Being a good CFO requires you to be level-headed in moments of stress and crisis. Having broad access to the technical, business, and commercial sides will help you to build that comfort to lead through knowledge and experiences gained.
Paul Sheriff is CFO at NewDay, a private equity backed consumer finance business providing branded and co-branded credit cards, including Amazon’s credit card in the UK. Paul has over 25 years of experience in financial services organizations spanning banking, asset management and insurance. His specialities include, finance, operations, financial services, and change management. Paul’s vast experience with large corporations and smaller companies across the world have helped provide insight and expertise to have success in his role today.
Paul joined us on the latest episode of The CFO Playbook podcast where provided insight on how to approach your first 100 days as a CFO in a new job. Paul also talks about the impact of data and his philosophy on financial forecasting, technology, and progressive approaches to being a CFO.
Go into your first hundred days as the CFO at any new company with a plan on what you want to look at and review, breaking it down into categories.
By the time you’ve been in an organization for a hundred days, you’ll be able to start forming a good view of the capabilities of your team. You will be able to assess where the strengths are, where the weaknesses are, and any potential changes you think need to be made to the structure, staff, and working environment.
“Seek the view of experts and people you can lean on before you start a role. Rely to a degree on the good people you’ve got in the organisation to bring you up to speed. Nobody as a CFO hits the ground running and can say they understand the business. As soon as they start that role, it takes a period of time to learn and evolve and really understand how things work. What you’re then going to do is look at how to move the business forward, where you’re going to choose to devote your time and energies, and what you can do to really help the business succeed.”
You’ll also be able to have a good grasp of the capabilities from a technology perspective, including what systems are in place, how they work, and how technology works in concert with your team. At that point you will have the information you need to address any issues or concerns and set an agenda for changes you feel are necessary.
One of the foundational blocks important to a modern CFO is to ensure the numbers are always right, and do everything you can to make the best use of your own and your team’s time.
You need to get through your audit, and your finance processes need to work efficiently and effectively. You need to do all your compliance tax. Doing all of these will help everything else work.
“My philosophy has always been: let’s automate what we can and get it to be more efficient so that we can have people spending their time on more value-added activities. That reduces the mundane work, it means they’ve got more interesting things to do, and frankly, they’re having more interactions and more interesting conversations.”
You also need to figure out where all the pieces fit and balance everything, from learning about the company to making changes you feel are necessary, and determine the three biggest projects you want to move forward with.
As a CFO, the data and the insights it provides give you the biggest bang for your buck. Data insights allow you to plan, adapt, pivot, and move forward in your financial functions.
Gone are the days where you make an annual budget and monitor performance against it. Now, you should be doing some form of financial forecasting every single month. Also, don’t just keep your sights set towards the end of the calendar year. Keep an eye on the next two or three years and be open to adjusting your outlook and decisions regularly.
“I think if you’d have rolled the clock further back and you don’t have that MI (Management Intelligence), what you don’t want to be doing is making decisions in a vacuum. When you go in and know you need to do something, look at what the data is telling you. The data really helps you make informed decisions. You won’t get everything right, but at least you’re basing it on the data you see today as to what you think is the right course of action to plot for the business.”
To help you through this journey, it’s important to have good data that looks not just at the finances, but some of the underlying operating metrics in the business.
Make sure to evolve your team. Don’t hold them to doing just the work outlined in their initial job description. Encourage your team to enrich their roles to strive and achieve more. In the world of greater remote work, over-communicate extensively, because people will feel a bit disconnected.
Don’t be afraid to break down the traditional hierarchy. Consider building more of a flat structure that encourages collaboration to give people more flexibility. Be open to change and understand the journey of your team may not end for them at your company. But as long as they contribute and do a great job, you should celebrate them.
“If you’ve got good, talented people, you need to be giving them something new and different every two to three years in order to help motivate and retain them. I mean, the beauty of being in a business that is growing and developing is as we look at doing new things, we naturally get opportunities.”
While challenging, promoting, and seeing your staff grow and develop is important, allowing team members to move on also gives you the chance to recruit in the external market for people that have specific skill sets that could help your company.
To be a successful CFO, Paul strongly believes that you need to take opportunities as they arise. He recommends that in doing so you always look forward and be one step ahead so you set up your company and leadership to always look good and be prepared.
While technical abilities are very important, how you interact and communicate with others helps you to gain trust and confidence in your team, leadership, and clients.