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8 Keys to Becoming the CEO’s Trusted Strategic Adviser - CFO Magazine

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

A recent article in CFO Magazine highlighted 8 different ways today’s strategic CFO can be the CEO’s trusted business adviser. CEOs are increasingly willing to take on more risk with respect to their growth strategies.

The CFO is desperately needed by the CEO (or business owner) to help gauge and balance the financial, strategic, and operational risks across the company. Kathy Cruso, CFO of Epicor, writes:

“The role of the CFO has evolved from number cruncher to that of a strategic partner working with the CEO to help navigate the right course for growth. This means the CFO role now encompasses greater depth and breadth than ever before. That includes knowing product development and release strategy, growth strategy, and customer experience.”

Additionally, the article highlights the need for the CFO to build trust though constant communication and analysis:

“CFOs become strategic advisers to their CEOs by building trust and communicating effectively and often, making it a point to understand how each business unit functions to properly understand what changes to make to drive results.”

Cruso goes on to offer many practical tips for CFOs to become more of a strategic adviser to the CEO. Here are four of the more important tips:

Dig Deep. The CFO can’t just focus on numbers. He or she must understand the business and key drivers and have conversations with the CEO that focus on these topics. The CEO will come to respect and appreciate the fact the CFO has a broader knowledge of the company as opposed to just debits and the credits and how the numbers are flowing. That allows the CFO to be an independent, objective sounding board on what’s happening in all parts of the business.

Be Prepared to Course-Correct Strategy. There is more data to be analyzed than ever before, so it’s critical for CFOs to clearly define key performance indicators (KPIs) and then track the key metrics against expected outcomes. CFOs should then go beyond providing raw data to provide advice on when to course-correct if performance is lacking. Part of this involves establishing reasonable timelines (and associated metrics) for return on investment on business initiatives to provide unbiased measurements.

Always Be Transparent. The primary function of the CFO is to make sure that the CEO can see the company’s true performance. Discussions about performance management disappear when numbers are regularly reported and measured. Providing transparent data is not enough, however; there also has to be some ability to convert the data into actions. The CFO must also help the CEO in ensuring the right processes and values are in place across the company while ensuring the data provided is accurate.

Know All Roles. Just understanding the KPIs that measure a group’s performance isn’t enough to provide added value for CEOs. Meeting with leaders across divisions to understand both what drives and hinders success gives the CFO an extra layer of data to help make the best and most holistic decisions. Digital transformation has placed even more urgency around integrating functions. Collaboration between the CFO across all company areas can determine how and where digital can help grow the company, drive customer retention, and reduce costs.”

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