Challenges Facing CFO’s in 2021 and Beyond…

CFOs wears many hats. Not only are they financial leaders, they are also business decision makers, data specialists, custodians and change facilitators. They are called upon to lead strategy, improve business resilience and manage ever-tightening budgets, all while ensuring the right systems and technologies are in place so the business remains competitive.

These were some of the themes explored at a recent CFO Magazine CFO Lunchtime Live event in which over 230 CFOs had the opportunity to hear from Dexter Clarke, CFO of vehicle servicing company Motorserve and James Solomons, CFO at listed fast growth tech company Xref.

Clarke, who acknowledges he loves a challenge, joined the business in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic. As soon as he arrived at the business, he immediately rolled out a major transformation project that involved implementing Oracle NetSuite’s cloud ERP business management software.

His advice to other CFOs undertaking major tech implementations is to spend substantial time upfront understanding and mapping processes.

“You need to do the work upfront to understand existing processes. If you don’t do that, don’t think a different system will give you an improved process. You’ve got to actually improve the process and understand where the waste is before you start talking to software vendors.

Last year Motorserve acquired an existing network of 23 car servicing sites from the NRMA. Part of the integration process involved bringing some of the NRMA team who were well versed on its processes into the Motorserve fold to minimise disruption as the new ERP system was implemented.

Motorserve places particular emphasis on tech when it comes to acquiring, retaining and engaging customers.  Says Clarke: “If you get it wrong, it’s going to cost you. If you get it right, you can win. But digital solutions won’t solve everything. What’s important is to find the right mix of digital and non-digital tools. The idea is to invest time and effort creating systems & processes that are easy for customers and suppliers to interact with directly or via your team.”

As a data-driven CFO, Clarke relies on technology to deliver business insights.

“But we have to make sure people can connect the data to reality. The data has to mean something to the people that you’re asking to interpret it and take actions based on it. If you get it right, the business starts to rely on the data, which is a great result and adds to our responsibility to make sure the data is clean.”

Creating a new, streamlined entity

At the moment, Motorserve is establishing a national network of insurance triage hubs and transforming the business it bought from the NRMA. Clarke says a focus on great customer service ties together the different arms of the business.

“We are trying to join the whole experience when a customer has a problem with their vehicle, whether it’s mechanical or after an accident. Doing business with us is going to be a really wonderful experience.”

Additionally, Clarke is focused on creating a world-class finance team that’s respected by the business, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. “Finance teams need to be easy to work with for the business to get the most benefit,” he says.

As Clarke notes, the way CFOs contribute to strategy has changed over the last decade.

“It’s up to us to create an environment that supports staff to think strategically and take a concept from an idea to commercialisation, and at the same time conserve money and energy. You want to be seen as an enabler.”

He also acknowledges the importance of the relationship between CEO and CFO. “You have to take a personal approach and foster an open, honest relationship. You have to be prepared to go into bat for each other. There also needs to be a certain amount of freedom. The CEO needs to get out of the way and let you do what you need to do and vice versa. If we are both crawling over each other the relationship won’t work.”

Overall, Clarke says what’s key during challenging times is for the CFO to be open and honest. “I don’t always have the answers. But people will respond well if you’re frank with them and you let them know you’re thinking through the problems the business is facing.”

It’s a great approach to creating long-term trust across the business in the CFO and finance team.