5 Best-Kept Secrets

FROM TODAY’S MOST SUCCESSFUL CFOS

FROM MANAGING A ROLE THAT’S EVOLVING ALL THE TIME TO LEADING MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS THROUGH TIMES OF UNPRECEDENTED CHANGE

CFOs and other financial leaders do the work that stewards the assets of the world’s working economies. It’s a job that’s largely done behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.

Yet, the CFO’s viewpoint is a crucial one, and if you can flag a finance leader down long enough to share theirs, you’ll often find that it’s one worth magnifying. You’ll also find that the CFO viewpoint is much more complex than just sharing the numbers. The CFO role now pushes the strategic vision of the companies they helm and we have the best-kept secrets for success here.

With this in mind, we’ve talked with 50-plus CFOs over the past year about everything from career progression and leadership to cost containment and remote work via our podcast, CFO Weekly. Despite differences in age, location, industry, company size and more, we discovered some common themes, and a few “best-kept CFO secrets” from leaders who are thriving every day. Find out how the modern accounting landscape is changing and how you can beat your competition with our top 5 secrets of today’s most competent CFO.

Secret 1: The CFO Role Is Evolving and the Change Is a Good One

accountant reviewing the cfo secrets to succeed

Everyone knows that times are changing—and these changes have greatly affected every aspect of how we execute business. With all this evolution, who better to reflect those changes than the CFO? As a CFO, you’re more than just the go-to finance guru (although you very may well live and breathe numbers) – CFOs are now strategic key contributors to the success of their companies.

The past 10 years have shown us that the CFO role is more than just a numbers game – executives are expected to not only keep company financials top of mind, but also look to the future with the use of data. We talked to Steven Nutt, CFO of Community National Bank and Trust of Texas, about these changes and he had a lot to say about this evolution.

“… I’ve always felt it was more important to tell the story behind the numbers and get into not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’.” – Steven Nutt

So, while numbers are vitally important to the success of a company (numbers don’t lie!), taking those numbers and creating a strategy or making that information easily understood is what pushes a company into the future, according to Nutt.

But the evolving CFO role doesn’t just stop there. As we phase into the next era of accounting, we’re going to see more of a shift from manual processing to automation. And thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI), this transformation is right at our doorstep. In fact, you’ll be surprised that the CFO role and AI make the perfect team.

John Collins, CFO of LivePerson, and his team have been working with AI for quite some time now and can attest to the fact that automation allows people to do what they do best: being creative and strategic. You know…the human stuff. Moreover, offloading your mundane tasks is exactly what a CFO needs, says Collins, who believes that “the ability to leverage more data, make faster decisions, and be more predictive is ever present” for the CFO.

We know that the CFO role is evolving at a rapid pace. The rise (and rise) of technological advances and consumer demands has pushed these changes to the nth degree, and companies are feeling the effects. We’ve touched the tip of the iceberg on secrets that CFOs are dishing out and if you thought this concluded all the secrets, you’re in for a whirlwind of a surprise.

Next up on our list of CFO secrets is how CFOs are leading virtual teams.

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CFO Secrets 2: Leading a Virtual Team Is More Important Than Ever

“Welcome to 2020 where change is inevitable and working remote is the norm.” Does that mantra sound familiar? If it does, then you’ll understand the next secret very well.

Virtual teams are not a new concept in today’s modern workforce, but the extent of going virtual has been expedited thanks to the pandemic. In fact, a survey done by Gartner found that 80 percent of companies polled planned to continue to allow remote work in some capacity. So yes, COVID was the catalyst that changed today’s workforce for good (and according to many of our CFO Weekly guests, for the better). Macy Macaskill, CFO of Rockets Awesome, touches on this change – “… I do think that shopping and lifestyle habits have permanently shifted as a result of the COVID pandemic.”

But consumer behaviors aren’t the only changes spurred by the pandemic. The way we work – in-person, hybrid, remote – has also changed; and with those changes comes concerns. And who better to echo those sentiments than Mike Gilmartin, CFO of M. Davis & Sons.

“I worry about the long-term effects working remotely has on company culture… ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing. If you do enough Zoom meetings during the day, it wipes you out.” – Mike Gilmartin

However, change shouldn’t be something to fear says Jill Barnard, CFO of Televarde. And as a famous Greek philosopher once said, “The only constant is change.” Sure, embracing the unknown can be a hard pill to swallow and even baby steps can feel like you’re drowning, but how can you cross the barrier when you’re afraid to dip your toes in? Macy Macaskill, CFO of Rockets Awesome, touches on this issue – “We certainly planned for the best but prepared for the worst.”

Working from home doesn’t have to be a challenge. Sure, your office space looks a little different (or a lot) and maybe your new coworkers are a little louder than normal (thanks, kids), but it’s important to set boundaries while you adjust to the new way of working. Ali Green, CEO and Co-founder of Pantera Press, says that creating a consistent work from home schedule is key to winning at the new remote gig. If you haven’t already, check out Ali’s top 10 tips for making remote work, well…work in the link below.

If you thought leading a virtual team was tough, try hiring the best talent – Coming up next on our best-kept secrets of the successful CFO.

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Secret 3: The War for Human Capital Is on & Accounting Talent Is Dwindling

cfo reviewing work

Hiring top (and hopefully the right) talent doesn’t begin with placing an ad on a job board and then crossing your fingers that the perfect unicorn submits their resume. No, it begins with your leadership and then seeps into your company. As Olga Shevorenkova, CFO of EVgo, states, “The right team starts with the CEO and includes everyone. The team is the whole team, not just the executive team.”

She’s not alone in that mindset. Nineteen percent of executive-level leaders recognize that Millennial new hires leave because they dislike the organization’s culture. That means that leadership has to get it right – right away. The key is adopting a new outlook, which Gene Corvino, President of William M. Bird and Sr. VP/CFO of Southern Diversified Distributors explains: “You need to hire people who you believe can replace you and who can do things beyond what your capabilities are.”

Moreover, Roy Austin, leadership coach and Managing Principal at Rockwell Business Solutions, points out that hiring is like dating – you have to find a candidate whose values align with your business’s values.

“At some point, as a small business, you have to have the ability to keep and retain employees. That’s dependent on you as a leader and creating a climate in which people want to stay.”  – Roy Austin

Additionally, a recent study showed that the current lack of qualified people in the accounting pipeline could affect entire economies by 2030 – a sentiment that Personiv’s very own David Lesniak shares. For his part, Lesniak discusses how turning to overseas talent pools can help businesses manage the talent shortage.

“Low-end accounting tasks can be mundane and transactional, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, invoicing, or payroll,” Lesniak explained. “These everyday tasks don’t have a huge role in a company’s bottom line, but they certainly take time and resources to complete. These activities must function well for a business to operate, but they are not competitive differentiators.”

And despite all the setbacks that have thrown us for a loop this year, accounting is still an exciting and rewarding field to be in. In fact, Cliff Edwards, CEO of Thomas Edwards Group, calls it an interesting job because of the analytics and big data which help make the decisions.

We’ve given you three CFO secrets so far and the fourth is one that has affected leaders across every industry – cost containment.

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CFO Secrets 4: How to Handle Cost Containment Becomes Even More Vital in These Unpredictable Times

If there’s one thing accounting and finance leaders can agree on, it’s that controlling spending is never fun. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that decision makers lean toward is blanket cost cutting according to Ken Wentworth, Speaker, Author, and Fractional CFO at Mr. Biz Solutions, who addressed this problem:

“I think that’s the biggest mistake companies make… they say ok we need to cut everything by 20 percent, and I think that’s the wrong approach to make because that can really cause a negative, accumulative snowball effect that can make your business spiral.” – Ken Wentworth

It’s been a little over a year since our world was affected by COVID-19 and accounting executives are still struggling with how to sustain their capital. Will things resume back to normal operations? Over time they likely will, but that still leaves leaders with the lingering question of ‘Can we make it through this disruption?’ It’s a topic that’s all-too familiar for Peter Woolery, CFO of Summit Bicycles, and something he discusses in depth.

According to Peter, the pandemic has forced his company to rethink their business strategies altogether as their online sales have jumped to over 700 percent.

“Biggest change is no longer just selling what we have in stock and refilling it the following week. Now we’re having to sell on future inventory.” – Peter Woolery

Even with an influx of cash flow, companies are struggling with where to allocate the extra dollars on their balance sheets. Their biggest worry? A sudden decrease in cash flow during the off-season.

“We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, where we’re introducing more automations and selling to consumers in different ways.”  – Peter Woolery

Leaders like Peter have found an upside to 2020 though – the ability to transition the way they operate their business. In fact, Peter wrote a program that automates entering sales into a POS – point of sale system.

Many of the CFOs we have talked with have not only mentioned cost cutting but claimed that strategic cost containment will be a huge concern moving forward. The true secret to cost containment is to be selective and purposeful with cost cutting and choose strategies that can bring additional benefits.

Outsourced accounting is one way to cut costs that also provides additional benefits such as getting time back for strategic work. Our own Matt Wood addressed this on the show.

“It’s no secret – there’s a cost-savings involved in outsourcing. Our clients see over 50 percent in savings; many clients are closer to 70 percent or more based on the geography or based on the position and background that they’re looking to outsource or hire. Outsourcing is a scalable solution. It allows companies to lower their costs and invest that money in areas that really differentiate their organizations so they can focus on what they do best – focus on their clients, their team, their products,” Wood said.

Let’s take a look at our last Secret of our comprehensive CFO secrets list – technology and automation – and how that plays a key role in the accounting landscape.

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CFO Secrets 5: Technology & Automation Is Here to Stay (But You’ve Got to Use It the Right Way)

cfo making note of his best secrets

Technology has changed (it’s always changing), and accounting and finance leaders are not immune to those changes. Companies are always looking for ways to contain costs and hang on to their cash and what better way to save than to automate the mundane and transactional work found in the accounting function? Automation can help you create a streamlined process and allow CFOs, Controllers and other finance leaders to concentrate on real-time data.

Still, it’s people, not machines that crunch the numbers, analyze and interpret data, forecast, and hire people. Automating just because every other organization is doing it is never a good idea. There are risks in automation and if your automation doesn’t add value to your company, you might want to rethink it.

“I think where a lot of organizations struggle is the assumption that all automation is good automation, and that’s just not the case.” – Glen Parillo

Conversely, as we hit the halfway point for 2021, companies are going to continue to migrate their accounting platforms and other applications to the cloud according to Megan Weis, VP and General Manager for Personiv (and the host of CFO Weekly). She goes on to say that CFOs will be holding on to cash and investing in things that are necessary, like automation.

“I think that companies are going to look to automate everything that they can automate, and then outsources those things that cannot be automated. I think automation is actually a great thing for accountants.” – Megan Weis

We live in a digital world that is continually progressing. Software may not alleviate all the pressure that comes with performing low-impact tasks, but it does free up time to focus on things that matter – data-driven decision making and strategy.

“We haven’t just automated what was done manually in a spreadsheet, we’ve leveled up the game with machine learning. And so it’s now fully automated, but in addition to that, it’s highly predictive.” – John Collins

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About Personiv

At Personiv, we understand that overseeing the finance and accounting function comes with its own set of challenges. It’s why we covered – in depth – the topics we have in the previous pages from the perspectives & secrets of a few CFO professionals and Accounting Executives that know a thing or two about these issues. We’ve helped businesses – small to large – tackle the ever-changing accounting landscape and we can help you too.

For over three decades, we’ve delivered custom, cost-effective solutions that improve the efficiency of teams of all sizes across the globe – whether that’s in-person or remote, technology savvy or not, we’ve got you covered.

To hear from more of today’s top CFOs and their secrets, don’t forget to subscribe to CFO Weekly wherever you get your podcasts.

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