‘Finance Can Create A Common Language’

Mimi Carsley Headshot
c/o Mimi Carsley
Of all the new responsibilities and opportunities for today’s CFO, using finance to help everyone understand and work toward strategic goals is critical, says Mimi Carsley, CFO of Jack Henry.

What’s the key challenge for a modern CFO? Keeping “an eye on the rear-view mirror while also looking forward to ensure we’re steering the car where we want it to go,” says Mimi Carsley, CFO and treasurer at Jack Henry, a Monett, Missouri-based well-rounded technology provider serving community and regional financial institutions.

Moreover, the finance function has to be the organization’s neutral “Switzerland”—providing unbiased data to support decision-making, says Carsley. She sees the CFO as best positioned to create an organizational “common language” that allows all talent to operate as a unified force.

What do you think a CFO’s top priorities should be, and how has the CFO role evolved?

The core determinant of a chief financial officer’s success is still the ability to balance the day-to-day work—managing the company’s financials, ensuring a sound controls environment, communicating with shareholders and building a highly collaborative team—with forward-looking tasks, such as setting long-range goals and staying abreast of potential factors impacting our strategic plans.

The competing horizons often feel like they’re at odds with each other, but CFOs must keep an eye on the company’s long-term priorities while not losing sight of the daily work needed to drive near-term performance. We have to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror while also looking forward to ensure we’re steering the car where we want it to go.

The role has evolved—you have to be a strategic leader rather than solely focused on controllership. Public CFOs are key messengers sharing company narratives with investors and analysts, strategists helping set priorities, and capital allocators generating shareholder value through capital structure, M&A and investment bets.

Overall, we have the opportunity to be much more of a partner in developing company strategy and using our financial knowledge to help influence the future direction of the company. But the finance function is uniquely positioned to offer a neutral look at the facts and help connect all aspects of the company, from strategy to execution.

How the job gets done also has evolved, and I wouldn’t be able to do my job successfully without the incredible team of professionals I work with—both directly within the finance function, but also a much broader team that includes risk, human resources and legal, in addition to business leaders.

Finance is able to support the full leadership by identifying and tracking meaningful predictive metrics, assembling the relevant fact base and pivoting quickly when the situation dictates. Agility in forecasting while still holding ourselves accountable for performance commitments, especially in a volatile economic environment, is more critical than ever for us to help ensure the business’ success.

Technology has changed the pace of daily business, too. News travels exponentially faster, and industry-wide changes happen close to real-time. Look at the handful of banks that failed last year—while those issues impacted specialized institutions facing a unique set of challenges, the ripple effect of those uncertainties was felt throughout the banking industry in just a matter of days.

Events that are outside of our control, and often impossible to predict, can completely upend our lives as an organization if we’re not constantly willing to adapt and adjust. We’ve built systems in our organization to make the decision-making process more agile, and quicker access to data lets us better estimate the potential impact of decisions, pivot as needed and effectively communicate change.

What is the importance of sustainability, both personally and for Jack Henry?

Sustainability is a popular buzzword right now, but it’s a topic I feel incredibly passionate about because I’ve seen the effects of climate change firsthand. I’ve lived in numerous different parts of the country, from New England to Southern California and now Texas, and all have seen the impacts of extreme weather.

That’s why I proudly serve as the executive sponsor of Jack Henry’s Go Green employee innovation group, focused on finding ways to reduce our impact on the environment. These moves help to reinforce our company’s commitment to do the right thing.

I’m proud that we’ve set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and developed a low-carbon transition plan, both of which helped us cut greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent in three years. Moves like this and our commitment to the science-based Targets initiative will have an impact on our environment for decades to come.

For us, taking steps to becoming more sustainable includes more than our climate-related initiatives. Sustainability is a commitment to being more diverse and inclusive, encouraging our associates to grow and thrive, and continuing our longstanding work as good corporate citizens.

But it’s also important to realize that these sustainability efforts are things that naturally make sense for us to do in the course of our business. Much of this effort is just capturing and categorizing things we’ve always done. Reducing waste and increasing efficiency aren’t just good for the planet—they’re also crucial to our financial health.

Roughly a quarter of Jack Henry shareholders live outside the U.S., and showing a commitment to sustainable practices is important to that audience and makes our company an even more attractive investment. Reducing our environmental footprint is key to ensuring the company’s success into the future and strengthening the bottom line.

What do you see as the most important roles of finance?

A company’s finance team must do more than handle the finances—they need to make financial information more approachable for everyone in the company. If you want everyone in your organization to be moving in the same direction, everyone has to understand how the business model truly works in addition to the metrics and financial results. It means knowing what those metrics mean and what drives financial performance.

The finance team should be champions of financial stewardship and literacy, helping to foster a culture of ownership and accountability, so that everyone in the business understands the actions that can truly move the financial needle.

This starts with providing high-level information that is easy to digest and understand without a significant finance background. From there, the team can provide insight into how and why things are connected, from sales to margins—and how financial performance can impact stock prices for a publicly traded company. It also involves sharing with the leadership feedback and areas of keen focus from our investors.

But beyond all that, there is another equally important function for finance in a large organization. Finance can create a common language that everyone in the organization can understand. When everyone in the company understands our finances—both our current financial position and what goes into achieving that position—it’s much easier to strategically set priorities.

We’re fortunate to have an abundance of good ideas and opportunities, but you just can’t afford to pursue everything, nor should you. There are limited resources and limited bandwidth available, and not every opportunity brings a meaningful impact. So the CFO has to be willing to ask the questions that others might be unaware of, or afraid to ask.

Finance has to be Switzerland: in a neutral position, helping bring forward relevant, unbiased data to support decision-making. We’re the guide, the translator between various stakeholders and the team focused on accountability.

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