52 Forecasting Finance Functions with Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay

17 March 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 52: NewDay | With Paul Sheriff, CFO

Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay has over 25 years of experience in financial services organizations spanning banking, asset management and insurance. Paul is currently working as Chief Financial Officer for NewDay, a private equity backed consumer finance business providing branded and co-branded credit cards, including Amazon’s credit card in the UK. 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.

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.

Paul believes that 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.

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay shares his vast experience across different companies and countries. He provides insight on how to approach your first 100 days as a CFO with 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.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Paul Sheriff

What he does: Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay has over 25 years of experience in financial services organizations spanning banking, asset management and insurance. Paul is currently working as Chief Financial Officer for NewDay, a private equity backed consumer finance business providing branded and co-branded credit cards, including Amazon’s credit card in the UK. His specialities include, finance, operations, financial services, and change management. To be a good CFO, Paul strongly believes that you need to take opportunities as they arise, you always need to be planning ahead, and be a level headed communicator under pressure. 

Key Quote: “I think in any organization, you need to assess how good it is on the way in. Unless there is a bedrock that works, you don’t get the latitude to play elsewhere because you’ll just always be dragged back into fixing issues in that space. Depending on how you find that then gives you the latitude, and certainly I’ve built my career about how you commercially support the business, how you drive the business forward.”

Where to find Paul: linkedin.com/in/paul-sheriff-29b9b1/?originalSubdomain=uk

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From Paul’s Playbook

Foundations in the first 100 days

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. 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.

Keep many plates spinning

One of the foundational blocks important to a modern CFO is to ensure the numbers are always right. You need to get through your audit and your finance processes need to work efficiently and effectively. You need to do all your compliance taxes. Doing them will help everything else work. 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. 

Don’t doubt the data

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 toward 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. 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.

Encourage your team to work beyond the job description

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. 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.

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Episode Highlights

Seek insight before you hit the ground

“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 organization 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.”

Effective through efficiency

“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.”

Deal with the data

“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.”

Provide ample opportunities

“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.”

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Top Quotes:

07:15

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 organization to bring you up to speed. Nobody as a CFO that 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.

08:10

I think you always go in with a view of the things you want to look at in that first hundred days. And, I would put it, you put it into categories. I think by the time you’ve been in an organization for a hundred days, you’re starting to form a very good view of the capabilities of the team you’ve got, that you’ve inherited where the strengths are, where the weaknesses are, any potential changes to make both in structure and individuals within that environment. You’ve also got a very good grasp of the capabilities from a technology perspective, in terms of what systems, how it works, how things come together, and an understanding of the issues that you need to address. And in what time span you’re going to have to dress them. And then I think what you do is you look to set an agenda.

10:50

Absolutely figuring out where to start on which pieces. I always use the spinning plate analogy. If you imagine that I’m trying to balance a spinning plate on a stick, there’s not much point in having 20 plates because all I do is go round and spin each plate a little bit and don’t really move forward that quickly. I would be much better picking my three biggest bets and really to use the analogy a bit further, shoring it up with some scaffolding. So the plates are actually standing still, and I don’t need to go round and twiddle it to keep it in the air.

11:32

In the role of a modern CFO you’ve got to start with the absolute foundation blocks of being a CFO and running a finance function where the numbers need to be right. You need to get through your audit, your finance processes need to work efficiently, effectively, and you need to do all your compliance tax and everything else work. I think in any organization, you need to assess how good it is on the way in. Unless there is a bedrock that works, you don’t get the latitude to play elsewhere because you’ll just always be dragged back into fixing issues in that space. Depending on how you find that then gives you the latitude, and certainly I’ve built my career about how you commercially support the business, how you drive the business forward.

12:20

I think when you look up at the biggest bang for the buck, to me, it’s a lot of that data and that data insights that really shows you how to adapt and pivot as you move forward. I think gone are the days where you as a business did an annual budget and that was it. You didn’t revisit it. You just monitored your performance against that annual budget. We’re in a process whereby we are doing some form of forecasting every single month. And we’re not just looking out to the end of the current calendar year. We’re looking out what we term eight quarters. So at the moment we’re looking out to saying, in this month, what is our forecast telling us? But it’s not just to the end of 22 it’s to the end of 23. And how are we making decisions and how are we improving things on that outlook basis? What does it all mean? And in order to do that, you need, first of all, good. MI  on the business? Not just the finances, but some of the underlying operating metrics in the business and you need good tools to support it.

15:37

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.

 

18:13

What I think you’re able to do is help the business look forward. I think a lot of finance is about what’s happened in the rear view mirror. I think the really progressive finance functions are looking at what is out the front windscreen, what’s coming up on the road ahead. How can I help the business understand that what are the puts and takes on what decisions can I make today that I probably will only see the influence of in six months time. If you’ve got a business with a sales cycle, that’s six months time, it’s the decisions you make today that you will see the financial impact, 6, 12, 18 months time. There’s not much point in looking in 12 months time and saying, I wish I’d done something six months ago. I’m far better looking forward and trying to use data to the best extent I can to understand what I should be doing today to get to a better outcome.

22:05

I think if you’d have rolled the clock further back and you don’t have that MI, what you don’t want to be doing is taking decisions in a vacuum. Because when you go in and know you need to do something, look at what the data is telling me. The data really helps you make informed decisions. Now 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.

25:51

I think when you move to remote working, you’ve got to remember that people are at home, looking at a screen, their interactions are who they are talking to. And as an organization and as a function, you need to massively over-communicate almost to an excessive extent because people will feel a bit disconnected. If all I do is look at the screen, and I do a series of teams meetings, that is the way I’m used to. And I’ll only see the people I deal with. I think the other aspect of working remotely and that moved to COVID is I think we very much leveraged relationships. We’d been built face to face in order to get things done and working styles. And we understood what people from that environment we were used to, which was office-based and we leverage those relationships into the remote working. I think, as we were coming back into a hybrid model whereby we’re saying half in the office, half out of the office, and clearly it’s relatively early days, but at the moment, people are really appreciating that face-to-face contact. And certainly for people who have joined the organization, they’re getting that kind of water cooler chat that you don’t get on a teams or zoom environment.

27:18

I think what we lost in the remote working was, or that teams and zoom reinforced the hierarchy. And we are trying to have a flat structure and collaboration and face-to-face interactionsto  break down the hierarchy. I don’t think teams and zoom in the technology really break down that hierarchy. I think they unfortunately reinforce it to a degree. What we’ve seen is how are we asking people to work in that environment? And we’re saying, what we’re looking for is how do you want to work? Is your working style giving people the degrees of flexibility?

27:08

You have to work with the talent pool you’ve got. And at that point, unfortunately, you will probably need to go externally to recruit more talent in, to bring in a talent pool, or certainly that’s been my experience. What I think you find is as you progress and you know, I’m now in year six at NewDay is I’ve got some great stories of people. We have stretched, challenged, promoted, seeing them grow and develop in their roles. And yif you give me a choice of taking a chance on someone who I think is good in job A to do job B, I’ll always take that chance. Rather than recruiting in the external market, unless it’s very, very specific technical skills that you absolutely need through your experience and your career.

28:56

If you’ve got good, talented people, we 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. I always think the greatest stories are I recruited someone and a job description that I could show you in two years later, you look at it and say, gosh, there’s so much more you’ve added into that. And my role is so much richer as a result of that because I’ve stretched the role upwards, downwards, left, and right. And as a result of that, people are doing way, way, way more, are more engaged and getting a greater experience themselves.

31:50

There’s always technology improvements you can make. And some of them are for efficiency. Some of them are because you’re outgrowing the existing technology solution and some of them are just frankly, better, better ways of working.