Today’s CFO is required to operate effectively in the “Uber economy” – an environment where value creation is knowledge-based, and “sharing is caring” has transcended its nursery-rhyme origins to become the cornerstone of a new form of finance.
The New CFO needs to be a performer, a salesperson, a diplomat, and an early adopter of new technology. There is no room for specialization, or embracing a single narrow focus within this spectrum of skills.
Of these skills, we have summarized the seven most important. Together, they serve as the blueprint of the New CFO – a rare individual who serves as a multipurpose Swiss army knife within the arsenal of a business.
The New CFO must be able to:
1. Build a fortress
When risk threatens the health of the business, it is the responsibility of the CFO to ensure that the organisation is resilient enough to withstand its impact. This involves strengthening not only the organisation itself, but the underlying business model. Successful risk mitigation requires the ability to recognise when an existing model isn’t working, and a willingness to constantly improve that model, even when everything appears to be running smoothly.
CFOs need to be at the forefront of leveraging new technology and ideas within a business. The New CFO doesn’t simply embrace effective, disruptive change – he or she spearheads its use in the C-suite and champions its development. Rather than relying on “tried and true”, CFOs need to be willing to “try it and see what happens”. A true innovator never waits until change becomes necessary – just until it becomes feasible.
3. Be the ultimate “people person”
Any CFO worth their salt can network effectively and build cordial business relationships with important stakeholders. But today’s CFO is not merely the master of mingling, content with shaking hands and exchanging business cards. He or she is able to successfully liaise with every department in the organisation, and builds relationships across the corporate hierarchy – from the ground floor up. In a world of pulse surveys and increasingly popular flat hierarchies, leadership skills and emotional intelligence have become absolutely vital for CFOs in every industry.
Persuasion is a powerful tool in the hands of any leader. As a sales-literate professional with the ability to sway an audience to his or her point of view, the modern CFO is able to champion new ideas and push for their implementation in the boardroom. Moreover, at times of distress, he or she often needs to be able to speak up against other C-level executives – including the CEO. The New CFO is able to persuade the CEO, board members and shareholders alike to hold back when it is time to do so, break bad news and secure buy-in to implement the appropriate measures.
5. Navigate choppy political waters
Though CFOs will never fully be expected to serve as either lobbyists or political advocates, the modern CFO needs to stay abreast of regulatory developments that could influence the business, and be able to protect the interests of the shareholders while complying with the regulations.
6. Turn big data into big decisions
The modern CFO fully appreciates the sheer depth and scope of data available to those who know where to look for it, and understands how to leverage this data to help drive business decisions. In addition, CFOs need to serve as an effective channel of communication between data scientists and the C-suite.
7. Communicate effectively
CFOs are often called upon to act as a representative of the business in the media and at public events. They are the ambassadors of their businesses, and serve as the main point of contact with investors. The New CFO needs to defend the reputation of the firm and difficult choices made by management. Sharp communication skills are essential – as is the tenacity to continuously hone these skills, even when it would be more convenient to pawn off communication-related responsibilities to a press officer or publicist.