Two things separate the excellent CFOs from the good CFOs: leadership skills and being a technologist, says Steve Rosvold, founder of the online learning platform, CFO.University.
“When you look at finance, there’s a lot of pieces that don’t need as much management anymore on the accounting side,” says Steve.
“Closing the books, recording transactions – that happens so seamlessly now, when it used to happen with somebody writing things on a piece of paper, adding it up on a calculator. Nobody does that anymore. There’s a whole management piece that’s gone.
“Now, it’s about how can you be a value creator rather than a cost centre. And that’s where there’s a lot of exciting fronts.”
Digital has transformed the way the finance function runs
“There’s data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and RPA,” says Steve. “You’ve got all these new technologies, so you have to be a technologist.”
Second, a great CFO needs leadership skills, according to Steve. “There’s the human capital management side, which is a really exciting area for CFOs to grow and understand. There are general leadership skills that cover communication, influence, empathy and those things which aren’t considered on a balance sheet or an income statement. They’re not something we learned in our accounting classes at school,” he adds.
According to Steve, those two elements will be crucial to the role of a CFO in the next few years, who set up a dedicated learning platform in 2018 to help CFOs gain these new skills and develop professionally.
Previously, Steve had spent 18 years with global food corporation Cargill, followed by a four-year stint as CFO at a joint venture owned by Conagra Brands and Tiger Foods, but launching CFO.University was a real passion project for him.
“I’m a teacher by heart. I love sharing, and developing people has always been an important part of my career. I want to help make great financial leaders who can help grow economies,” says Steve.
Beyond his passion for teaching, Steve also saw a gap in the market for a dedicated professional learning space for CFOs.
“There wasn’t a home for CFOs,” says Steve. “There isn’t a CFO designation like you have an MBA or a masters in engineering. And so in my experience, and particularly as I developed a consulting practice where I had a lot of clients in different industries, I saw the same issues popping up.”
Those issues became the digital platform’s four pillars: accounting, finance, treasury, and leadership. It now has around 40 classes on various aspects of those pillars and had about 110,000 visitors for the first half of 2021.
“We’re not trying to teach complex accounting models or financial models. We’re trying to teach people how to run an organisation as a financial leader,” says Steve.
“There are some technical parts, but we’re not giving people tax advice – we’re telling them how to run a good operation that’s effective, gets quality information, creates insights for the team and has good decision making.”
The on-demand digital platform, which also provides select live, virtual training sessions, is mainly aimed at inexperienced CFOs and their direct reports. However, Steve says it’s not limited to them. He’s passionate about making good leadership development and finance training accessible to all.
“We have an assessment that’s based on the four pillars, which helps members focus development and learn where they fit in relative to their peers,” says Steve.
“If you’re a controller, you’ll probably score very high in accounting, but you might not score high one of the other pillars, for example, Treasury if they’ve never had cash management experience or haven’t raised money. So we identify areas they can focus on to make it more of a strength.”
The Covid effect
Steve believes it’s even more important for CFOs to invest in their development in a post-pandemic world, where the role of a finance chief has been amplified.
“The pandemic has helped businesses understand how important the CFO role is,” says Steve. “I think the CFO has had a taller order to fill than most other positions when it came to getting businesses through the pandemic, whether through cost control, revenue rationalisation, how they ended up reacting, accessing the government help that was available, making sure they tapped into things that could keep the company afloat. That’s all really important.”
Now, there’s an opportunity for CFOs to step up and add more value to their businesses – and the wider economy.
“I implore financial leaders not to just focus on their companies or even on their own career, but help their neighbours and communities to understand the financial implications of their decisions,” says Steve. “The finance community can really use the resources and knowledge we have to help other parts of our economy and make a difference.”