What makes a CFO successful? Hint: it’s not just the tech

King Price CFO Paul Stedall: a successful CFO can combine technology and emotional intelligence.

By Paul Stedall, CFO of King Price Insurance

Lately, we’re seeing a lot of articles with titles like ‘The Changing Role of the CFO’, or ‘The Rise of the CFO in the Modern Organisation’. Generally, they’re talking about the need for today’s CFOs to be able to see the big picture, and play a key role in crafting strategy and driving business value.

As a new CFO who’s spent the past two decades on the auditing side of the fence, I think the CFO role has been steadily blurring for years anyway. For me, what’s really needed in this time of uncertainty and volatility, where we find it difficult to forecast beyond the next week or two, is to go back to bringing a focused, dedicated finance aspect to the business.

For many businesses, the finance function and structures they have in place at the moment are fine. For now. But they are unlikely to be sufficient for the next five, or 10 years. You don’t even need to be contemplating big acquisitions or offshore expansion to know that change in the modern finance function is not just inevitable, but critical to taking our businesses forward in a meaningful way.

Let’s face it, the days of finance divisions being reporting functions that focused on balancing the books are long gone. Today, we’re effectively running data-driven decision centres – and if we’re not, we should be moving towards that reality with all due haste.

To make this happen, we’re going to need two things: the best technology, and the best people. It’s not either/or. We need both, working together.

I’ve been in my role for all of a month now, and one of my key focus areas is making sure we have the technology in place to take care of more of the traditional and mundane finance tasks, thus freeing up our finance team to generate greater insights. I don’t want anybody in the team spending hours doing soul-destroying work, I want them working with their colleagues across the business to help them make the right decisions in support of our strategy.

I want them to identify trends in the insurance industry that we can exploit and leverage to extend our competitive edge. I want them to use the technology tools to report better, and provide Exco and our shareholders with better data that they can use to navigate the market and the changing environment as we move into the next phase of the business’ evolution.

Of course, meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing world is not always comfortable. It means that we not only re-evaluate our own skills and strengths, but also those of our team. There’s a certain level of reskilling that comes with moving to new technology and a different way of doing things. But if it allows our teams to explore their passions, and to focus more on value-adding special projects and less on the same-old same-old, they’re generally up for it.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the biggest predictor of a successful finance team into 2021 and beyond is not the latest cloud-based accounting systems and AI machines that are helping us improve our processes and drive transformation. It’s a finance team that is engaged and energised on a daily basis, whether they’re working from the office or their homes. It’s a group of people for whom nothing is a chore, and who want to bring their best selves to work each and every day. If our finance people are loath to get out of bed and ‘go to work’ every morning, we as CFOs have failed.

Many people are asking me what I think success as a CFO will look like. My answer is invariably the same: it’s when I’m able to combine the formidable technology we have available to us today with the emotional intelligence, empathy and interpersonal skills of talented and engaged people. Now that’s delivering business value that the organisation will appreciate.