Flawlessly Executing the Basics Earns CFOs Seat at the Table

business meeting

It is no longer enough for businesses — and their employees — to simply meet expectations.

After all, by the time those expectations have been met, they will likely have already been transformed by marketplace and operational realities.

“Execution just matters so much,” Marc Greenberg, CFO at Altruist, tells PYMNTS as part of the “Day in the Life of a CFO” executive series. “Everyone needs to bring their A+ game, every day.”

And the role of the CFO has evolved itself in response to the changing business landscape.

“It’s never been more important for the CFO to be a business advisor,” Greenberg said, emphasizing that the role has moved from a “metrics only” approach to one of being a “leader more generally.”

“The CFO role today is a lot like parenting, and there aren’t a lot of metrics around parenting — but you can still get better at being a parent,” he said.

Still, within the current macro environment, which features soaring interest rates and sky-high costs of capital, CFOs are facing increased scrutiny and expectations around financials and performance, while businesses are pivoting to focus on balancing growth with durable profitability.

“As you measure growth, obviously, the growth comes a little harder now,” Greenberg noted. “But if we stay obsessed with our customers, stay obsessed with finding solutions, and remain super accountable to the promises we make, we can continue to increase the intensity and performance of our execution.”

The Immutable Responsibilities of the CFO Seat

As the winds of change continue to blow, and the macro climate shifts, some foundational things remain the same — one them being that the CFO is ultimately the steward of both an organization’s balance sheet and its financial responsibilities.

“We call it flawless execution of the basics,” Greenberg said. “CFOs still have to make sure that people get paid, that taxes are filed appropriately, that the businesses comes out squeaky clean on any audit, any regulatory compliance issues are addressed, and that you’re responsive when there is an issue, you meet it with full force and intensity.

“Once you knock those out of the park, you can ask the extra set of questions. You can follow up on that extra set of benchmarks. It is only when everything is operating appropriately and seamlessly that CFOs can go outside and become a business partner,” he said.

After all, even parents need to earn the trust and even the respect of their kids if the relationship is to flourish and be productive.

“If you bring a low ego, nothing-beneath-you kind of can-do attitude, you will understand the full stack of what your team is doing. You’ll become respected within your team, you’ll be respected outside your team, and you’ll become a business partner to the broader company,” Greenberg said.

The Rise of the Mission-based CFO Is Good News for Firms’ Longevity

For CFOs to deliver winning performances while driving strategic decision-making and contributing to the overall success of the organization, they truly have to believe in and have internalized their organization’s mission and the problem their firm is solving for its customers, clients or audience.

“The hardest problems are the most interesting ones. And, when you marry that with an aspirational mission, it can be like a little bit of magic,” Greenberg said.

And that mindset has a downstream impact on the entire finance team.

“I think the most important thing I can do is make sure that I’m hiring the best possible people, and then providing the infrastructure around them so that they can be successful,” Greenberg said. “We have to be around to support the company’s growth. We have to be around to deliver for the customers and their customers, and you really need to be making a decades-long commitment to something that’s lasting and impactful.”

As for the technology that’s on everyone’s minds, particularly finance leaders, generative artificial intelligence (AI) — Greenberg explained that while his firm is tapping the tech’s capabilities for better, faster, more informed decision making, the “human isn’t going anywhere.”

“But instead of making a decision with maybe 60% of the information, you might be able to get to 80%, may be able to make that decision very, very fast,” he added.

He emphasized that with all the digital tools and buzzy businesses boosters crowding the market, it is important for finance leaders to be “ruthless in their prioritization” when it comes to making digital investments.

“You can’t spend money on everything, and you have to take a long-term view,” he said.