How To Attract More Women CFOs

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The policies that allow for more female leaders also benefit men, says Carissa Kell, CFO of Finastra.

Carissa Kell, CFO of Finastra, a London-based software provider with North American headquarters in Lake Mary, Florida, wants to see more women join her ranks. But to achieve that, companies need to take specific, intentional steps.

Kell spoke with StrategicCFO360 about avoiding a “file drill” culture, when it’s important for CFOs to be less conservative financially and why finance chiefs need to pay attention to Banking-as-Service.

What strategies can firms employ for helping women escalate into leadership roles, particularly in demanding functions like finance?

This is such an important topic, and there are a number of strategies that I recommend firms consider. First, leaders should strive to create a working environment that is not defined by constant fire drills. Women often carry a larger share of household and caregiving responsibilities, which means they can sometimes have greater demands on their time outside of work. With that in mind, firms looking to prioritize the advancement of their employees (male and female) should work to allow for flexible schedules and create opportunities for balance. 

I also believe that it’s incredibly important to build a diverse portfolio within the field of finance, especially for women who hope to advance into the most senior positions like CFO. The finance function is a broad space, encompassing areas like accounting, business partnering, pricing, audit and much more. Through rotational opportunities, women are able to gain experience across a number of areas which will enable more opportunities as they progress in their career. 

What advice do you have for fellow CFOs, particularly at startups and fintech companies, who want to build financial models that will help scale their firms while ensuring longevity and sustainable growth?

The CEO of my company frequently refers to me as a “growth CFO,” and I believe there’s wisdom in this. As CFOs, we can at times be more reserved and conservative in our decision-making—which is of course often both a strength and a necessity. However, I also think it’s important for CFOs, at startups in particular, to push themselves to lean in instead of automatically pulling back.

We have to be open to the possibility that not every new initiative will be successful, and when we’re building financial models, we should drive efficiencies within our “run the business” spend to allow for “change the business” spend—because at the end of the day, you have to make purposeful investments to drive organic top line growth. 

How can CFOs play a role in driving digital transformation?

To me, CFOs should not be just financial stewards, but rather trusted business advisors. In turn, CFOs should also have trust in their teams and allow for investment in the innovation that they’re driving. CFOs can play a key role in driving digital transformation by prioritizing reinvesting in growth. If they don’t, their company will always be playing catch-up. 

What should corporate finance teams know about Banking-as-a-Service?

Banking-as-a-Service makes it possible to connect banking services to non-banking platforms. It refers to financial institutions offering retail or wholesale banking products and services “as a service” that other entities can embed into their platforms, using an existing licensed institution’s secure, regulated infrastructure with modern API-driven platforms. Put more simply, BaaS enables any business to develop new propositions with relevant financial services embedded into their customer experience. 

Examples of BaaS and embedded finance in action include payment capabilities embedded into a taxi app and the Apple Card, which was created and sold by Apple, but is powered by Goldman Sachs.

BaaS is steadily gaining momentum across industries. In our recent Banking as a Service: Outlook 2022 research, we found that 85 percent of senior executives are already implementing BaaS solutions, or plan to within the next 12 to 18 months. We also learned that corporate and SME BaaS offerings are poised to grow in the near future, with more than 70 percent of financial institutions expected to pivot to SME and corporate banking BaaS use-cases. Senior executives are seeking to increase their margins in these segments by using BaaS solutions to reduce distribution, operational and risk-related costs.

It’s clear that BaaS is likely to fundamentally change how consumers bank, and will push corporate finance teams to think about much of their back-end processing and overall function differently as they evolve with the market. It’s something that should be top of mind for CFOs.

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