Claire Johnson, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at CIBC Mellon, offered tips to help chief financial officers look beyond traditional metrics during her keynote presentation at Argyle’s 2017 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum in Toronto on November 2. In her presentation, “Forward-Thinking Principles from a Former CFO,” Johnson provided insights into how CFOs can thrive in a rapidly evolving global marketplace.
According to Johnson, today’s CFOs wear many hats. These professionals must understand their roles within organizations and provide consistent support. Perhaps most importantly, CFOs must be able to look beyond finances to ensure they can help organizations achieve their respective goals.
“To be a great CFO, you need to stop being an accountant,” Johnson stated. “You need to be a businessperson.”
Johnson also highlighted four key tenets of what it takes to succeed as a CFO:
1. Put Clients at the Center of What You Do
The client experience could make or break a CFO, and for good reason. If a CFO understands an organization’s clientele, he or she can take the necessary steps to deliver exceptional client experiences. On the other hand, a CFO who takes a hands-off approach to the client experience risks missing out on opportunities to foster long-lasting client partnerships.
“With the speed of business today, you need to be agile.”
To deliver an amazing client experience, CFOs first need to define the client experience. If CFOs work with multiple departments within an organization, they can determine exactly what it takes to deliver an unparalleled client experience.
“What constitutes a great client experience varies immensely between online discount retail and private wealth management,” Johnson said. “As CFOs, you must never forget that without clients, you don’t have a business.”
Furthermore, CFOs must consider their day-to-day activities and find innovative ways to bolster the client experience. With this approach, CFOs can maintain a strong commitment to building a client experience that helps an organization stand out from the competition.
2. Be Bi-Modal
CFOs often face a dilemma: on the one hand, they must prioritize an organization’s immediate goals. At the same time, CFOs must find ways to help an organization drive consistent growth in the years to come.
Ultimately, CFOs should invest both in the present and future of their respective organizations. If CFOs deploy a bi-modal approach to their day-to-day operations, they can find the right balance between helping an organization accomplish its short- and long-term aspirations.
“You should spend your time on both investing and running the business,” Johnson noted. “You need to be able to keep these two ideas in balance by running today and building for the future.”
Although CFOs may face challenges as they try to assess short- and long-term investments, he or she should be unafraid to take risks.
“Your job is to guide the organization to invest in today and the long-term,” Johnson stated. “Short-term is safe, and medium- and long-term are less safe and less certain. But you need to be bold … to be a bi-modal leader.”
Moreover, with a bi-modal approach, a CFO may be able to extend his or her influence throughout an organization.
“Being bi-modal starts with you,” Johnson indicated. “Think about how to create sustainable momentum. Think about who you need to influence, and meet with these people regularly.”
3. Use Measurement to Your Advantage
Key performance indicators are paramount for CFOs. If CFOs establish metrics to understand an organization’s current performance, these professionals may be better equipped than ever before to make informed business decisions.
“As CFOs, you must never forget that without clients, you don’t have a business.”
Creating the right metrics sometimes can be tough, and CFOs must consider what it takes for their respective organizations to deliver value. A clear-cut definition of business success can help CFOs establish goals. Then, CFOs can develop metrics to monitor an organization’s progress as it strives to meet or surpass these goals.
“As the CFO, you are the arbiter of the bottom line,” Johnson pointed out. “Think carefully about the types of measures that you put in place to define success for your business and drive value over the long term.”
4. Embrace Agility
Agility is essential for any CFO, regardless of his or her organization. By maintaining agility, a CFO can make quick adjustments – something that is important in a global marketplace that continues to evolve and expand.
“With the speed of business today, you need to be agile,” Johnson indicated. “Re-plan as part of a regular activity.”
Lastly, CFOs must continue to do whatever they can to increase the likelihood of success for their respective organizations. Agile CFOs understand that remaining stagnant is not an option; instead, these CFOs will go above and beyond the call of duty to help an organization thrive.
“Focus on what will increase your likelihood of success, because nothing will guarantee it,” Johnson concluded.
Claire Johnson is Senior Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development at CIBC Mellon. She is also a member of the company’s leadership team. Ms. Johnson has overall responsibility for CIBC Mellon’s strategic initiatives. Working with BNY Mellon and CIBC, Ms. Johnson leads strategic initiatives that deliver the world-class capabilities of both BNY Mellon and CIBC to CIBC Mellon clients and prospects. In addition, she is responsible for CIBC Mellon’s corporate development, corporate project office and product development functions.
Ms. Johnson has more than 25 years of financial services experience. She has held a diverse range of progressively senior roles within CIBC Mellon. She joined CIBC Mellon in 1997 as Senior Manager of the Investment Funds Accounting Department. Her subsequent roles included Vice President in Relationship Management, Vice President of Product Management, Head of Marketing and Product, and most recently Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Ms. Johnson is a Chartered Accountant. She earned her CA while at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and received her Bachelor of Commerce degree at Queen’s University.