Reaching the role of chief financial officer (CFO) is a career milestone for many accounting and finance professionals. But getting there is just the beginning of the journey. With opportunities seemingly abound, and the remarkable shift brought on by The Great Resignation, many are stepping into new c-level roles for the first time or entering new industries.
Whether you have 10, 20 or even 30 years of experience in finance, taking that next step at the head of the finance executive table is no simple feat. That said, the responsibilities and skills necessary for CFOs are best absorbed by doing. Finance leaders must be agile in the modern, digital era and the expectations to make an immediate impact continue to rise.
To expedite the learning curve, and give a glimpse into what it takes to be a successful CFO, we sourced our co-founder and CEO, John Baule, who served as a CFO for over 25 years, including two successful IPOs on the NYSE (ChannelAdvisor and K12).
In this post, we highlight a checklist of 10 things a new CFO should do in their first 90 days to set themselves and the business up for success. While we can’t promise following this guide will lead to an IPO, we can confidently say that you can have a far greater impact than your CEO, board and founders imagined.
You probably got a head start on this during your interviewing process, nonetheless, you must understand the ins and outs of the company’s industry and the customers you serve. After all, one of the primary solutions to grow revenue is to grow sales from new and existing customers.
Since Finance is the governor of strategic conversations, it must have a deep understanding of the needs of the customer base, what drives them to rely on your company and what problems are you solving for them.
To gather this intel, you will need to go beyond the numbers. Analyzing your company metrics will uncover a fair amount of insight, but to reach the root cause driving these numbers, you must source your internal business units.
For example, sales and marketing leaders will know your company’s value propositions and differentiators like the back of their hands (if not, there are certainly more substantial issues in play). Connect with your sales and marketing department heads and budget owners to pick their brains on what works and doesn’t work. These details will give much-needed context to the metrics you’re looking to either gain control of, or improve. Establishing rapport with these department heads will also go a long way when it comes to the annual budgeting process.
As a CFO, you are the leader of the finance function, and as a leader, you should seek to be a resource to your team. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the scope of work in your conversation — these are people, after all. Your finance and accounting team has a life outside of work, with hobbies, friends, family needs and other interests.
A great place to start is having an initial one-on-one meeting with each team member, then deciding on an appropriate cadence to continue meeting bi-weekly or monthly. Given the size of your organization and finance function, the cadence will vary, and you might not be able to meet with dozens of employees every couple of weeks. Nonetheless, make it a priority to connect with your team and try to lead with empathy.
Each member of the team is uniquely driven in their own right, so take time to find out what drives them and what motivates them to come to work. Some are motivated by career growth, while others are motivated by a sense of belonging, recognition and making an impact on the company.
During your interview process, you probably met with members of the management team. Similarly to your finance team, once you start your new gig, be sure to establish rapport with each member of the executive team and board. Your first step should be to connect with each of them on LinkedIn and engage with their posts and activity.
Also, consider the conversations you had with management during your interviews. As an icebreaker, reference details from those conversations and schedule in-person or a virtual one-on-one meeting to get to know each other better.
Remember, Finance is the most cross-functional business unit in an organization. You work directly with each business unit to gain insight, centralize data and formulate deliverables for budgets and forecasts. Therefore, you must understand each executive's role within the organization.
Think of the CFO role as a hybrid of problem solving and managing the health of the business. These are fundamental for any CFO to make a positive impact, and great starting points when considering management and the board’s expectations. You need to get to know the board, the reasons that they're there. Some members are there just because they're experts in their field and want to lend their ideas and strategies. Some are the true owners of the company and are solely concerned with the financials.
In most cases, you only get quarterly facetime with your board, which emphasizes the need to find time beyond those board meetings to connect with board members, and glean from their experiences and expertise. You'll be thankful to gain a supporter in your corner when the board casts votes on decisions.
Although number four on the list, this one could be a standalone white paper or blog post in itself. In fact, we created a white paper highlighting five do’s and don'ts of successful finance leaders that undoubtedly are extremely useful tips. A great starting point is to verify that you have control over both your financial and operational data. Company data is siloed in multiple systems, making it difficult for finance to get access to the data it needs.
Sources of truth like Salesforce, HR software and your ERP such as Netsuite, are used by individual business units and don’t offer out-of-the-box integrations with each other. Instead, finance has to hunt down these data sets, request certain files, go through IT for access and manually export unstructured data to use in Excel.
This antiquated approach to finance takes valuable capacity away from your team that could otherwise be used on more strategic and valuable initiatives. Improving your processes is achieved by a combination of proven methodologies and finance tools to optimize efficiency.
One process worth pointing out is budgeting and resource allocation. This can be a pitfall for many companies, especially growth companies that recently raised a round of funding to accelerate scale. However, there is always a scarcity of resources, yet everybody desires more of the pie. There's a lot to achieve and a lot of exciting things that can happen with additional resources, but this is where the budget comes into focus.
For example, an annual budgeting process forces department heads and management to make decisions on resource allocation for the best results in the ensuing year. Even if you prefer rolling forecasts, they should not be a substitute for an annual budget. From your annual budget, management then comes together as a group, decides on strategies and objectives for department heads to carry out, all the while finance is tracking the progress and providing visibility so everyone involved knows where they stand, like having a scoreboard.
Within a finance function you have two distinct divisions, accounting and FP&A. Accounting is table stakes, so you must spend enough time there to ensure that transactions, debits and credits are being tracked correctly. FP&A builds off of this like a pyramid. The accounting must work properly for FP&A to plan and forecast appropriately. When it comes to planning and forecasting, you often use what's happened historically, so if your historical numbers are inaccurate, then you're not going to be able to forecast correctly.
To put your new finance function to the test and optimize it, ask yourself the following:
Avoiding pitfalls and uncovering any skeletons left in the closet sooner will go a long way in your ability to succeed. You need to work towards having each member of management aligned and bought into the objectives. At times, this might require difficult conversations, but they need to occur for the betterment of the organization.
Since Finance is such a cross-functional endeavor, you must develop relationships with those other budget owners to keep a pulse on initiatives, measure performance and facilitate accountability. Once you are settled in, take a holistic view of the company and ask yourself the following questions:
Answering these questions will give greater context to your analysis and fuel informed strategic conversations to overcome obstacles. Then you can stack rank and prioritize your initiatives for optimal performance.
Often overlooked by finance leaders is the need for security, legal management and insurance. Cybersecurity risks are omnipresent, with new attacks on large enterprises, even governments occurring daily. While you can leave cybersecurity management to your IT department, you should explore insurance options for additional protection. The last thing you want is a ransomware attack on your business with no scenario to recover losses.
This brings us to legal issues. Not every company will have in-house general counsel. The status of where you are legally and if there are potential IP issues, other potential competitor issues or contract issues should be quickly addressed. Some instances will require you to be more hands on, while others will require external expertise and support.
Insurance is another neglected topic among many new CFOs. Naturally, most finance professionals don’t enjoy the world of insurance, but it’s too important to be neglected. Similar to legal expertise, third-party insurance providers can do the heavy lifting and brokers to work with so that you’re comfortable with outcomes, without spending an inordinate amount of time sifting through contracts and details.
Being the head of the finance table is taxing (no pun intended). It’s difficult to try and please each business unit as much as possible. You want budget owners to not just look out for whatever they feel is in the best interest of their silo, but for the good of the company, and how finance can help. Therefore, there’s a necessary sense of accountability, clear communication and shared vision to succeed.
Successful CFOs look out to the future of what a company can become and provide a roadmap for how to get there. If you gain control of your financial and operational data, identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, you’ll be on your way to presenting the necessary levers to pull. This can be an exhausting endeavor, but it will produce the greatest positive outcomes. Nothing good comes easy, right?
If getting control of your data and operating an efficient finance function is a challenge, additional tools can make all of the difference. Finance professionals are all too familiar with the many joys and frustrations working with Excel. It’s a fantastic tool for computing and synthesizing small sets of data, but its limitations are unavoidable.
Implementing accounting and FP&A solutions to eliminate manual tasks and automating as many processes as possible, frees everybody up to do more and be more strategic. This is what is most beneficial for the business and where ROI is realized. FP&A tools also eliminate the tendency for manual errors. As your Excel worksheets grow, you refer back and forth to different worksheets and inevitably, there's some error produced and something doesn’t connect as you'd expect it to.
Many times, those errors aren't captured until the late stages, when they become more integrated and complex. Conversely, automations are flexible, and tools scale with your company, so you don’t have to worry about errors creeping into your reports and analysis.
There are many CFO tools and solutions available to improve your processes and optimize your workflows. That said, FutureView offers a unique combination of leading finance and technical experts with a proven track record. Our solutions are tailored to the needs of finance users and our experience being in your shoes has shaped the capabilities of our tools and ability to quickly transform your finance function.
If you’re looking to transform your finance function and offer more strategic value with cost-effective solutions, request a demo of our FP&A Platform. We baked-in years of finance experience and methodologies into our solutions and tailor them to your needs with a rapid implementation process that takes a couple of weeks, not months. For new CFOs, the time to act is now.
With FutureView Systems, you not only gain automations and robust FP&A tools, but expert methodologies and support from a team with decades of finance experience. There are many other steps necessary on the path to being a rockstar CFO and building a mature finance function, we can help you get there.