Industrial Corporations: How will Blockchain Affect CFOs?

This article is a summary of research from Philipp Schulden (2019). The whole article illustrated mainly focus on the influence of blockchain technology on the CFO-function of an industrial company. By conducted a qualitative method, the researcher gained the positive results from Experts who have profound experience in this industry, indicating the improvements of business processes, a relocation of the CFO’s strategic role, improvements of CFO-relevant KPIs through integrating machines into payment networks as well as the emergence of integrated business ecosystems will facilitate new forms of inter-organizational collaboration. Necessary prerequisites for adoption include digital competences of the CFO, appropriate organizational structures, digital currencies and identities on the blockchain and courage to change the mindset. Serkan Katilmis, Maximilian Forster, Hsiao-En Chen, Ya-Fang Cheng

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain popped out firstly in 2008 in the form of a white paper called “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” published by an anonymous individual or group known as Satoshi Nakamoto (Nakamoto, 2008). Later on, we can see many digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum was created and be used base on Blockchain Technology. Blockchain could also be seen as a distributed ledger, which means that a ledger is spread across the network among all nodes in the network, and each node holds a copy of the complete ledger. Moreover, blockchain has several characteristics (decentralized systems, transparency, immutability, consensus… etc) to help companies/ organizations in the process of digital transformation.

The job content changes in CFO function

Unlike the old responsibilities from CFO whos jobs is associated with balance sheets, cash flow analyses and Excel spreadsheets, with the innovative technology which here, is Blockchain technology, CFO’s role is changing and is a crucial leader in helping companies to create innovative business models and grow opportunities in the future. In the definition of the CFO, CFO incorporates the most important corporate function other than the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), actively determining and executing the strategic orientation of a corporation (Datta & Iskandar-Datta, 2014), which frequently goes beyond the mere accounting and financial reporting tasks.

Research background

Industrial companies are forced to promote their own digital transformation to sustain on the market since the high competitive pressures in the world. Moreover, as we mentioned the features of blockchain technology, its transparency, immutability and cryptography combined with its ability to coordinate data flows. For example. IoT and AI. That why it constitutes a suitable tool for the CFO to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. The researcher intended to address a research gap on the application side. Thus, the research questions are as follows:

Research Method

This research was a qualitative study and explored the influence of blockchain technology on the CFO-function of an industrial company. Based on a review of the literature, semi-structured expert interviews were conducted with 11 participants. The chosen experts are people who equipped profound experience and be capable of assessing the effects of blockchain technology on the finance function in the industrial company.

Research results

Through the semi-structured interview process, the transcribed data is then condensed to identify analytical categories with respect to the previously defined research questions by using grounded theory. Afterwards, the researcher explained the results depends on the analytical categories each by each. The results ordered by categories are as follows.

1. Impact of Digitization on the role of the CFO:

There are general effects of digitalization on the CFO by experts perspectives. First, there is a relocation of the strategic role of the CFO. With its growth in data volumes, CFO function is shifting to a supportive role who assist the CEO in formulating the company’s corporate strategy. Secondly, the experts see data transparency as a result of digitization. CFO could develop more effective and target-oriented financial and corporate strategies because of this transparency. Moreover, digitization is a key driver for business process optimization and automation and which can provide cost reductions, better process streamlining, as well as enhanced inter-company coordination.

2. Impact of Machine Economy and IoT on the role the CFOS:

The experts considered the general effects of the Machine Economy on the CFO. In the beginning, the Machine Economy having an impact on the CFO in regard to improving business process automation and efficiency. This leads to cost-efficiencies through reduction of human capital, rationalization of administrative tasks and decreasing probability of human error. At this point, smart contracts integrate business logic and business processes which means machines can operate autonomously. Experts also see the blockchain technology in combination with other enabling technologies as a facilitator for a payment layer within the Machine Economy enabling machines to autonomously send and receive funds.

3. Impact of Blockchain Technology on the role and on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the CFO:

The impacts of blockchain technology on the CFO is agreed by experts. At first, blockchain technology can improve company transparency. The distributed character of a blockchain has a positive influence on the operational insight of the CFO. Thus, the CFO gets qualified to make better strategic decisions by combining the data of different departments and stakeholders to improve the CFO’s predictive analyses and financial forecasts. Secondly, the experts attribute considerable automation potential to blockchain technology. Accordingly, experts consider blockchain-based smart contracts as the driver of automation and efficiency for the controlling-function of the CFO resulting from their inherent ability to autonomously execute and constrain business processes. According to the experts, blockchain-enabled tokenization of assets has considerable influence on capital procurement and corporate financing. In this respect, the issuance and sale of tokenized securities can be automated. Moreover, tokenization offers new forms of short-term financing and capital provision at lower borrowing costs.

4. Prerequisites for the adoption of blockchain technology by the CFO:

The prerequisites for the adoption of blockchain technology is must-do. First, CFO should acquire digital competencies, such as basic knowledge in programming and a wide understanding of innovative technologies to have abilities to combine and better view of the interrelationship between IT and business. Secondly, experts identify the need for organizational restructuring and change management. Later on, the experts see fiat currencies on the ledger as a central prerequisite for the adoption of blockchain technology and the Machine Economy. Moreover, regarding the Euro on the blockchain, it is an essential precondition for the exchange of value within the Machine Economy. Accordingly, the Euro could be made programmable, which would allow automated and end-to-end payment flows between machines.

5. Influence of Blockchain on Integrated Business Ecosystems:

Experts consider the blockchain technology as a facilitator for the emergence of integrated business ecosystems. According to the experts, this is due to the blockchain-enabled data integrity and transparency serving as a backbone for applications in industries, such as Industry 4.0, Mobility and Energy. The resulting trustworthy environment facilitates the integration between industries and automates inter-organizational automation. Moreover, new emerging business models create the potential for new profit pools. Besides blockchain technology, experts consider the necessity of the convergence of emerging technologies to facilitate integrated ecosystems. Within ecosystems, the blockchain technology manages the data collected by the IoT and the AI provides an additional layer of data analytics and automation. Furthermore, large industrial companies with a high level of use of machinery were being influenced by such ecosystems. In experts points of view, prerequisites of integrated ecosystems include the interoperability or standardization of blockchains by communicating with the affected industry stakeholders, cooperation with competitors and other external parties as well as neutral platform governance are need.

Conclusions

In order to facilitate new forms of inter-company collaboration, the improvements of business processes which related to efficiency and automation, improvements of CFO-relevant KPIs integrated business ecosystems and relocation of the CFO’s strategic role are necessary. The prerequisites for adoption include digital competences of the CFO, appropriate organizational structures, digital currencies and identities on the blockchain, a change of the competitive mindset, as well as standardized platforms with neutral governance.

Remarks

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Reference

Brenner, M. E. (2006). Interviewing in Educational Research. In Handbook of complementary methods in education research. (pp. 357–370). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

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