12 Things CFOs Wish the Rest of the C-Suite Knew

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Today’s chief financial officer wears many different hats beyond traditional finance. Here are 12 ways that CFOs have a direct impact on their companies’ success.  

“Number cruncher.” “Bean counter.” “Naysayer in chief.” Of all the executive positions in today’s business world, the role of CFO has to be the most misunderstood. 

The chief financial officer’s duties have expanded far beyond finance, at least as it’s traditionally defined. The time has come to set those other executives straight. Here are 12 things that CFOs wish their colleagues understood about their role:

1. The CFO does not and has probably never counted beans.

In times past, a CFO was the chief accountant, focusing mainly on bookkeeping, financial reports and statutory compliance. That perception has persisted, even as the role has evolved into a key leadership position with enormous influence on the company’s strategy. Financial expertise is still critical, but it’s now considered a given, like knowing how to tie your shoes and comb your hair. These days, most of the bean-counting can be delegated to robots.

2. The CEO and CFO are basically Batman and Robin.

Business experts have described today’s CFO as the CEO’s “right-hand executive.” The two may not fight crime, but they work closely as a dynamic duo to formulate and implement strategy.

3. Arguing with the CEO is part of the CFO’s job.

Being partners doesn’t mean the CEO and CFO always have to agree. In fact, making strategic decisions involves a lot of push and pull. While both are big-picture thinkers, the CEO may be more of a dreamer and visionary, while the CFO’s job is to make sure all decisions are grounded in rock-solid financial data. If neither the CEO nor the CFO is 100% happy with decisions, the partnership is working the way it should.

4. CFO really stands for “Chief Future Observer.”

While the CFO of the past focused on historical performance, today’s CFO analyzes trends and KPIs to forecast and plan for the future. Delegating the number-crunching allows the CFO to focus on strategies to ensure the company’s future financial health. Other execs should understand that the CFO is the one who makes sure they’ll still have jobs five years from now!

5. Forecasting and planning never stop. Not ever.

The trouble with forecasting is that the future doesn’t stand still. Markets and industries are constantly shifting, so the CFO and CEO have to be in perpetual forecasting and planning mode.

6. The CFO can see through your fancy marketing talk.

CFOs may not be number crunchers anymore, but they still eat, breathe and live hard data. When meetings and presentations are thick with talk about “customer journeys,” “win-win situations” and “next-level thinking,” the CFO can barely keep from jumping up and shouting, “Show me the numbers!” If you want to see a CFO’s head explode, try using the phrase, “give 110%.”

7. The CFO knows how to talk to actual people.

Now that it’s become a top leadership position, CFOs with strong people skills are in great demand. In addition to leading internally, the CFO has to communicate the company’s value to investors and others outside the company. How many other execs have what it takes to assure an auditorium full of nervous shareholders that the company is financially on the right track?

8. The CFO knows your job better than you think.

With the exception of the CEO, the CFO has broader, more in-depth knowledge of the total organization than anyone else in the C-suite. Which makes perfect sense, because every division contributes either directly or indirectly to the company’s bottom line. Other execs may be at home in their silos, but the CFO has eyes everywhere.

9. The CFO will never be satisfied with existing technology.

CFOs are data fiends. They crave more data. Better data. More accurate data. And they want it yesterday! Their job demands powerful, up-to-date software to give them the best data for strategic planning. When they think of how much work is still being done on old-fashioned spreadsheets, they die a little inside.

10. Got software, workplace safety and benefits? Thank your CFO!

Few employees at any level think about who signs off on the purchase of tech services, health insurance benefits, ergonomically correct workspaces, legal services and everything else they take for granted in their jobs.

11. At this moment, your CFO is probably neck-deep in red tape.              

Government regulations being what they are, compliance is one of the CFO’s biggest headaches. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002, public company CEOs and CFOs are criminally liable for any misleading SEC findings. But hey, no pressure!

12. The CFO’s responsibilities are still growing.

As much as the role of the CFO has grown in recent years, it continues to evolve. As fewer companies invest in full-time COOs, CFOs are now adding more day-to-day operations to their workload. Who knows — the skill set for tomorrow’s CFO may include brain surgery, rocket science, international espionage and making the perfect taco. Time will tell.