Alongside managing cash flow and the company's balance sheet, the CFO increasingly serves as the company's strategic voice. What's more, as the pandemic continues apace and fewer companies opt to hire a COO, the list of duties added to the CFO's plate will continue to grow.
Paula Bachman, CFO of fintech company Bento for Business, told CFO Dive that, over two decades leading companies as a finance chief, entrepreneur and investor, she has seen the CFO role expand and evolve. She credits the consistent, active dialogue CFOs maintain with the CEO and other colleagues when it comes to decision-making with cementing the finance chief's role as a key leader.
"CFOs are always in a prime leadership position, because their role is as an aggregator and unifier for the company," Bachman said. "While other leadership roles have a specific domain, we CFOs touch every aspect of the business. There's not a single segment that's not responsible for generating revenue, so we have the most in-depth view of what might be coming downstream. We can be an incredible information source."
Bachman, who directs finance, strategy, people and administrative functions as CFO for the B2B payments company, believes CFOs are particularly well-equipped to tackle their company's needs during this confusing time compared to other C-suite execs, "and [CFOs] don’t do this in a vacuum."
CFOs have been critical in getting companies through tough times when cash is tight, or when the business outlook is uncertain, she said, two situations currently reaching a fever pitch.
"Everything I do, I'm joined at the hip with the CEO," Bachman said. "Particularly in the growth stage of the business, I've found that to be the case, because the CEO may have a very large division to take care of, so the CFO is often in charge."
Over the past two decades, Bachman has served as CFO for three different companies and as principal and founding partner at four more. She says the CFO has grown to encompass a much larger sector of business performance, and believes the current pandemic will only continue adding to the list of CFO duties.
"Companies are looking for every advantage they can get to optimize operations and efficiency," Bachman said. "C-suite roles are significant investments for a business, so to the extent that you can have a responsibility of two functions folded into one, that’s great."
A recent CFO Dive study found only around 10% of companies today have a full time COO, and the rest of the time, the CFO often handles COO responsibilities. Bachman thinks the pandemic will expedite this trend, as CFOs reach across the aisle to attend to more and more operational duties.
As companies transition increasingly to more tech and data-driven services, the need for a boots-on-the-ground CFO role is making a comeback, she said.
Moving into the second quarter, Bachman highly encourages CFOs of small- and mid-sized companies to continue focusing on the long-term.
"We often fall into the trap of getting consumed by day-to-day operations, but we need to get up and see the forest through the trees," she said. "Take a step back, look at the landscape, and try to look forward. The more scenario analysis and active planning you do, the better position you'll be in to react to near-term surprises when they happen."
Bachman believes the CFO must build in buffers to help the company absorb potential shocks down the road, much like the current economic shock which left every financial leader unprepared.
"A CFO who didn't have to redo their scenario plan is the exception, not the rule," Bachman said. "But they still shouldn't lose sight of the short-term, either. Think of near-term cash needs and management, and how to optimize today's operations to get to the next milestone."
It's the year outlook, not the near-term, where CFOs will face the most uncertainty. "There have to be new visions and more frequent iterations of the plan," she said. "Hopefully, you can use your short term tool to bridge the long-term gaps."
For Bento, as with many venture-backed businesses, Bachman is considering how to optimize capital today, to ensure that the next time she talks to investors, she will be able to manage the conversations expertly, and explain why they were the right move for long-term vitality.