Articles

February 10, 2015

An Evolving Role - Look for a Diversified Skillset when Choosing a CFO

By Paul Ursich

The CFOs of yesteryear needed a firm grounding in accounting, financial reporting and tax planning. Today’s CFOs need all that and more, including an understanding of computer software systems, a good working relationship with your company’s IT department and the ability to develop company strategies.

It’s all in a day’s work for today’s CFO, and he or she must also be a smart manager and a team builder who can engage your controller and accounting department.

Here’s what to look for when hiring a CFO. 

Financial reporting

Your CFO must be able to generate and analyze financial reports and present them to a variety of internal and external audiences. Responsibilities involve everything from producing budgets and spot-on monthly or quarterly forecasts to updating bankers and equity owners on company performance and projections. It is also critical to have the ability to clearly communicate and present ideas to multiple audiences. 

Professional services liaison

The CFO is your day-to-day contact with key professional service providers. He or she maintains a close working relationship with your trusted bankers, lawyers and outside accounting firm. Whether it’s applying for lines of credit, directing the tax compliance efforts of your accountants or writing and reviewing contracts, today’s CFO must be able to articulate the goals of your company to its most trusted outside advisers and work with them toward fulfillment. 

Tax planning

Keeping up with ever-changing U.S. tax law is a constant challenge, and one that’s of critical importance to your company’s bottom line. That means that your CFO must stay abreast of tax policy and on top of details including everything from addressing compliance issues in your industry to making sure tax credits are earned for research and development and other corporate activities. 

Health care advisory services

Health care management has recently gotten more complex, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Your CFO must be able to work closely with your HR department to help present a health care plan that’s as fiscally responsible as it is responsive to the needs of your workforce, all while satisfying new federal mandates. He or she must also be adept at maintaining the careful balance between compassion for your people and attentiveness to the balance sheet. 

Pricing support

This area of financial responsibilities makes your CFO a key player in establishing pricing that will meet expected gross margins and help your company maintain fiscal order. Today’s CFO must closely collaborate with departments throughout your organization, from product development to sales and marketing and accounting. 

Accounting software consultation

This area of responsibility was unheard of a few decades ago, but implementation of accounting software is crucial to the long-term survival of your company today. This system — whether server or cloud-based — touches virtually every corner of your business, from sales and inventory to raw materials purchase, labor costs, taxes and financials. It serves as the bedrock upon which all other duties of your CFO are built. Getting a first-time system or upgrading from obsolete software can be a year-long process, and your CFO should be part of the team from beginning to end. As a result, it’s important to have a CFO with the collaborative drive to work with all departments to research system needs and who is computer-savvy enough to work comfortably with your IT staff to implement and use your new accounting software system. 

All of this is a lot to ask of a CFO, but no one said it would be easy. If you hire the right person for a complex job, you’ll gain peace of mind that the right decisions are being made to address finances and boost your company’s forward momentum. 

Paul Ursich is director of advisory services at Wiss & Co. LLP. Reach him at pursich@wiss.com.