Today’s CFO Needs to Be a ‘Different Kind of Leader,’ NextRoll Says

NextRoll CFO on Putting Dollars Into What Matters Most

Add managing for the macroclimate to the ever-growing task list of leading chief financial officers.

“I wake up thinking about this, and I go to bed thinking about it,” NextRoll CFO Sue Choe told PYMNTS.

Still, Choe emphasized that as the day-to-day obligations of finance leaders continue to grow, it’s important to remember that CFOs rarely act alone.

“People are a company’s biggest assets,” she said. “They can make or break any firm’s success and help you unlock the value of the business.”

Employees are the backbone of any successful company, and savvy CFOs are taking steps to prioritize their engagement and satisfaction to drive growth and profitability.

That’s because when considering all the significant changes firms have gone through over the past few years, “we’ve all gone through it together,” she said.

“I talk with other executives about this as well,” Choe added. “We spend a lot of time on people-related topics.”

After all, headcount-related expenses tend to be one of the biggest cost centers most firms deal with, she said.

Beyond just the necessity of managing headcount and balancing office expenses and compensation, especially considering the emergence of hybrid and remote work, cross-departmental communication and getting employee buy-in are critical for sustainable growth during uncertain times.

Today’s Shifting Landscape Requires a Steady Hand

“People’s priorities have shifted, and that manifests in what employees want out of their job and, ultimately, what motivates them,” Choe explained. “There’s a cost side of things, but equally important beyond just competing on salary is bringing your employee base on the journey that you’re on [as a business]. It challenges all executives to be a different kind of leader.”

In addition to managing people-related issues and balancing headcount expenses, CFOs must also be prepared to find operational efficiencies by integrating future-fit solutions that automate both historically manual and complex tasks, both within the finance department as well as across other business processes.

Choe said that as technology continues to advance, CFOs must be willing to evolve their strategies to stay ahead of the curve.

“So much of it is about applying intentionality and discipline to your investments,” she explained. CFOs “need to have very clear objectives that can be turned into a strategic plan and operationalized. Every decision and every choice that’s made every day needs to be tied back to what you are trying to achieve. You have to put your dollars into what matters.”

As gatekeepers to the treasury, the role of the CFO is well positioned to continue to get more operational, with the line between finance and other departments becoming more and more blurry.

That’s because CFOs will be responsible for people and systems, and they will need to have a good pulse on everything because everything ends up at the finance door.

The Importance of Real-Time Visibility of Information

With the right tools and technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence (AI), the finance department can become more efficient and productive, ultimately driving growth and success for the entire organization.

Still, with more digitization comes more data, and with more data comes more noise obscuring the critical signals. That’s why Choe stressed the importance of providing a high level of information to key members of the company to align everyone on what is happening and what to do.

“People want timely information and insight to be drawn out, but not too much information that they can’t make decisions,” said Choe. “No one should be making a decision on their own, especially when it’s a financial decision.”

She noted that AI can augment the work of junior employees, making it possible to delegate tasks that were previously heads down, and opening up new areas where dollars can be put back into the business to future-proof go-ahead roadmaps and drive revenue.

For CFOs starting out in a new role, Choe advised learning the business and meeting as many people as possible. Building strong relationships with key stakeholders, including the CEO and the board, is also essential. Prioritizing effectively and knowing when to push hard are important skills for any treasury professional.

There remains no substitute for having a clear understanding of cash flows and a well-defined strategy for using available funds, she said.

“What I tell my finance team is that finance, accounting and treasury are all very important, especially during a bad economy,” she explained. “We need to manage days sales outstanding, collections, cash flow and vendor management. Good finance hygiene just works well no matter what.”

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