to our lives and it is moving at a pace that is so fast, it can also become overwhelming. Let me use connectivity as an example, Ofcom confirmed that mobile devices are now used for social interaction, surfing the web or watching content than the device is used to make calls and texts. At O2, we believe the mobile device has developed into a remote control for life. In general, particularly in the UK, people love technology but they often do not know how to make the most of it. Digital change presents a wonderful opportunity but there can also be a fear of missing out, so this is one of the key things that I’ll be talking about at the conference: the need to get closer to the customer, to understand their needs and be able to respond in a relevant way.

Has the recent boom in the mobile payments industry helped the telecoms sector in any way?

The mobile payments industry is a good example of how the mobile device is becoming more and more pivotal to how we choose to live our lives. Mobile payments are a service that we, as consumers, choose to use, as it is flexible, easy and intuitive. The mobile phone provides consumers, with the ability to transact wherever you are and whenever you want, this is the real enabler. The mobile industry has seen incredible growth over the past 30 years and I’ve every confidence it will continue to evolve and develop. At O2 our role is to help customers be aware of the possibilities of technology and help and guide them through using these services, if they wish to.

What is the biggest risk that a CFO has to look out for?

As the pace of change accelerates, it is important that we look forward and not be constrained to repeating a formula that has made us successful to date. Digital technology has the power to change the way we live our lives and what we expect from a service or organisation. A significant risk for a CFO is to ignore this and not adapt its services or operating model to meet the ever changing needs of the customer. My perspective is that the CFO has to ensure they understand the future needs of the customer and be courageous enough to champion this change. The stereotypical CFO can often be perceived as overly cautious. Although we must continue to play the financial consequence of the company, we equally have to be open minded. The pace of digital change means we have to be more agile and willing to invest in new services so we stay relevant to how customers wish to engage and consume services in the future.
Could you give a summary of what you’ll be discussing at the CFO Rising Europe Summit and why this is a topical subject at the moment?

I will be giving an overview of the role of the digital CFO and how acting in a more collaborative way can allow a CFO to play a pivotal role in setting strategy and encouraging the business to make the most of digital technology. I can only share my experience and hope that it gives those that attend food for thought to take away and recognise some of the challenges they face in the industry. As CFO, it is important for us to be more courageous than we’ve been before and invest in new digital technology, so these opportunities don’t pass us by. I’m looking forward to the session and understanding the challenges that the attendees have.

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