Standard Bank CIB CEO Kenny Fihla's ideal CFO

Kenny Fihla was recently made CEO (he was, until then, deputy CEO) of Standard Bank’s Corporate and Investment Banking division. For him, the ideal CFO needs to be three key things: a core partner, concerned with sustainability, and a sanity check for the organisation. “If a CFO can play these three roles exceptionally well, you’ve got a winner.”

Kenny says he wants a CFO who will partner with him, and who is willing to dig into detail with the end in mind, and not just for accounting purposes. He says:

"The CFO is one of the core partners that I need in running the business. Core partners because the CFO should be concerned with the overall performance of the business in the same way that I am. They are not concerned with whether they are selling enough forex or lending enough money but about the overall performance of the business. Inherent in this is understanding the revenue and cost drivers of the business, albeit with an altogether different lens."

There's an incentive to focus on short-term deliverables, Kenny says, though these may not be sustainable into the future. An eye for sustainability is thus key. He says:

"Business leaders must worry about sustainability. The CFO is that important conscious within the business. They have access to information and resources that can help them better know the trade-offs and model where we are likely to be in future years, and know the implications of short-term decisions. For me, a forward-looking view is the second-most important role of the CFO. Outstanding CFOs will distinguish themselves by being good at this."

CFOs should also keep the organisation in check, Kenny says:

"The CFO should also be an independent sanity check for the organisation, especially in banking. Banking is a simple business but it is also complex. It is simple in that what we do is done by other banks, complex in that the risks in the bank can in some instances not be that visible, only showing up in years to come. In a CFO, you need a partner who understands the nuances of taking money when the opportunity presents itself but also realising that we are vulnerable and ensuring we create a sustainable business model."