The role of a CFO is changing. Obviously, excellent financial skills are still a requirement, but the modern chief financial officer is also a business partner, a team leader, a communication specialist and the driving force behind digitalisation, all in one.
Things used to be different, says Özlem Simsek, Managing Director at Robert Walters and an expert in executive search. Back then, it was mainly about capturing the figures and reporting them to all stakeholders.
Özlem: "But what did those figures say about how that year had gone exactly? And what did those figures mean for the coming year? Little analytical interpretation was given. And it is precisely analytical and strategic insight that has been much more demanded of CFOs in recent years.
Özlem and her team regularly recruit for CFO positions. Today, she gives an insight into the skills that employers consider important in a modern CFO.
Top of the list of most requested skills for modern CFOs: thinking along with the business on a strategic level. Organisations are looking for a CFO who not only ensures that everything is financially correct, but who, together with the other C-level managers, determines the direction the company is taking and the route to be followed.
At the same time, the CFO must also have the courage to speak up when the rest of the management wants to take a path that is unwise from a financial point of view. Özlem: "As CFO, you must maintain that positive-critical attitude, because thinking along is not the same as moving with the others.
In order to determine the right strategy, you need data. Or rather: the insights that come from analysing data. This requires dashboards to determine which goals are important and KPIs allowing the organisation to measure whether it is on course to achieve these goals.
Özlem: "All kinds of data are available throughout the organisation, but too little is done with them. Either because they lag with digitisation, or because they do not have the knowledge or capacity in-house. Luckily today, a great deal of catching up is being done because the CFO is freeing up both time and money for it, even though it has been put on hold for a while in many organisations due to the corona crisis."
In order to unlock and interpret all that data, the right people are needed, such as data analysts and data-savvy business controllers. In short: professionals that the CFO can rely on for a solid analytical and strategic interpretation of the figures.
However, 61% of CFOs note that the controllers they are surrounded by do not have all the skills necessary to take on the business partnership. That is why it is important, as a CFO, to surround yourself with people you trust and who know what they are doing.
According to Özlem, CFOs can take various steps to achieve this. As a CFO, start at the source by actively participating in the recruitment process. In addition, map out a concrete route for the controllers with well-defined goals within a certain time frame. And last but not least: continue to coach and manage them so they remain loyal to the organisation for the long term."
Even if you have strategic insight and you are the driving force behind digitalisation within your company and have a good team around you, you must be able to communicate all your knowledge effectively to colleagues and stakeholders.
"The CFO who can present and communicate well definitely has an edge, and today you can't really do without it," says Özlem. "Conveying your vision, based on figures, data and KPIs, to people who are not as in-depth, such as investors or shareholders, is crucial. You must be able to take stakeholders on a journey through those figures and have the necessary powers of persuasion. Because you may be right, but you also have to be right."
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