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Strategic Finance

3 Qualities of a Good CFO (with Tips from Finance Experts)

Published on September 15, 2021, Last Updated on March 14, 2024
Joe Michalowski

Director of Content

The CFO role has to evolve from backward-looking scorekeeper to a forward-looking, strategic partner in the business. But making that happen is easier said than done. Learn how to make the leap to central strategic partner in your organization.

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As CFO, are you the connective tissue for your organization?

According to our Co-Founder and CFO, Joe Garafalo, “If the answer’s no, that means you’re probably spending a lot of your time on low-value tasks that are important to keep the lights on and the business running—but they don’t help you connect the dots across all of the different areas that finance is critical in.”

That’s what makes a good CFO—the ability to be strategic finance leader who is so much more to the company than a backward-looking scorekeeper.

Crucial to the equation is serving the full organization, not just the finance department, in ways that bring stakeholders together and empower decision-making in all corners of the business.

If you’d like to take a deeper look into five ways you can supercharge your role as a strategic finance leader, check out the full webinar with Joe and Peter Nesbitt, Vice President of Finance at Teampay, over at CFO Dive.

In the meantime, let’s dive into some of the foundational elements that make the difference between CFO as financial taskmaster and CFO as central strategic leader.

Table of Contents

1. They Consider Their Colleagues Customers

To become the connective tissue of your organization, the first step is to reframe your role. Sales, marketing, and product aren’t just departments you keep in line with budget plans. The members of those teams are your internal customers. Your job is to enable them to make better business decisions using the data at your fingertips.

“Getting the right data to the right person at the right time is now becoming a core function of the CFO’s office in terms of helping the rest of the company make better decisions,” Peter said.

That means getting colleagues real-time data that can inform strategy shifts in response to unforeseen changes in the market. And it also means having the emotional intelligence and excellent communication skills necessary to help them understand the metrics.

The COVID-19 pandemic and return-to-work planning amid the delta variant surge highlight the need for flexibility and decision-making in the moment. The world doesn’t move at a pace that allows three weeks to gather your actuals to update your forecasting so C-suite and departmental leaders can decide how to respond.

Today, it’s possible for “real-time” to actually mean “right now,” with technology that can update your financial modeling with up-to-date data—and that’s exactly the kind of capability business leaders expect from the chief financial officer.

“When market conditions change, how are you going to be able to answer the questions of the business quickly if it takes you two, four, six weeks to update your model pulling your actuals?” Joe said.

If you’re going to embrace a customer service mindset in finance, you need to automate the backend data collection and cleaning work that has traditionally bogged down your team.

2. They Enable Tech that Works for People Who Don’t Run VLOOKUPs

As a customer-centric CFO, your goal is to make employees’ and investors’ lives easier. It’s fair to say that sending them an 80-tab spreadsheet isn’t the way to facilitate collaboration.

“The business doesn’t think in terms of SUMIF formulas and VLOOKUPs like we do in finance,” Joe said. “If the rest of the business isn’t using [your finance report] in their daily lives, then how good is it, really?”

Finance can’t just hand over income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements and expect colleagues across the business to understand the key takeaways. For effective collaboration between finance and the rest of the business, the next generation of finance technology has to be self-service, highly visual, and accessible—not just for accounting majors but for anyone in the org.

“Make data visualizations around financial information consumable for the rest of the business in a way that they can understand—and not only understand but actually draw insight from and make relevant changes that move the needle,” Joe said.

With budget a constant challenge that you’re all-too aware of, it can be tougher to justify a new tech solution for finance than it is to invest in a top-notch CRM for the sales team. But the value of a modern finance tech stack doesn’t just benefit the finance team. Having the right software in place can unlock access to financial insights that help colleagues improve performance across the org.

3. They Take Responsibility for Democratizing Data

Real-time decision-making with complete visibility into business health can only happen if you bring your data into a single system. Being responsible for herding that data from across the business into your finance tech stack is the key to being an effective CFO today.

“Finance should own all of the data across the company,” Joe said. “They need to have the right skillset and the right experience to make sure that product data, along with CRM data, along with spend data, can all be joined effectively — so that you have this golden framework to look at the entire business through.”

When the dataset is complete and you base your modeling on real-time data, you can empower and enable other business leaders to make better decisions, according to Peter.

“CFOs see across the entire enterprise,” Peter said. “It’s the CFO’s job to push for better data, democratize data so the company operates more effectively and can maximize these opportunities.”

When you have all that data living under one roof in your finance tech stack, you’re able to share it back out with colleagues in a meaningful way. You’re also able to lean into that strategic, forward-looking role of the CFO.

“If we rely on Sheets and Excel as our main tool in our toolkit, we’re not going to win,” Joe said. “We’re always going to be those CFOs who are focused on staring at the wake behind the boat instead of the captain of the ship looking forward.”

To Own Your Role as CFO, be the Strategic Partner Your Business Needs

Being a successful CFO is about more than financial acumen. It’s about approaching financial management and financial operations with key question in mind: “How do I use my perspective of the numbers and bigger picture financial health to help guide strategic decisions?”

There’s never been more urgency for today’s CFOs (and finance functions as a whole) to take charge as strategic partners in the business. When you put your internal customers first, enable easy-to-understand tech solutions, and democratize data, you put yourself in a position to evolve from good CFO to great CFO—one who helps drive growth initiatives rather than simply putting out financial statements.

To go beyond the foundational elements of strategic leadership skills and supercharge your role as CFO, watch Joe and Peter’s webinar on CFO Dive. And of course, if you’d like to explore CFO software solutions that empower the modern CFO like Mosaic and Teampay, just get in touch.

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