5 Tips & Tricks to survive your 1st month as CFO support in a high-pace finance department

Author: Simon Hiel

Over the years, the role of a CFO has taken on many different shapes and forms. Naturally, a CFO needs excellent financial knowledge and must be able to use data insights to make strategic decisions. But in today’s fast paced environment, leadership, interpersonal and communication skills are crucial aspects a successful CFO must master. To support the CFO, the corporate controller takes responsibility of the financial reporting to external stakeholders, such as shareholders and banks. Furthermore, a corporate controller creates useful financial insights and internal models to forecast financial information. In high frequency reporting environments, these tasks become extremely demanding.

The client I worked for has high growth ambitions, is seeking new external investors, is exploring international markets, and needs increased reporting frequency. Therefore, the finance department is placed in a crucial role to guide accurate decision-making. Entering this type of environment can be challenging. From my own experience, I want to share 5 tips and tricks to help you roll into your function as corporate controller or financial advisor.

1. Ask for different perspectives.

Different stakeholders have different perspectives and information. Sometimes, multiple sources of the same financial data exist, or people interpret and communicate information differently. Therefore, when I started the role of corporate controller, considering the different perspectives helped me form a more comprehensive understanding of the ground truth. It was very important at the start to improve my quality of work.

2. Take note of “note-taking”.

This tip may sound trivial but has saved me a lot of time. The first weeks can be overwhelming in terms of new information. Taking clear notes of shared and communicated information can be very valuable to adapt quickly into your role as corporate controller. It allowed me to work more autonomously, which delivers value to the client in the form of increased efficiency.

3. Do not make assumptions.

One common pitfall I encountered is sharing of assumptions as if it is actual information. It is easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions or extending someone else’s assumptions on a piece of information. My advice here would be to explicitly acknowledge assumptions and validate them thoroughly with the principal stakeholder. For example, while I consolidated financial information, certain aspects of the input financials seemed out-of-the-ordinary and the business controller made the same assumption. It was only by reconnecting with the original provider of the information, the regional accounting manager, that I could confirm no mistake was made. If an adjustment was made to the information without reconnecting an important mistake would have been made.

4. Be on-site.

Even in the world with Covid, being on-site and connecting with people in the first weeks is essential to generate trust with key client stakeholders. This is much easier in real-life than through Teams and can still be safe if proper measures are taken. Furthermore, because of the high pace environment, it is much easier to switch gears, increasing the speed at which you adapt to client work. This is directly related to the next point.

5. Validate intermediate results.

By being on-site with the client, intermediate results, doubts, struggle points or progress can be immediately validated, or solved and corrected if necessary through a short feedback cycle (shared office space). This is extremely useful at the start of a project to make timely corrections instead of having to redo large portions of the work. Many small questions are often not deemed important enough to organize a call. Even if they are communicated, they are often bundled, meaning a more significant amount of time passes before resolution.

I hope you've found these tips and tricks useful! If you want to receive extra advice, don't hesitate to schedule a call with one of the Wolves.