the-cfo-playbook-2The CFO Playbook

Alwyn’s Playbook: Leading within the crypto-finance sector

26 October 2022   |   6 minutes read

This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Alwyn Jones, Group CFO at Luno, a leading global cryptocurrency company with over 9 million customers in 43 countries that provides services for making it safe and easy to buy, store and learn about cryptocurrencies.

In this episode, Alwyn talks about the novel and evolving space of cryptocurrency and blockchain. He shares advice on retaining and hiring in a nascent industry,  as well as starting an app based bank from scratch. Alwyn also discusses the importance of building personal resilience and embracing the latest financial technology to improve performance.

Building a bank from scratch

Cryptocurrency can be an ambiguous concept. As a leader in a novel financial services sector, there aren’t many preset rules or regulations to follow. While things could seemingly be great at one moment, there could be complete turmoil the next. Upcoming CFOs should be ready for a completely different challenge in this industry.

“Every day is different. Every day could be a curious mix between wild elation of what’s been achieved and being punched in the face, sometimes in the space of an hour. So starting from scratch, it’s a bit of a truism, but you are doing everything for the first time, in many cases.”

Open dialogue among leaders

Uncertainty in a new sector can be troubling, especially for a single leader in the C-suite. Consistent and clear communication among leaders of a company make navigating an evolving space like crypto much more manageable.

“[Cryptocurrency] is definitely becoming more mainstream. I think four or five years ago you could have ignored this. I think now as CFO you need to be at least having a view and having maybe a dialogue with your board about what we should be doing in this space and how we can leverage and harness that technology.”

 

The importance of independent team members

Leaders cannot succeed without a team to follow. It’s just as important to have an open dialogue with your team as much as it is with your board. You want to hire and retain valuable team members who aren’t entirely co-dependent on your every word. In a nascent space such as crypto, it’s hard to source candidates based solely on work experience because it is still an emerging sector.

“You need to hire people who can thrive in that environment, like uncertainty, very much able to shape something independently and move it forward without necessarily having a plan or a playbook or a set of rules for how it gets done.”

 

Progression through adopting new technology

It is important to provide your team with the right tools to succeed in their positions independently. Sometimes new technologies can seem daunting, but taking the time and resources to adopt new tech into the structure of a team can be crucial for progression.

“What technology can do for finance teams, be it, are you using an outsourced ledger system? Are you using a system and a plan? Are you putting all your data in the cloud? All of this technology increases control, increases fidelity, increases speed, and that is priceless in the environments that we’re dealing in.”

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What makes a great CFO? 5 take-aways from The CFO Podcast

26 October 2022   |   12 minutes read
CFO leading a meeting
CFO leading a meeting

Some study finance, business, economics, or management, and work their way up the ladder. Some transition into the role after spending a chunk of their careers in a different (though related) discipline. And others still find themselves thrust into it completely by accident.

There’s no one right way to become a CFO. But while there are several different career pathways you can take, those who excel at the job all share similar qualities and skills.

So what makes a great CFO?

Over the past 68 episodes of our podcast, The CFO Playbook, we’ve asked this question to several of our guests. These are the five characteristics that come up in their answers, time and time again.

1. Great CFOs delegate and empower

As a CFO, you have a mind-bogglingly broad range of responsibilities — from expense management to highly complex areas like audit and tax.

The learning curve is steep. But, more importantly, some of your staff may have a much better grasp of certain issues than you can reasonably be expected to have given your workload.

For this reason, says Symphony.com’s Ben Chrnelich, it’s crucial to trust your team and defer to them on technical matters. “The people I’ve worked with…” he says, “they’re the functional experts.” His job as CFO, he believes, isn’t to know every last detail, but to find a way to “connect those functional experts with each other and also to the broader goal we’re trying to achieve.”

Similarly, says Corelight’s Russ Keefe, “I’m not the one that sits there and does expense processing, [so] this isn’t my decision to make.”

But delegation isn’t just a practical necessity, it’s also about empowering your team so they can learn, mature, and grow.

“I want [colleagues] to be able to make decisions on their own that are best for the company,” continues Keefe. “You have to empower that.” And, sometimes, this means taking a back seat even if staff “make mistakes, or do things that I wouldn’t have done that way.”

Northern Data AG’s Christopher Yoshida wholeheartedly agrees: “I’m probably 1/3 leader and 2/3 cheerleader… The decision can rest on my shoulders. If it’s wrong, I’ll take the responsibility… But far more important, my role is cheering on my team so they get to do exceptional things.”

2. Great CFOs are collaborative

A word that often comes up on our podcast is ‘partnership’.

As CFO, one of your primary aims is to get as much value as possible out of the resources you allocate. And you’re much more likely to do this effectively if you work in partnership with other departments, rather than be the person who comes in with a calculator and lays down arbitrary rules.

Russ Keefe uses budgeting as an example.

“If you create a system where everyone knows they have to ask for twice as much because you’re going to cut it in half…,” he says, it becomes a self-defeating exercise. “You get into these weird negotiations with everyone inflating their budget.”

Similarly, observes Ben Chrnelich, your team could be spending days putting together a report, blissfully unaware the people it’s intended for aren’t looking at it, because it’s not relevant to them.

“Incorporating input from different departments on what they need and why,” continues Keefe, ‘…can lead to a more effective budget…connected deeply into the business.

“Does this match up with our pricing models? Does our engineering team feel like they have the resources to deliver? Show them that you can be fair, and come to a compromise.”

Most importantly, showing others within your organisation that you want to be their partner builds trust. And this will make your relationships much more constructive. As 1Password’s Jeannie De Guzman observes, “you don’t get buy-in… unless you’re helping [people] out. Then they’ll help you out too.”

3. Great CFOs are effective communicators

Because an organisation’s financials can get very technical, being able to break things down is a crucial skill.

“When you’re talking about budgets,” says Jeannie De Guzman, “a lot of people’s brains shut off. They don’t understand why, say, the thing you paid for is being amortised over a year. It can get confusing. The best finance leaders can sit there and explain it in layman’s terms.”

Taking the time to simplify complex concepts and make them easy to understand has two compelling benefits.

First, it helps strengthen your working relationships.

“When I’m talking to somebody on, say, the development team… and they’re talking about a really technical concept in a way I can understand, I’m grateful,” continues De Guzman. So when somebody wants something explained, she makes time to do it.

Second, and more important, the numbers are just the medium. A fundamental part of a CFO’s job is to be able to extract the message from that medium so decision-makers can use it to map out a way forward.

“We’re storytellers,” says Christopher Yoshida. “The numbers tell a story [and] you know the story better than anyone else because you’re closest to the numbers.”

Or, in Ben Chrnelich’s more colourful words: “You don’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi, seven plus four’. You talk about what’s happening in the world, what’s going on in a business and then use numbers to measure that.”

At the same time, you also need to know your audience.

The best communicators meet people at their level. So, while some groups will appreciate you keeping things basic, you also need to be mindful not to come across like you’re talking down to groups — like investors, for instance — who may be more knowledgeable and sophisticated.

“You definitely have to think differently with different groups,” says De Guzman,

“One of the things that could be really helpful is asking ‘How much do you know about this?’ Or, if I feel like the person may not have much detail, I might say ‘Hey, I’m really going to simplify this a lot, but if it’s too simple, let me know.’ I’ve found this to be very effective.”

4. Great CFOs strive to be well-rounded

The letters in CFO might stand for ‘Chief Financial Officer’. But, as important as it is to have a good grasp of your organisations’ numbers, there’s a lot more to the role.

The modern CFO isn’t just responsible for historical finance. Increasingly, they’re a key strategic advisor. And while “eventually, the numbers tell you everything,” says Ben Chrnelich, “they don’t tell you everything if you don’t spend time understanding how they’re built, how they’re generated, and what themes are coming out of them.”

For this reason, Russ Keefe strongly recommends taking on roles outside of finance, if you have the opportunity to do so.

“You get a much deeper appreciation for the business beyond the ones and zeros,” he says. “It’s a powerful experience… you understand the emotional aspect, the psychological aspect… you really get a great feel for the business.”

Jeannie De Guzman agrees. “When I think about what helped me get to where I am today, it was when I saw an opportunity to do something that was outside of my role. It gave me a much more well-rounded experience.”

Even if you don’t have an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, Cult Wines’ Gemma Castle says it’s critical to immerse yourself in the business as much as you can. This will inform your decision-making by giving you a better understanding of “the demands and requirements of other departments.”

CFOs who shut themselves off and just do the books, argues Ben Chrnelich, end up “at the mercy of either the markets or decisions that are made away from you.

“You really have to know: Why do customers buy our products? Where do we have deficiencies? How are our investments enabling our products to be better positioned?”

5. Great CFOs embrace technology

The CFO’s evolution from financial gatekeeper to strategic advisor also means finance automation has an ever more important part to play.

To give decision-makers accurate, timely advice, CFOs and their teams need access to real-time data and the bandwidth to analyse it thoroughly. And neither is possible if you’re reliant on spreadsheets and other cumbersome manual processes that clutter up your to-do list.

“Technology,” says Ben Chrnelich, enables “the CFO and the finance function to have an impact that previously you were not able to [have] because the volume of work was so manual.”

“There are ways you can use technology to speed every process up,” continues Bam Boom Cloud’s Kirstine Archer. “And the more we do that, the less we’re reliant on human fallibility.”

Archer believes the reason finance teams are still so reliant on Excel and other manual processes is “symptomatic of the fact that finance people don’t challenge the status quo enough. We need to be bigger advocates of the fact that this doesn’t work for us.”

More to the point, because the finance function is the custodian of an organisation’s most sensitive data, it’s incumbent on the CFO to take ownership of the digital transformation process.

“The CFO has to be really involved and really engaged in terms of the technology being used in the enterprise,” says Illumio’s Anup Singh. “It’s everything from the day-to-day automation of our business processes. How can we automate our quote-to-cash process? The purchasing process, the hiring process inside of your company.”

If this sounds like a lot of effort, it’s because it is. But the long-term payoff, says Melio’s Lena Loiberg, is worth the short-term pain.

“Automation,” she concludes, “is probably the key for efficiency and for having more time to deal with strategy and the real interesting analytics of the business.

“The more you can automate the menial tasks and use technology to integrate different tools so that information is at your fingertips in real time, the more you can free up bandwidth to think strategically about the business and put your efforts towards initiatives that help the company grow.”

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Manish’s Playbook: Breaking glass and building business

5 September 2022   |   7 minutes read

Manish is an experienced public company executive leading finance teams, investor relations, and corporate development. He has extensive experience in building finance systems and processes for high growth SaaS companies, defining inorganic strategy, identifying and evaluating acquisition targets, structuring and negotiating transactions, and integrating the acquired companies. His prior experience includes working with major Wall Street investment banks, having started his career at JP Morgan / H&Q and earning an M.B.A. from Columbia and B.Tech in Computer Science from IIT, India.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Manish talks about why he got into finance so he could be in a position to make impactful decisions for businesses, and explains why the role of a CFO is very different now than it was just a couple of decades ago. Manish also describes what he feels are the general misconceptions of the CFO role, how technology is important to the finance function, what current CFOs must do in order to raise capital, and how he achieves cohesion within his team when hiring and retaining employees. In addition, he provides his view on the current fintech market and how to navigate the new normal when dealing with restricted funding availability.

Cultivating coherence within a team structure

Successful CFOs don’t operate without a team behind them. Hand selecting passionate individuals with relevant work experience is key to building that group that will act as the backbone for a CFO. Push your teams to learn and be adept at a variety of things, helping them grow to become better professionals down the road.

“One of the things that I look for, and probably the most important thing when I’m interviewing people, is what I call fire in the belly. So unless I see somebody’s really passionate, the fact that they have lots of years of experience, relevant experience, have worked at compelling businesses, all of that is good. But to me, a motivated individual who wants to succeed is way more important than trying to find that square peg for that, you know, square hole.”

Being comfortable breaking the glass

The role of CFO is multifaceted. As the position encompasses more and more, their scope of responsibilities also increases. A great CFO knows how to lead with inclusivity, without causing turmoil internally, but also knows what’s best for the future of the company.

“Part of the CFO’s function also is, unfortunately, you need to be comfortable to break some glass. And you can’t be successful, if you are just a ‘yes’ man, the CFO is not the role for you. You should be super comfortable saying no to many things. You should be super comfortable breaking glass. I think those are the traits that define a great CFO versus just an average one.”

Communicating efficiently

A great CFO understands the scope of their role in its entirety. People from all across the business look to them for guidance. Whether it’s employees, investors, or senior leadership, the CFO needs to be able to communicate efficiently with all stakeholders to help enable the business to be successful.

“We live in a world of soundbites. If you look at how companies go public, investors have 30 minutes to understand the story, look at some financials and figure out, do they want to make a big multimillion dollar investment? And that squarely lies on the CFO. So distilling complex technology aspects or business aspects, and the ability to explain it in an easy to understand fashion. Super important for a CFO.”

Finding success as a CFO

The CFO role in today’s world is a very empowered role. They are responsible for far more than just finance and accounting. As the role has evolved over time, it’s taken on many responsibilities of the CEO and therefore must understand and appreciate the inner workings of the entire company. A CFO is required to interact with other parts of the organization and should view themselves as enablers for the rest of the business.

“A CFO shouldn’t really view that he or she has a particularly well defined swim lane, they should view the entire business as something that they can actually have a say in, and the more comfortable they are with that, the more successful they will be.”

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Mark’s Playbook: Becoming a CFO in the modern world

19 August 2022   |   6 minutes read

Mark Freebairn’s combination of current experience as a Partner, Head of the Board Practice, and Financial Management Practice has allowed him to focus on advising Odgers Berndtson’s Board as a whole and others, while maintaining the track record the Financial Management Practice has built working with the finance function to identify and develop talent. Mark led the CFO Practice for 18 years before broadening his area of focus to lead the Board Practice. He benefits from seven years of experience as a Non-Executive Director on the Board of GlobalData plc and also sits on the Remuneration Committee for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Mark talks about his current role as a CFO headhunter and how he got there, what it takes for aspiring CFOs to achieve success given how the role of the CFO has evolved over time, and finally defines the current market availability for CFO positions in a post resignation world.

Planning as a tool for aspiring CFOs

Tracking out a detailed plan of action is absolutely necessary in order to reach the top of any company. Failure to do so can lead to missing out on crucial work experience that will put a dent in any plans to achieve the desired successes.

“Work out where you want to get to, and then understand the experience you need to get there. Work out the roles that give you that experience, work out how long you need to do them for,  work that backwards to where you are now. If you are on that path, you’re heading in the right direction, keep going.”

Emotional intelligence is a key trait of great CFOs

On top of all the fundamental qualifications, the role of the Chief Financial Officer requires incredible emotional intelligence. The CFO must be able to put the success of the business over everything, and sometimes this means losing status in the social hierarchy at work.

“You’ve got to be bright, you’ve got to be numerate, you’ve got to be analytical, you’ve got to be independent of thought, you’ve got to be robust in terms of your personality because you won’t always be popular.”

The evolving role of CFO

The role of the CFO has greatly expanded from the stereotypical view of the accountant to being, in essence, a mini-CEO. As people started to appreciate that the function had more to offer, the scope of the role began to increase. With that, the amount of experience that upcoming CFOs were expected to have also grew.

“You’ve got shareholders saying we want to broaden out the role of the CFO, because I want that person involved more. You had the CEO saying, I want the CFO involved in more because, A, they’re my business partner so I want them involved in everything and, B, I can’t do everything you want me to and if I’ve got to give it to someone I’m going to give it to the CFO.”

The tables have turned for hiring CFOs

Following the Great Resignation, a shift in power related to hiring and being hired as a CFO occurred. Now that there are more available positions, people have a greater choice of companies to pick from. Companies still want the best they can get, but struggle to reach them as candidates now have a lot more bargaining power.

“Where a client has power, they hire experience. Where a candidate has power, they offer talent. And at the moment in a post resignation world, where there are more jobs being hired, where businesses are fighting furiously to keep the good people that they’ve got and therefore there are fewer good candidates looking for a role when there are more roles out there. What we are having to say to clients is, I know you want to hire the martian with six heads, four arms, two legs, six pink spots on their back, and so on. But you can’t because they’re not gonna come because they don’t want to do the job you’re offering them.”

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Chitra’s Playbook: Be agile and attune to the changing landscape

1 August 2022   |   7 minutes read

This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Chitra Balasubramanian, CFO at CircleCI, a continuous integration and continuous delivery platform that can be used to implement DevOps practices in the cloud or on private infrastructures. With more than 20 years of experience accelerating business growth through data analysis, Chitra is best known for scaling technology startups. As the current CFO, and one of two C-suite females, at fast-growth unicorn CircleCI, she’s led the company through major wins to establish itself as a leader in its space.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Chitra talks about her interest in being involved in technology forward finance, which led her to the startup world. She speaks about using data to identify and model the impact of change to a business, how her company increased its global employee headcount amidst a pandemic, the importance of remaining agile as a CFO, and why you need to remain empathetic and ensure open communication with your company and investors.

Always aim to be agile

Being a CFO requires agility. It is easy for companies to get caught up in hype cycles or be overly conservative in down cycles. You should always practice stability and consistency in your work to remain focused and avoid all the noise going on around you. But, it is important to remain open minded and aware of your surroundings so you can make adjustments when appropriate.

“The way I’ve sort of tackled agility is by really trying to take a long-term view and at the same time paying attention to the short term planning horizon. How can we think about what’s really best for the company over the long term, but also make sure to invest in a way where we can remain nimble over the course of the shorter term time horizon, where there’s a little bit more global uncertainty around us.”

Trust in transparency

Be transparent with investors. Present them with thoughtful and varied scenarios so they have options. Be prepared to have recommendations on those options so you can have a productive conversation.

“Everyone should be aligned in what the strategy and plan is. I think it’s all about providing the right amount of information. The reasons for that, and getting buy-in along the journey to remain agile and plan ahead, is so you can also make changes as necessary during tough markets.”

Emphasize evolution

You need to always evolve and learn more as you move throughout your career. This will help you when trying to get others to buy-in to your goals. By helping them to understand your decisions you will be able to gain trust and credibility. Maintain open communication and understanding with your team. That will allow you to drive progress and build relationships.

“You have to lead with empathy because while your own team may not be directly affected, they may have family members, they may have friends, and others that are affected by tough situations. Maintaining empathy is really critical and something that I think about quite often.”

Practice being proactive

Have an open dialogue with your team and leadership about what is happening in the environment around you. Keep a conversation going on what’s occurring from a macro perspective so you can navigate through cycles, identify the company’s focus, be aware of landscape changes, and remain sensitive to how customers and clients are impacted. We’re all part of a larger ecosystem that is affected, so think very thoughtfully about what’s in and out of your control to help get through things.

“I think it’s important to be proactive. You should be a leader that educates your teams and provides guidance in an advisory role to the CEO. In this type of market for CFOs and other finance leaders, you don’t necessarily know what are the right questions to ask, how to make sense of what’s going on in the market, or how to navigate through these cycles. But, financial leaders are really in the best spot one because they have access to the information and that analytical horsepower. They’ve got a team with that economic mindset and can understand different business relationships.”

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Christopher’s Playbook: Being a balanced leader

8 July 2022   |   7 minutes read

Christopher Yoshida, President & Chief Financial Officer at Northern Data AG, has spent over 20 years in global financial leadership positions. He’s an entrepreneurial executive with a passion for leadership and building dynamically successful teams. He began his career at Goldman Sachs and subsequently spent more than eleven years as part of the international management team at Morgan Stanley, including three years as Head of EMEA Interest Rate Distribution in New York and London. Afterwards, he successfully worked as a Senior Advisor and Head of European Capital Solutions for The Carlyle Group, and was a Senior Advisor for BottlePay and AIX which both had successful exits in 2021.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Christopher discusses the path to finding balance in a global leadership role such as a CFO, how to be prepared for the challenges of adapting to new responsibilities, and how to remain engaged in times of trials and tribulations. He also talks about why top companies should be investing more into their employees, and how the approach to employment and entrepreneurship has changed drastically, in part due to the pandemic.

Wear your heart on your sleeve and be transparent

As the leader of the finance division, It is important to have a deep understanding of how both private and public capital markets have evolved. Do your due diligence to understand the depth of challenges that you may face as a CFO. When issues arise, not having an answer is inexcusable. While you may not be able to solve all problems right away, you need to know the answer and what you need to do to work towards the answer. Collaborate with your team, be highly communicative, both up and down the chain, and talk to the board and investors frequently so they are never surprised.

 

“The CFO is one of the most important roles you can have because you touch the entirety of the organization, and equally your investors. That’s why oftentimes you see the CFO having a huge impact with investors, because he or she is the one who has the numbers. He or she has budgeted and drilled down the models, and can tell you through the shocks they’ve taken on to get through your base case, or your bull case, or your bear case. And I think that kind of transparency is just what investors want to see.”

Manage people for their performance

As a leader, it is important to give your team the right tools they need to succeed. Bring your refined skill set and years of experience to the table, but also help those around you to learn, grow, and gain insight to better their own future and that of the company. Be honest with yourself and your employees about what you are personally best at, while also being an empathetic leader. Make sure everyone is accountable for their work, and help to identify opportunities that can enhance and improve the group as a whole.

 

“I tell my children, it’s okay to be average. And some things you can’t be exceptional and everything, it doesn’t work like exceptional behaviour, exceptional outcomes. You can’t be a decathlete and be number one in everything. I don’t think that’s feasible. So it’s okay to be average over here, but to aspire to be something better over there.”

Have perspective over the horizon

You should aspire to think big, dream big, have ambition, challenge yourself, and take risks. Doing so can keep a career dynamically healthy. It is also important to have balance and perspective of what may be over the horizon. People are going to prioritize their own ambitions, interests, and curiosities at times ahead of their careers. Those traits can actually meld together well in the startup, technology, and innovations worlds. However, as a leader you need to identify the best ways to harness those things to entice employees to keep being productive and benefit them and the company as a whole.

 

“I don’t care how well resourced the company is you’re working for. I don’t care how accoladed and rewarded and regarded the company may be. If you’re working for a person who’s not investing in your development, it’s irrelevant. And, I think as a manager, that is one of the core tenets of being an employer or as a manager, you’re supposed to invest in your people. And, you know, I think there’s more emphasis on that going forward.”

Empathy leads to empowerment

A leader is only as good as their team. Taking a bottom-up approach to reach a final end goal involves all members of the team working together to reach the necessary outcomes. Without the individual skill sets of different team members, reaching an end goal can prove much more difficult, oftentimes impossible to do alone. Don’t demand more minutia or micromanage. If you’ve hired well, trust your team, empower them, cheer them on, support them through their endeavours.

 

“I do think connection with your people is typically an empathetic connection. And you want to drive results during stressful times. It’s not through raising your voice. It’s not through turning up your temperature. It’s not through making it harder. It’s actually generally down to listening and connecting to your people.”

 

 

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Gemma’s Playbook: Be open minded to ideas and opportunities

26 June 2022   |   7 minutes read

This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Gemma Castle, CFO at Cult Wines, which blends heritage, expertise, and innovative technology to transform the fine wine industry for producers, wine enthusiasts, collectors, and investors alike. With over 20 years of experience, Gemma Castle is well versed in delivering nuanced and sophisticated financial strategies in the fast growth SME sector. Before joining Cult Wines, Gemma worked in the leisure and hospitality industry for 10 years, where she served as Director of Finance for Travelzest and Yotel Limited Global Hotels, as well as CFO for Light Cinemas Limited.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Gemma talks about the process of investing in wine and how her company ensures a high level of quality control. She explains the importance of collaboration among the finance team, while providing avenues to give them the best chance to be productive and successful. Gemma also gives insight on why she thinks embracing and investing in technology is critical for efficiency, progress, and connection when it comes to employees, clients, and recruiting.

 

Promote empowerment

A lot of success and growth comes from having good coaching and mentoring. To help promote someone you need to not just pay attention to their technical development but also their ability to communicate and be confident in their abilities. Work to empower your team no matter what their level is, giving them additional training and offering as much support as possible to help propel them forward.

“I think it’s all about having good support. My department’s success is not just down to me, it’s down to the people I employ and if they work well, then that’s obviously a good reflection on me. And if they don’t, then obviously I have to carry the can for that. So I think, balancing the demands means having the right people in your teams so you don’t feel the need to micromanage. You want to feel perfectly secure that everybody’s doing their job.”

 

Embrace technology

The wine industry is one of many embracing technological advancement, which allows for new customer engagement opportunities, better access to recruiting talent globally, and can improve a company’s core functions. When you invest in technology, you are also investing in your company, customers, and employees for a better experience and enhanced efficiency.

“I think across all stakeholders within the wine industry there’s a general acknowledgement that technology is going to play a part in the future of the industry.”

 

Heed insight and advice from others

As the financial leader, always have your door open. Don’t get hung up in traditional hierarchy, allowing people to feel comfortable providing their concerns, ideas, and solutions. Encourage your team by making sure they know how integral they are to its success.

“To get to be a CFO, I think you have to learn from your mistakes because you are going to make mistakes, but it’s how you then move on from them. It includes listening to people. You shouldn’t profess that you’ve got all of the answers and, if someone else does have a good suggestion, don’t be scared of acknowledging that person. Because, I’ve been in a number of roles where some people have made some very good ideas and perhaps more senior people have taken credit for it. So, it’s all about giving credit where it’s due.”

 

Collaborate and communicate effectively

Being a good CFO requires you to be collaborative in efforts with the entire company. Open lines of communication to help understand the focus of each department will better prepare you to forecast, judge capacity, develop sales strategies, and negotiate deals. The finance function Being on the same page overall will allow you and your team to have a bigger impact on the company.

“Immerse yourself within the business that you work for and understand the demands and requirements of other departments. Be honest and also find that balance to make sure that you have got a good team that supports you.”

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Leigh’s Playbook: Building strong partnerships

13 June 2022   |   7 minutes read

Leigh Ramsden, CFO at Trulioo, has over 15 years experience as an accomplished financial leader, directing finance teams while implementing strategies and managing effective business processes to achieve corporate goals and maximize growth in high-volume environments. Throughout his career, he has been dedicated to providing informative, timely, and accurate internal and external financial reporting and metrics to enable data-driven decisions. Leigh prides himself on his ability to analyze complex problems in order to find pragmatic solutions while minimizing business and financial risk.

In the latest episode of the CFO Playbook, Leigh talks about what it takes to be a productive partner working alongside the CEO and the best ways to make that relationship work. He discusses the changes the pandemic has introduced to the finance world and stresses the impact that working from the office has on company culture. Leigh also explains the importance of being open to adopting new technologies to help advance the finance industry.

 

Working Alongside CEOs

The CEO of any company has a wide mandate to be in control of everything that is happening in their company. They need people to rely on that can help them oversee and support different parts of the business. As a CFO, you are a partner that provides a financial lens and context to the numbers. You need to be a trusted, informed, and strategic advisor to the CEO.

“You really have to get clarity from the CEO about what their expectations are. Depending on the individual, people have different interpretations of the same topics. So, getting clarity from that individual about what their expectations are really helps frame how you need to think about your role, and how you operate going forward.”

 

Refining Your Skillset

​​Having intellectual curiosity and getting an in-depth understanding of the business that you’re in is important. You need to have context and be able to explain the meaning of the numbers. Identify your strategies and understand the information that you need to provide to your company. If you don’t have the tools or staff to accomplish this, consider expanding your knowledge base or hiring people that can help fill the gaps.

“Taking stock of your skillset and understanding where you need to make improvements or learn, and then figuring out a plan to make it happen is really important. No one’s perfect in every area. Everyone has areas of strength and weakness. So, being thoughtful about making improvements, learning, or figuring out how you’re going to backfill some of those weaker areas is super important.”

 

Capitalize on Communication

People need to understand the finance function’s perspective. As a CFO, people are looking to you to provide insight into the business. You need to have a sense of what the future holds and have a clear grasp of what’s happening in the market. Improving the way you interact with the company and being able to provide financial insight and analysis, could help the company perform better.

“Think about your ability to communicate. I think a lot about knowing your audience and tailoring your messaging for your audience. A lot of financial professionals can understand the business and the underlying metrics. And, understanding all that’s very complicated by its nature and a lot of people have that ability of understanding. But, the job is really around simplifying it in a way that all people can understand, and that’s where you can really add a lot of value.”

 

Adapting to New Tech

It is challenging to bridge the gap between the norms and protocols of the past and the needs required for future success. You need to find the best ways to utilize the data that you have at your disposal to plan ahead. The finance world is continually evolving quickly. You need to put effort into learning about new technology and tools that can advance your team and increase efficiency and accuracy.

“I’m very open to having technology conversations now. I think you don’t know what you don’t know and learning about all the different tools that are available out there. You know, you’re doing yourself and you’re doing your organization a disservice if you’re not looking into it.”

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Kirstine’s Playbook: why competition is good for finance tech

6 June 2022   |   7 minutes read

Kirstine Archer, CFO at Bam Boom Cloud, has over 20 years working in finance with the purpose of helping small to midsize businesses achieve their goals by increasing their efficiency through technology. However, her role isn’t just about making sure the numbers balance. She is always striving for the company to have the best finance team around. Working for a company that delivers world class finance systems means that she is both their number one fan and number one customer.

In the latest episode of the CFO Playbook, Kirstine talks about the many opportunities that technology provides for improving the way finance works. She emphasizes the need for more competition among companies to develop newly innovative finance tech. Kirstine explains how the finance industry should challenge the status-quo situated around old technology to develop new innovations that would eliminate human errors. She discusses her unconventional path to becoming a leader in finance, including finding benefit from attending an open university and getting on the job experience early in her career. Kirstine also talks about her approach to creating a great team, and provides advice for becoming a successful CFO.

A well-rounded team for a well-balanced company

Moving horizontally across roles can be very important for one’s personal needs and development, and prove quite beneficial to their career aspirations. No one role in a well-balanced team is all-encompassing, including that of the CFO. In order to succeed as a team, each position should be tailored to the specific talents of the individual of that role, and vice versa.

“I don’t necessarily want a team where everybody wants to be CFO. I want a good, well-rounded team where, yeah some people are knocking down at my door wanting my job after me, but other people want to do the best they can at the job that they’ve got because they have family outside of work, or they have loved ones that they’re caring for, or actually they just don’t want the stress and the hassle of a high powered job because they want to finish on time and go and play football. I think a well balanced team and a well-balanced company should support that.”

 

Challenging the status-quo in finance

Technology is making great leaps in industries across the globe, but some of the most-used financial platforms are highly outdated. Improvements can be made but not if people aren’t willing to step up and demand modern solutions.

“It still astounds me, today in 2022, the world’s global finance system is pretty much still held up by Excel. There is no finance function on earth that does not have an Excel spreadsheet somewhere. I think that’s symptomatic of the fact that actually as finance people, we don’t challenge the status quo enough sometimes. I think that sometimes, because we have month-end reporting and because we have to make sure that what we do gets done, we go, ‘I’d love to fix that but I haven’t got time and I need this to carry on working, it will do the job.’ And I think sometimes we need to be bigger advocates of the fact that this doesn’t work for us.”

 

Eliminating human errors

Everybody makes mistakes. Adopting new technologies will alleviate the complications caused by human fallibility. While there’s growing cause for concern when it comes to autonomizing everything, robots can only go so far. Our livelihoods are saved by the value we provide as living beings, because computers can’t replace the thought processes of people.

“There are ways that you can use technology to speed every process up, every operational process. And the more that we do that, the more that you’re not reliant on humans and human fallibility and errors with that. As finance people, there’s nothing more frustrating than being like, ‘oh, someone forgot to do this,’ or ‘you posted something in the wrong way round.’ If we can remove that and get people doing what they should be doing, which is controlled checks, analysis, the data and the insight side of things, then we’ll all be better for it.”

 

Competition as a driving force in tech

The word ‘competition’ can have a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t. Two or more parties, competing simultaneously at developing a new technology, allows for growth, innovation, and individualism. This is highly necessary when it comes to achieving customer satisfaction and service, especially in the financial industry.

“I think there needs to be competition within this space. Otherwise you end up with just Excel again, just a newer version of Excel that everybody relies on. There needs to be competition. A single source is great and Microsoft enables that, but there has to be competition within the partners in terms of who’s going to get to market first…. A world without competition is a world without innovation. So it’s massively important that that continues.”

 

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Mariana’s Playbook: tackling technology trends and the importance of innovation

27 May 2022   |   7 minutes read

Mariana Lazaro, CFO Latin America at SumUp, has extensive experience in driving continuous financial and operational improvement, designing and implementing accounting processes and systems, developing and implementing strategic plans, and evaluating and executing mergers and acquisitions. From early in life, Mariana knew that she wanted to work in finance because it was important to her as a woman from an immigrant family to show she knew how to be an independent thinker that was able to own and manage finances. She thinks it is important for any CFO to be creative and nimble, building a finance tribe that invests in technology to be successful.

In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Mariana talks about the importance of innovation in financing for companies and customers, and the traits required of a CFO to build a team and lead it to success through the use of technology. She also provides insight on integrating engineering teams to help accomplish goals and develop a harmonious ecosystem. As well, Mariana speaks about personal and professional empowerment, the importance of continued education, and her dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 

Be involved in innovation

Be open to having your finance team break from the way things have always been done before. Consider bringing in new types of people with varying areas of expertise across finance and accounting. Be innovative by building a more creative team that embraces technology and has different points of view and experiences.

“Something that most CFOs will need to do is to invest in the type of people you put inside of the accounting team. Build finance squads or finance tribes to help provide you the opportunity to take a step forward. Use technology and ensure your team moves ahead as a whole unit.”

 

Expand engineering’s access

Think about integrating engineering teams into your finance work, and find common ground and understanding between your expertise. A little bit of an adjustment in this area can go a long way to avoid difficulties and frustrations, while improving the learning curve of technology. All of this can help serve an effort to create a better ecosystem between teams in your company.

“When we put together a squad that will be working inside of finance, they need to have a tech lead. They need to have somebody in finance that can give guidance on the technical part to an engineer. Create a structure where the squad inside of finance has that tech lead to help decipher what you’re planning that will be able to mentor and follow this engineering person closely.”

 

Be nimble and nurture your team

As a fixed rule, you need to be very nimble and cater to your employees. Give them choices to provide the best opportunities for them to collaborate and work on their own. When they are able to do tasks on their own, consider allowing them to work remotely. But, also encourage them to come together when launching a new product or creating something new, so that they can be in the best environment for cooperation and collaboration.

“I think it is important to have everybody sitting in their office, to create this trigger, is essential for us to get to the next step. Obviously, I didn’t impose on anybody that they needed to be a hundred percent here in the office. But, for me, to build this synergy among the team it is essential that we are in the office at least two or three times a week.”

 

Dedicated to diversity

Be willing to come out as more outspoken towards having women in leadership. It makes a difference when you see a woman, especially in a finance role, having a leadership position to inspire others. If women see other women in the room they may be more willing to speak up and feel more empowered. Be willing to study and learn from women and their perspectives. This will help you and other women to grow as people and in business.

“A joke I give to my boss every time we are in a meeting and you see only men around is that he should stop the meeting. At least one woman needs to be there. Because if there’s only men at that table, something is wrong; you’re only going to have one point of view. You are not going to get a diverse point of view. You’re not enriching the opinion there. You’re not getting the other backgrounds.”

 

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