Tag Archives: CEo

The Ideal CFO Skills

What qualities are essential and what CFOs should really focus on

There was a recent discussion topic on Proformative.com titled “The Ideal CFO Skills” .  It evolved from a question by a Proformative member trying to get a better understanding of what CFOs should devote their time to and what basic skills they must possess in order to do so. The question was based on an article in CFO.com by David W. Owens about skill sets provided by a recent CFO survey. The main categories given were:  Strategist, Catalyst for Change, Steward and Administrator.

Proformative readers were asked to form their own opinion on how much time CFOs should devote to each category and why. There were many responses to this question and the general opinion was that the “Strategist” was a critical category where CFOs must be able to continually analyze the performance of their organization using planning as a tool of reference, while also being a catalyst of change, usually in conjunction with the first category’s activities.

In my many years in accounting, finance, and upper management I have seen the CFO role evolve from the top accounting and finance person in the company to the CEO’s partner.  It used to be that if you wanted to become a CFO of an organization, your career path had to often start as a staff accountant, moving through the ranks while gaining experience and taking on greater responsibilities with each career advancement.  You often had to be a CPA (in the US) in order to be considered for the CFO position.

This has all changed in the last 10 – 15 years. Many CFOs in a variety of industries are not accountants by trade.  Some have sales and marketing background, others advanced to the position from operations management or the legal department.

CFOs are often the second in command at the organization, directly report to the CEO and in close contact with the company’s Board of Directors, investors and shareholders, and industry financial analysts.  It is common nowadays to see the accounting, finance, IT, Legal and HR departments report to the CFO.

The four skill categories given in the Proformative board discussion are all very important, but some of the activities in each category must be delegated more than others in order for the CFO to meet his or her objectives.

Strategist is by far the most important skill category. The CFO must work very closely with the company’s CEO while interacting with other members of senior management in order to clearly understand the organization’s performance, analyze it against pre-determined goals and milestones and be able and willing to affect change. This is where the second skill category mentioned comes in: Catalyst for Change.

The CFO must continually search for ways for the organization to adapt to changes in the company’s market place, its customers, product or service lines offered vs. actual or forecasted demand, existing and competitors’ technologies or product offerings, legal and moral issues and changes in the general economy. These continuous changes must be performed timely but always thoughtfully and with solid data backing up each change.

In being a Catalyst for Change the CFO must earn the company’s respect and trust, as in doing so, changes will be embraced by all levels of management and can actually take place within the planned timeframe and budget.

Stewardship, the third skill category pertains to all levels of management, CFO included.  This is what separates a great organization from all other companies. The CFO, backed up by the CEO and with the help of senior managers can set that example. In turn, this will trickle down through the ranks and will make every employee feel they are cared for and appreciated. The results are often profound.

And finally, Administrator is an important skills category. It requires the CFO to not only be organized and well disciplined, but also able to instill these skills and traits in other managers of the company, and most importantly teach them to pass on these traits to their direct reports and to all company employees.

To make these skill categories really effective, the CFO must above all partner with the company’s CEO, who must also posses these skills and fully endorse them. Close communication between the CFO and CEO as well as between the CFO and his/her direct reports will always ensure that the organization is moving in the right direction, be able to quickly change course and most importantly rapidly recover from inevitable mistakes and unexpected negative events.

Are Financial Planning and Cash Processes High Priorities on Your List?

See what industry experts and companies’ finance executives think

I recently read the results of the 2015 Finance Priorities  survey conducted by the global business consulting and internal audit firm Protiviti which confirmed my observations and experience working with clients in a variety of industries. To quote the first three most important findings, which also represent the top priorities of finance executives:

1.       Finance functions are striving to gain greater visibility toward the “cash” horizon.

2.       Finance executives are placing more importance on strategic planning, risk management, executive dashboards, profitability analysis and other strategic areas of financial analysis.

3.      Finance functions want to manage and improve related processes in a comprehensive manner.  Strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting rank among the highest priorities in the entire study, which demonstrates as intent to strengthen overall corporate performance management.

This clearly confirms that corporate strategic and financial planning is not only essential but also greatly recognized as such by the 372 participants in this survey who are a good representation of finance executives and managers across many industry sectors.

The conclusion is that strategic planning, budgeting and analysis must be an integral process in finance, with its results clearly and timely communicated to executive management, the Board of Directors and certain shareholders.  I am encouraged that the survey participants have recognized this and correctly voiced their opinions.

As the number one finding in this survey indicates, Cash remains the most important component in finance.  It is cash that allows a company to grow and achieve its objectives, but also to survive in difficult economic times.  A company can be very profitable according to its income statement, yet suffer a chronic shortage in cash and lack the ability to meet its cash obligations or finance its basic operations.

As a business owner, CEO, CFO or finance executive, you must be able, at all times, to forecast the cash balance at each accounting period and how much cash will be required in each period in order to meet obligations arising from business expenditures, purchase of inventory, incurring payroll and related expenses, acquisition of assets, loan and line of credit payments and other cash related transactions.  The sources of cash are from customer account collections (AR), borrowings from lines of credit, issuing of long-term debt, selling shares in the company, and from sale of assets.

Since there are many accounting transactions affecting cash every day, its balance will fluctuate during the accounting period and over a period of time you will notice an upward or downward movement of this balance as measured at the end of each period.  Similarly, if you rely on a bank line of credit to finance your operations, you may have a zero balance in your operating account and your line of credit balance will fluctuate.

Whether it’s the cash balance, the line of credit account balance, or any long term loans, you need to know and well in advance what these balances are going to be and whether or not you will have access to this cash and how much.  This is part of a prudent and disciplined planning and budgeting process, every responsible finance organization should employ.

Those who use traditional methods to forecast cash and other budgeted data, by using spreadsheets with their inherent limitations and likelihood of errors, or perhaps, upgrading to a purpose designed planning and budgeting solution that requires users to perform extensive programming and provide formulas, functions and links, have discovered that cash planning and forecasting is not trivial.

The fact is that many organizations are not able to forecast cash, credit line utilization, loan covenants compliance and other key finance ratios and operational KPIs despite the fact they have implemented expensive and seemingly powerful software solutions.

My blog entry titled: “Cash Flow Statement: One of your Most Trusted Tool” demonstrates how the finance organization can obtain a complete and accurate Statement of Cash Flows for all budgeted accounting periods, using the existing planning and budget data.

The second and third findings of the Protiviti survey provide clear evidence that many finance organizations are still struggling with achieving timely and meaningful financial analysis, using both planned and actual data.  This implies that spending money and effort on sophisticated systems may not be the right solution if these systems fail to provide the required output or the outcome expressed as highly desirable in these top three survey findings.

Several of the blog entries on this site are focused on the importance of periodically planning and budgeting and continuously analyzing both actual and budgeted data; good examples are: Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics” and A Physical and Mental Health Predictor? A Budgeting Analogy.

I continue to marvel at the accomplishments of Centage Corporation with its Budget Maestro with Analytics product line and have written about this solution and referenced it throughout this blog. The conclusion those familiar with this product must come to after reading the Protiviti survey results is that the Budget Maestro product line delivers and overcomes two of the most common challenges that finance organizations face:

1.      Providing a clear, accurate and complete visibility into the “cash horizon”.

2.      Allowing the construction of a strategic plan driving a financial plan, year after year, and real time analysis into the future, present and past Analysis of Everything.

Having these top priority challenges conquered is no trivial feat. I am glad that a sensible and effective software solution that does just that actually exists.