The Modern CFO


Sophie Wright of WrightCFO on the changing role, qualities and benefits of the finance director or CFO in a publishing business

The role of a finance director or chief financial officer (CFO) has evolved significantly in recent years. No longer limited to areas like tax, compliance, risk management and balance sheets, it has become more commercial and integral to long-term business success. Finance directors must wear many hats, and are often tasked with making tough decisions on behalf of a business. Here are five qualities that make a truly excellent CFO.

1. Financial foresight and strong leadership

It goes without saying that an effective CFO needs to have a handle on the numbers—but that alone is not enough. CFOs are increasingly seen as strategic assets, and not just an advisor to a CEO but an equal business partner and a trusted authority on data-driven action planning. The CFO has to lead and influence others and drive company initiatives.

2. Effective collaboration and communication

A modern CFO’s strategic view must prioritise cross-functional collaboration with marketing, sales, HR and customer service. It is critical they connect to their business, communicate effectively and have the context to interpret and understand the financial side of the business. Presenting information clearly and making complex issues accessible are particularly important when dealing with internal and external influences, or justifying difficult decisions such as budget cutbacks.

3. Adaptable and willing to learn

A top performing CFO must adapt to the latest innovations and be tech aware. Utilising tools to interpret data and provide detailed analysis helps a business plan, budget and forecast effectively, and the ability to adapt and embrace new approaches is vital.

4. A mentor who nurtures talent

It’s important that CFOs retain a direct involvement in recruitment and staff development. This also helps with succession planning and future proofing a business. Offering opportunities for continuing professional development and mentoring improves performance and helps to retain top talent.

5. Trustworthy and upholds ethical and professional standards

No matter how good a CFO you are, if you don’t have the complete trust of business owners, you might as well go home. A modern day CFO’s conduct must be transparent and in full compliance with professional standards. Building a reputation as a trustworthy and ethical practitioner is imperative. Stakeholders will always welcome and respect honest advice, even if it’s not what they want to hear.

So when should you think about taking on a CFO? There are a number of business junctures at which to consider getting CFO support—like during times of rapid business growth or new launches, or when you want to increase profitability or support cash and tax planning.

Many businesses employ an accountant or bookkeeper but feel that the jump to a CFO is too big. This is where a part-time, outsourced CFO can be the answer. It can be a cost-effective way to get board level financial and strategic advice for your business, and frees you up to concentrate on your core competencies and drive your business forward. A CFO’s financial insight and strategic expertise can make for more informed business decisions too, and can strengthen relationships with people like bank managers, auditors, insurance brokers and solicitors. A part-time CFO also provides flexibility, being available in portions depending on your specific requirements.

If you need help to grow a business or achieve long-term goals, or extra strategic and operational financial advice, a CFO can equip you with the tools to take back financial control of your business and increase your chance of success.

Sophie Wright is owner of WrightCFO and is a strategic and commercial finance director with 20 years’ experience at businesses from start-ups to global brands. She now specialises in small to medium sized businesses in the marketing, communications, digital media, property, tech, wholesale and retail sectors.