Two Hats Are Better Than One

CFO Andrew Bates stepped up to run business systems along with finance to help take the business to the next level. "The role of a CFO can be one of change agent."

Being the CFO of any company is more challenging in today’s climate, by orders of magnitude, than it ever was. Overseeing finance for an IT company adds even more complexity to the role. We asked Andrew Bates, CFO of Viewpoint, a construction management software provider based in Portland, Oregon, how he juggles his many responsibilities.

Your role at Viewpoint comprises finance, accounting, customer renewals, facilities and IT – is it commonplace for a CFO to be also responsible for IT?

Not typically, but I don’t think it’s uncommon. In my career at midsized technology companies, I’ve seen all of those functions either owned or transferred to the CFO’s office, depending on changing business requirements and executive team composition.

In regards to IT, we’ve actually split business systems from infrastructure. The CTO now owns infrastructure and I manage the business systems component – ERP, CRM and all of the other technologies around conducting the business internally.

I think this shift to the CFO office has been driven by the move to the cloud since it reduces the technical expertise required to manage those functions. Additionally, the trend is for integrated systems that connect the front office to the back office, which is traditionally tied to the CFO’s office. With those shifts, business systems really starts to look like a natural fit to roll up into the role.

What are the benefits of a CFO holding this responsibility?

I think business systems is the cornerstone of driving scale and efficiency in the business. These internal-facing applications also improve business intelligence, which can then drive tactical and strategic decision-making. Of course, making significant systems or process changes goes hand-in-hand with cultural changes, so you need to be ready to tackle that challenge.

I specifically asked to manage business systems because the role of a CFO can be one of change agent – to really engage with the business and help take it to the next level. I see business systems as really foundational to doing that, whatever that might look like in a company’s life cycle.

What are the challenges of holding multiple responsibilities?

One of the biggest challenges is making sure that you’re really understanding the interests of all of the different stakeholders, and prioritizing them in a way that’s in the best interest of the overall company. I might have things closer to my heart that are very important, but then I need to be able to step back and consider what’s the best use of resources at this time.

For example, we were recently evaluating our next business systems project and I was keen to improve our ability to capture a key financial metric, but our customer success organization surfaced the need to introduce a customer health score within our customer accounts – green, red or yellow. A red account denotes some risk of churn with a customer because they’ve had a service issue or an escalation, whereas green indicates a customer is very happy with the level of services, interactions or use of the product. After evaluating the immediate business impact we decided to move forward with the customer health score – saving the financial metric for a later date.

As a relatively young CFO in your early 40s, do you approach your role differently – perhaps adhere to more progressive strategies within the field?

It’s hard for me to gauge what represents a generational shift, but I tend to take a broad view to how a CFO could add value — I don’t shy away from engaging in those areas.  Generally, I think it’s positive to cross functional lines since that’s the type of collaboration that can lead to break-out thinking and results. This area requires some balance since everyone on the team has deep domain expertise that needs to be respected, but it’s our job as executives to push ourselves and each other to achieve the best outcomes.

What advice do you have for young financial professionals just entering the field?

First, do good work, which is the surest way to get more work, more exposure and more opportunity. Within finance, you really want to gain experience in a wide variety of finance functions, and even operational functions. Don’t be averse to leading businesses initiatives outside of finance – it allows you to provide more value to the executive team when you gain a deep knowledge of what’s important to each function.