Tips For Becoming A More Strategic CFO

Razzak Jallow, CFO at FloQast
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From how you focus your knowledge base to how you’re managing technology, finance chiefs need to take new steps today to stay relevant, says Razzak Jallow, CFO of FloQast.

The days when CFOs were “seen as only ‘number crunchers’ who are overly conservative and risk averse,” are over, says Razzak Jallow, CFO of Los Angeles-based FloQast.

Jallow spoke with StrategicCFO360 about how to be the kind of strategic finance chief that’s needed today, why CFOs are “the voice of reason” and how to embrace digital transformation.

Today’s organizations look to the CFO to provide more value and bring their unique perspective to the table by marrying deep financial knowledge with strategic thinking. In what ways are you seeing the CFO role evolve towards that of a strategic partner to the C-Suite?

The last few years have changed every aspect of how we do business, especially at the leadership level, as CFOs have been expanding and taking on more due to their broad business knowledge and skillset. In the past, CFOs have been seen as only “number crunchers,” who are overly conservative and risk averse, spending most of their time performing monotonous tasks such as reporting and risk management. 

Today, it is no longer enough for the role of the CFO to be merely the financial steward of the organization. Organizations now look at CFOs as trusted strategic advisors who must be well-versed in the elements of business, including things like product development and release strategy, growth strategy, and customer experience.

How can CFOs double down on strategic initiatives and focus on providing valuable business insights to the C-Suite?

CFOs add value by being a voice of reason and reality. They can help ensure that decisions are well thought out and based on sound assumptions. CFOs should use reporting and forecasting tools to make strategic, data-backed decisions, and provide level-headed insights based on a thorough understanding and analysis of the data.

Additionally, it is important to focus on more than just numbers. Understanding the business and key drivers opens up deeper conversations across the C-Suite, and allows the CFO to act as a sounding board for what’s happening in all parts of the organization.

It is also important to remember that in order to focus on business transformation, growth areas and investors, CFOs need great teams under them. Developing a great team that is responsible for the day-to-day running of the finance department allows the CFO to make the shift from tactical expert to strategist. 

Between market competition and economic uncertainty, there is growing pressure on CFOs to implement solutions that streamline processes, improve efficiency and drive innovation in finance departments. Have you felt the pressure to evolve your department to address these needs? If so, how and if not, why?

In light of the tight labor market and rising operational costs, I, along with many CFOs, have felt growing pressure to drive transformation in this time of uncertainty. CFOs are under pressure to shift business strategies and tactics quickly as assets become less plentiful, while being mindful of the organization’s limited resources, yet agile enough to take advantage of opportunities that pop up along the way.

Organizations that overlook this could struggle with growth, recruitment and the ability to make decisions in rapidly changing environments. But by leaning in and investing in automation solutions and other tools to streamline processes, improve efficiency and drive innovation, CFOs can embrace digital transformation. This rids their organizations of slow and inaccurate processes, particularly around the month-end and year-end close, that are a hindrance to companies and employees. 

What initiatives can CFOs implement to help address the increasing pressure to evolve their department?

Implementing automation for a more agile approach to analysis and reporting is key to addressing this pressure while driving more efficiency, value and innovation organization-wide. By using technology to automate more mundane or manual activities, CFOs can free up additional bandwidth for teams to identify and execute strategic plans and focus on more business-critical projects—allowing the entire company to achieve greater financial velocity and accuracy.

In addition to new investments, CFOs should also look for opportunities to rationalize current technology usage and ensure that all licenses currently paid for are fully utilized. It is also important to identify additional value across existing technology investments, such as leveraging tools with teams outside of the finance department for more cross-functionality and autonomy in the organization.

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