The skills every modern CFO needs
Hint: it's not just excel
In the age of data, the role of the CFO in a scale-up has changed. To be a success, you need to develop expertise in three key areas.
Traditionally, the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has been primarily strategic with their main responsibility being running a company's entire financial operation. A CFO works hand-in-hand with the CEO, helping to set the vision for the company and to achieve it.
However, times have changed. In today's scale-ups, a CFO needs a broader, more technical skillset. This can create challenges because the traditional accounting career path from Financial Controller to CFO doesn't typically provide an opportunity to develop these skills. It's hard to be a great FC and then a great CFO.
At Quantico, we've been expanding our team and have spoken to dozens of CFOs and Financial Directors over the last few weeks. Many of the CFOs we talked to are more traditionally-minded, so they were keen to reduce their remit to strategy or deal-making, leaving the technical aspects to their colleagues or FC. Also, as they advance in their career, their salary expectations go up very quickly. In their view, working exclusively on strategy justifies these expectations.
We see this view as a mistake. In our opinion, today's CFOs should set their sights across three critical aspects of finance. Let's break each of them down.
Strategy is undoubtedly important in scale-ups. It is an essential part of the CFO's remit. But the modern scale-up CFO should also be responsible for building their own function in the business. These are the technical aspects and understanding of software and data, often overlooked by the traditionalists. Let's look at what this means on the input and output sides:
Scale-ups should be regularly evaluating their finance function as they scale, making changes where necessary. This is not something you can build for three months and then toss to the side. Generally, this operations and software expertise is directed first at the finance team. However, the process specialisation can and should be used to help establish processes across the company.
At Quantico, we set up finance functions that scale, as well as build sales ops and business operations systems that bring real results for our clients.
In addition to the finance function in scale-ups, the modern CFO should own the reporting of neutral information throughout the organisation.
Many startups and scale-ups are setting up data functions. These are often used to support marketing or product teams. However, because you can apply your own biases to data should you wish, CMOs or CPOs may enlist these data teams to present narratives that favour themselves when reporting to the board. The CFO needs to take ownership of this information, ensuring that data teams present neutral information that measures other business functions.
Modern CFOs, with all the experience they have gained through their careers, need to take a more prominent leadership role compared to their traditional predecessors. They need to embed and promote the right values and behaviours in the organisation. This covers best practices for business, as well as ethical values.
In scale-ups, this is especially important. An influx of VC money and rapid growth often leads to limited controls from above and uncontrolled spending. Scale-ups often promote young, ambitious managers. This brings the benefit of new ways of thinking, but also the drawback of a lack of experience around best practice business controls and processes.
At Quantico, we see our role as guiding successful and idealistic startups as they mature into more professional and capable scale-ups.
So, while the traditional, strategic aspect to the remit of a CFO is still essential, a modern CFO cannot limit themselves solely to strategy. CFOs need more skills to make an impact.
You need to be a data expert, understanding how data flows through the organisation and championing its use for unbiased reporting. You also need to be comfortable setting up processes, both for your finance functions and across the business. This is especially relevant in scale-ups where control environments are often lacking.
If you've got the skills of a modern CFO, it's time to talk to Quantico. We can introduce you to best-in-class clients, where you can really make your mark. Plus, we ensure the accounting process is always taken care of, leaving you to focus on what's more important. With Quantico, you're part of a great team, backed by a peer group who support you.
To find out more about joining Quantico, visit our site today.