“What a CFO needs to know in 2020? The inside track from experienced CFO, John Hepworth.”
As part of a series of collaborations, our MD, Mary Maguire is working with specialists across Finance, Accountancy, HR, and Recruitment. Thank you to Mr John Hepworth for his insightful piece on what a CFO needs to know in 2020…..
The challenges of the last 9 months have meant a very bumpy ride for many businesses and it is likely that the road will not be much smoother in the coming months. Having had to react to the rapid lockdown of the economy through the furloughing of staff, transitioning to home working, making applications for government support grants and loans, ensuring workplaces are safe for employees and customers – the list could go on!
As a CFO, you must now ensure that your business is ready for a future which is likely to be somewhat different to what has gone before.
Oh, and then there’s Brexit!
The recent focus for the CFO is likely to have been managing cash and mitigating the short-term risks brought about by the precipitous economic slowdown. Having steered your business through that period it is now incumbent on us as CFOs to ensure that our businesses take all the opportunities afforded, whilst avoiding costly pitfalls.
To do this I see that there are several things that we need to have in mind: –
A Proper Business Strategy
Depending on our markets, we may need to continue with a defensive strategy i.e. strengthening our balance sheets, building cash reserves, rebuilding, or changing revenue streams, cutting costs and potentially downsizing.
Alternatively, if our market remains buoyant, we may want a more aggressive strategy of investment and growth driven by innovation, enhanced revenue streams, or acquisition(s).
Whatever our strategy, we as CFOs, must know how it is going to be financed and be ready to influence and secure commitment from the Board and senior management to approve bold, strategic moves.
Agility To Adapt!
We need to keep our finger on the pulse of the business, our markets, and our customers, and understand the speed at which things change. We should also chart closely the course of the pandemic and of course be ready for potential changes to our business and operations when we exit the Brexit Transition Period on 1st January 2021. All these changes will have potential impact on our busines and will help inform our strategy.
What changes to keep.
To continue to support the business over the lockdown and beyond, many CFOs have had to make massive changes to the ways that their finance functions operate, be it increased working flexibility for our staff, greater utilisation of technology for communication, and automation of processes.
Some of these changes will be robust, but other may be temporary solutions that require more development. Many of these changes will be beneficial in the longer term and we need to ensure that they are embedded into our processes.
For the technological changes, it is likely that capturing the opportunities offered by AI through invoice scanning or building of bots to carry out mundane repetitive tasks may be the differentiator between business failure and success.
Now is the time to act.
As well as process improvements, we have undoubtedly stripped cost out over the last few months. The canny CFO must work closely with departmental heads and budget holders to manage things to ensure that these costs do not drift back unnecessarily.
Embrace The Power Of Forecasting
We all know how important forecasting and budgeting is for our business, but things have just got way more critical. We need to utilise scenario planning more, using best, expected, and worse case scenarios.
Budgets of old will become a thing of the past. We should now aim to deliver and utilise dynamic forecasts that are updated and reviewed with management quarterly if not more frequently, ensuring that our strategic direction remains appropriate. KPIs should be set and monitored to enable quick identification of problems or a requirement to change course.
Emerging data tools including Power BI and Power Query and having the interim or permanent expertise in your team to deliver the very best in analysis and forecasting is key. As is the plan for knowledge retention for these skills to be developed and retained in your Accounting function.
Speed and flexibility must be permanently built into the forecasting and planning process to facilitate faster decision making. Remember too that accurate and timely reporting and data is even more crucial during times of turbulence.
Taking Our Teams With Us And Having The Right Talent!
We may have had to let team members go over the last few months, but it is vital that we invest in the finance team and ensure that all staff has a Covid secure environment in which to work.
It is also critical to ensure your team has the right skills to ensure the delivery of business objectives. This may involve training, but exceptional leadership is imperative especially when managing team members who are working remotely.
Alternatively, for businesses doing well, the success of a CFO will be measured on the continued performance of their operational, production, and finance teams. Ensuring you have the right talent and the best possible people for your business is critical.
As always, whether facing economic headwinds or not, talented accountants, sales, marketing, and other experts are in demand. You need to ensure that your business is front and centre in terms of employer branding in the sector you operate within.
Ensuring key relationships with trusted recruitment partners are maintained but also allowing exceptional local sourcing specialists such as Astute Recruitment Ltd, to alert you the best possible talent available.
Marketing, Branding, Position, and Perception
As CFO – the art of effective budgeting to inform critical decision making has never been so important. One of the truest ways to enhance a business is to ensure that social media channels are up to date, with relevant, high-quality original content. With usual sales presentations and pitches increasingly shifting online, there must always be a place on the balance sheet for marketing expertise to bring your brand and business to potential customers, clients and potential future hires.
& Finally, next time we will be ready!
I imagine that many businesses risk registers did not include a pandemic as a critical risk. We must rectify this and take all our learnings to ensure that we have robust processes in place for any repeat. We should also keep our contingency plans up to date in case of another serious downturn; this maybe being ready to downsize, liquidate assets, or secure additional funding.
As well as steering the business through the choppy waters of Covid-19 and Brexit we must not forget the CFO’s responsibility for sustainability and environmental protection. We must move on from the box-ticking exercise of CSR and ensure that in the new world sustainability becomes an inherent part of our business operations and strategy.
Not much to do then!
An article by John Hepworth. You can view John’s profile on LinkedIn by clicking below: –