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 the responsibility for running a company’s entire financial operation. As a CFO, you will work hand-in-hand with the CEO, helping to set the vision for the company, as well as helping achieve it.
However, things 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, 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. Working exclusively on strategy can justify these expectations, in their view.
We see this view as a mistake. In our opinion, today’s CFOs should be across three critical aspects of finance. In this article, I will explain each of them.
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.
At the input side, it means understanding how the flows of data from operational systems into the finance system. It means ensuring that data is collected in a manner that is efficient, as well as enabling the correct level of reporting.
At the output side, it is designing and defining KPIs that support your company’s strategic goals.
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 leave. This operations and software expertise is typically directed firstly to 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 building sales ops and business operations systems that bring results for our clients.
Data and analytics across the organisation
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.
Are you a modern CFO?
So, while the traditional, strategic aspect to the remit of a CFO is still essential, a modern CFO cannot limit themselves solely to strategy.
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, 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 a 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 becoming a Quantico Financial Business partner, visit our site today.