Perfect Match: How the CFO & FC Roles Work Together at Resimac

What’s the first rule of getting a job in the finance team at Resimac? Don’t talk about getting a job in the finance team at Resimac.

At least that was the case when Jason Azzopardi recruited his group financial controller Santo Ahmed, right at the start of the pandemic. Azzopardi’s directive to the recruiter who put Ahmed forward for the job was that the potential new recruit wasn’t to talk about business at the final meeting. Rather, Azzopardi wanted to get a feel for Ahmed as a person.

“We spoke about family and what’s important to us, we watched some football and at the end I stood up, shook his hand and said, ‘congratulations, you’ve got the job’. I see Santo as an extension of me, from a cultural perspective. When I recruited Santo, it was more about the person than the skillset. Our Finance team has been a success because we have built an environment where everybody trusts each other. It’s a safe environment; its’ psychologically safe. People feel ok to admit they made a mistake, and that’s very important to me. So I was looking for someone to lead the team that was an extension of that and Santo is an outstanding people leader,” says Azzopardi.

“He was already great at stakeholder management and he’s improved from that base. He has become more comfortable with corporate knowledge of our business and how we operate it. That’s been extremely important as an ASX-listed entity. Three and a half months of each year is totally focused on delivering results to the market and Santo leads that,” he adds.

By contrast, Azzopardi’s role is strategic and investor-focused. Unusually for a CFO, he’s also responsible for marketing.  

It was a steep learning curve for Ahmed, given COVID restrictions meant he was unable to meet his team face-to-face for six months after starting in the role. His well-liked predecessor left the business to take up his own CFO role.

“Our finance team has been a success because we have built an environment where everyone trusts each other. It’s a safe environment; it’s psychologically safe. People feel okay to admit they made a mistake, and that’s very important to me”

Jason Azzopardi, CFO, Resimac

Jason Azzopardi, CFO | Resimac

“For the first six months, I wanted him to focus on building his team and delivering the year end, because he started three months prior to year-end. Through that time, Santo was able to very successfully build relationships across the company with senior leaders and I didn’t need to hold his hand through that. That created an enormous amount of trust in him. He very quickly built his personal brand; the team could see he was genuine,” says Azzopardi.

Talking shop

Established in 1985, Resimac, which is one of one of Australasia’s top non-bank lenders, has established home loan businesses in Australia and New Zealand and recently purchased an asset finance business. Last year it also launched a direct-to-consumer brand, homeloans.com.au.

“We’ve had exceptional organic and acquisitive growth,” says Azzopardi, who in the last 12 months assisted the business’s acquisition of Resimac Asset Finance and transitioned the marketing team from Perth to Sydney.

Aside from managing the audit, Ahmed is focused on the day-to-day running of the finance team. This includes all external reporting, including the annual report, half-year results and reports from Resimac’s 30 subsidiaries. He also looks after board reports, budgeting and forecasting. “My job is to help Jason succeed, and vice versa. My role is to give him confidence the day-to-day tasks in the finance function are completed,” he says.

Santo Ahmed, Financial Controller, Resimac

Ahmed has substantial autonomy to perform his role. As a result, he’s empowered to be innovative. An example is a new system called Blackline, which has driven significant continuous improvement initiatives, saved an enormous amount of time and improved the business’s control framework over the last 12 months. He has also overseen the expansion of tasks for the offshore processing centre in Manila, with the team leader reporting to him.

In the rhythm

Azzopardi and Ahmed, and the broader finance team, have an established rhythm to the way they work.

“We have a punchy, half-hour leaders’ meeting on Monday to determine priorities for the week. The two of us have a huddle after that and then we speak to the wider team. We probably speak daily. Santo knows, no matter how busy I am, he can just text me and I’ll either call straight away or call him as soon as I can,” says Azzopardi.

“Everyone in the team has a 90-day plan, a one-page PowerPoint split into three columns, 30, 60, and 90 days. It just keeps us on track. It’s a tool to help people focus on what’s most important and get clarity from their manager on that. We have annual KPIs, but the 90-day plans are about ensuring we continue driving strategic initiatives in the short term.  It’s a healthy operating rhythm,” he explains.

This extends to Ahmed’s professional development. “Jason and I have transparent conversations about where my development areas are, my strengths and my weaknesses and he gives me an opportunity to develop,” he says.

Azzopardi and Ahmed have a totally symbiotic relationship, an asset that will no doubt reap rewards for Resimac over time.

“The more senior you are, the more important it is that you’ve got each other’s backs.  Essentially we’re managing risk, whether that be people, financial or strategic. It’s our role to have the foresight to anticipate those risks, which allows you to mitigate them. So it’s very important we bounce off each other,” says Azzopardi.

Ahmed concurs. “I know Jason will back me if I make a decision because we are aligned on our principals. It’s a very effective way to work.”

It will be exciting to see what this talented partnership produces for Resimac over time.