Why CFOs need to be in the Driver’s Seat

In a past life, the CFO for Mercedes Benz Financial Services was a paramedic in Germany. He followed this career path because he believed it would enable him to help others. “I had always wanted to become a paramedic,” he says.

Of course, it did, but he admits it was a difficult role, and a few years into the job, his entrepreneurial spirit led him down a completely different road into the world of finance.  These days, he’s firmly entrenched in a senior finance role for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.

As CFO, he heads up the finance areas across controlling, accounting, risk management, tax and treasury across Australia and New Zealand. As one of the company directors he’s in charge of a business of 170 people, and he’s been leading a digital transformation that has landed him accolades in multiple countries.

He has spent time working in Singapore before arriving in Melbourne in 2017. He admits it started out as an exercise to tick a box to progress his career in Australia, but that being here has completely turned his perspective around and led him on the career path he believes he was always meant to be on.

Here, in the driver’s sea, his remit is massive – leading a significant financial services portfolio across Australia and New Zealand

In the driver’s seat

Pasquet is responsible for digital finance transformation, the data and analytics team including the enterprise business intelligence system and the company’s data warehouse. All handled from a lockdown suburb in Melbourne.

He describes himself as a people-oriented executive leader with a passion for technology and talent. He’s known widely for being authentic and value-driven, having successfully implemented and driven large digital transformations across culture, people, processes and systems.

But he’s not content with following a well beaten path. Instead, he’s forged his own way, believing that digital transformation provides the key to better outcomes.

That transformation came in the development of an app for global financial reporting, now utilised across 40 countries within the company. The information is complex, but the iOS development makes the data beautifully simple to digest. “It has been a game changer,” he says.

Dashboards that highlight risk, sales, the cost portion of the business and much more,  replacing clunky spreadsheets. This data has enabled the team to measure the customer’s journey digitally, which is driving better business decisions within the leadership team.

Data driven

Finance teams are definitely shifting from bookkeepers to a much stronger focus on analytics, he says. 

“This app continues to be at the heart of our entire financial digitisation, and works for every market, including financial forecasting for 18 months and literally driving the business,” he says.  

It was this foresight that saw him awarded with the CFO Innovation Asia Award 2017 as well as the Daimler Global Accounting Award across 40 countries in 2019. 

The next iteration is beyond wild imaginations – forecasting customer behaviour, to offer customized vehicle financing leading to a superior and more tailored customer experience.

And while digital evolutions within finance have shifted the goalposts forever, machine forecasting also has its limitations, he says.

“Machines take out the emotions and human factor. Humans can have a tendency to be overly optimistic or pessimistic, which can see you deviate from your business plan. Machines just look at the data” he says.

However, clever humans will always be needed to make financial conclusions based on the analytical pre-work that the machine has done, he says.

“Machines can’t (yet) reflect all the needs a customer might have. It can’t work out the way forward without humans interacting with the data” he says. “Ultimately it’s the combination of unbiased, rational technology with human empathy and understanding which leads to the best outcome for our customers I believe”.

Lockdown life

While lockdowns have no doubt been gruelling for all Melburnians, he’s enjoying spending more time with his two children. But it’s not been easy. His mother, overseas hasn’t yet met his toddler yet.

He loves Australia and is conscious of the fact that there’s far worst places to be enduring the pandemic. “Australia has been managing the crisis very well I believe.”

He’s also battling the war on talent, with strong competition making it tough to secure talent. But he’s getting around this by demonstrating that Mercedes-Benz Financial Services is a great place to work, which he hopes will lead talent direct to his door. “We’re staying the course, focusing on our own culture and being clear about the fact that the finance role is evolving significantly.”

Driving change

Pasquet has been driving big transitions, including currently splitting the truck and car business into two separate entities, which is being implemented in the Australian market as one of the first markets worldwide . “Handling all of that amid a pandemic is a lot of work.”

The industry’s move to electric and hybrid cars is also a game-changer for the car marque, with big changes are on the way.

He’s also a big believer in training to ensure his team is employable in the next 10 years and beyond.

But what keeps him awake at night is how to better support his team during such a difficult time in life, with lockdowns and social isolation a real problem in all companies.

“My biggest worry is how can I give my team a break with all the uncertainty out there at the moment. I never want an employee to worry, so trying to work out what I can do to give people clarity around their role is a constant consideration,” he says.