Once upon a time, the role of the Chief Financial Officer related primarily to “looking after the numbers’, making sure that the accounts of a company were properly and legally kept, and that the company enjoyed sound financial health. These days, however, that role has changed almost beyond recognition. More and more they’re using technology and software (such as Sage 50, now Sage 50cloud) to broaden their impact on their companies.
It’s fair to say that few business roles have changed as much in the past decade or so as that of the CFO. More and more, they’re expected to have a new and broader skillset to compete successfully in a world of commerce that’s ‘always on’, and where traditional notions of geographical markets have been made obsolete by the internet.
You could argue long and hard as to what makes an exceptional CFO these days, but it seems beyond argument that there are a number of key skills and aptitudes that are central to the task. In no particular order, here are our top choices.
Strategic as well as tactical thinking. More and more, the CFO is involved in the most important decisions being made by the company – even if those decisions are in other areas such as Sales & Marketing or HR. At the end of the day, everything has an impact on the bottom line, so the CFO is the best placed to contribute to the debate on just how strong this impact may be.
The CFO needs to be able to see the big picture, rather than just focus on the tactical and short-term elements of his job. It also helps if the CFO has a strong enough character to stand his ground against other heads of function in the company – particularly when defending an unpopular line of action. Obviously, being fully armed with data is important in this area, which is why software such as Sage 50 (now Sage 50cloud) is so important.
The ability to understand data analytics. Much has been said about the role of big data, and how it can help companies to make decisions based on a range and a breadth of data that might not have been available to previous generations. The challenge now for the CFO is the ability to embrace big data rather than to fear it.
What’s essential is that they have the ability to see what lurks behind big data, and to draw genuine business insights from the financial data that’s available to them – either from their own company, from their own industry sector, or from business in general.
When it comes to understanding data, of course, software such as Sage 50 (now Sage 50cloud) truly comes into its own.
The ability to be a team player. No matter how much a business decision may relate to finance, there will be a need to bring other people along with you. It really helps if your CFO has the political skills to persuade people of his position, and the ability to concede to a better opinion should it come onto the table. Stand-offs benefit nobody!
This ability to be a team player doesn’t just relate to the other members of the C-Suite. Your CFO will also need the ability to work well with banks, with investors, with suppliers, with partners etc. And when the company gets big enough to have a large board – including outsiders – the CFO will need to get on with the members of it. The bottom line is that ego shouldn’t come into it – it’s the ultimate success of the business that matters most.
Obviously, it helps if the CFO can argue with utter conviction, so being armed with the sort of information that software such as Sage 50 (now Sage 50cloud) can deliver is of vital importance.
A willingness to embrace the best available technology. Technology changes so fast that some people are inclined to either ignore it, or worse still, to fear it. For a CFO, this would be an absolute disaster. There is so much software and technology available to the modern CFO that unless the CFO is willing to stay abreast of what’s happening in this space, it’s the company that will ultimately lose out.
The bottom line is that financial information and financial technology are two of the biggest assets a company can have, whether in making strategic decision, setting more appropriate KPI’s or making accurate projections for the future, technology is of vital importance.
The technology that’s available to the CFO is also critical in meeting the growing number of legislative requirements that the modern business faces. Failure to tackle this task ‘the easy way’ would be a major black mark for any financial supremo. It goes without saying that accounts software such as Sage 50 (now Sage 50cloud) come top of the list in terms of the technology that can give a CFO an advantage.
The ability to lead from the front. Aside from the CEO, the CFO probably plays the most important leadership role in the company, and must be big enough to wear this mantle with courage and confidence.
Many of the opportunities or the challenges that a company encounters will first come through the CFO, e.g. expansion opportunities, investment opportunities, restructuring needs. And rather than being a meek intermediary in bringing these challenges or opportunities to the broader company, the CFO needs to come to the table with recommendations and a strong opening position.
More and more, it’s the CFO that drives change in an organisation, so being a leader is perhaps one of the biggest aptitudes that he can have. And if not a natural leader, then the onus is on him to learn the leadership skills that are demanded of him. Leadership, of course, demands that the leader is well informed, which is why software such as Sage 50 (now Sage 50cloud) is so important.
The ability to look outwards as well as inwards. Very often, inspiration for a successful corporate team will come from a completely different company or a completely different sector. Having the ability to be open to inspiration from outside sources is an important factor in producing a truly successful CFO.
Reading a lot, talking to other CFOs (across a range of companies and sectors), and having a broad range of personal and business interests can help a lot in this area. When it comes to this particular cat, curiosity is very definitely a major benefit!