CFO: “2021? No Pressure …”

2020 has been a taxing year for Finance leaders. Managing their companies’ response to the pandemic, working to keep a healthy balance sheet, and acting as the CEOs right hand has no doubt left some finance leaders exhausted, and even overworked. All the signs are that 2021 is not likely to be much easier.

CFOs’ roles are expected to expand considerably. Many have taken on new tasks in 2020, and most expect these new obligations to carry over into the coming years. At Norman Broadbent Group, our CFO Practice partners with finance leaders every day, and we are seeing six important trends to watch out for during 2021.


The many stressors of 2020 have included the pandemic, US election, Brexit, economy, social unrest, and divisiveness, and all are now weighing heavily on an employees’ well-being. Many found themselves in a quandary as work and school went virtual, having to manage a new working environment while juggling childcare, home schooling and other family demands.

After nine months of dealing with pandemic-related stress, employees continue to struggle with anxiety and burnout, and many say they are not getting what they need from their employers, which is affecting productivity and morale. Many employees also feel forced to sacrifice their personal safety to stay employed.

Looking ahead:

CFOs recognise the gravity of the current business environment and its impact on the workforce. In fact, they are more concerned about their employees than they are about consumer issues. As a result many are taking steps to help their people in the absence of further government stimulus, including increasing support for mental health, providing childcare and offering new benefits to employees, such as reduced hours, caregiver support and temporary leaves of absence.

CFOs can work with CHROs to better understand the urgency and employee sentiment driving the need for additional employee support, as well as how their companies are designing broader benefit options for their employees.


Customer needs and expectations changed dramatically because of the pandemic, and digital investments will remain critical to company revenue strategies designed to keep up with those changing customer needs. The shift to remote work for many people made it difficult to innovate and collaborate, underscoring the importance of new collaboration tools and workforce models.

Despite a tough year for many, companies are accelerating their approach to artificial intelligence (AI). Yet a painful fact persists: AI is hard. Too many AI investments end up as “pretty shiny objects” that do not pay off. Most companies have yet to adapt talent strategies, organisational structures, business strategies, development methodologies and risk mitigation for a world that moves at AI speed. So there’s work to be done, but the reward can be enormous: concrete benefits today and the foundation for success tomorrow.

Looking ahead:

Investing in transformation will likely continue to be a top priority for CFOs in 2021, for both top-line growth and operating efficiencies. There will be further investment on data analytics, automation, cloud, and customer transformation. How will this tech spending drive growth?  With agile sprints, shorter efforts that demonstrate value along the way, that can be done in a quarter instead of in 12 months. The goal: to better serve customers, have leaner operations, more easily pivot to stay essential and be more resilient and for whatever may come in 2021.


In recent years, sustainability reporting has certainly developed and matured. Today, sustainability disclosure is an integral part of the best practices of any company which wants to develop and demonstrate its green or community-oriented credentials. Even despite the devastation from and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, companies recognised the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues throughout. Creating value for a broad group of stakeholders, including investors, employees, customers, and suppliers, while continuing to manage broader societal obligations is now more important than ever for companies.

For many, the term “ESG” brings the spotlight to environmental issues like climate change and resource scarcity. These form an element of ESG, of course, and an important one, but the term means much more than that. It covers social issues like a company’s labour practices, talent management, product safety and data security. It covers governance matters like board diversity, executive pay and business ethics. But as we discovered in the past, there is often a divide amongst stakeholders on how to manage and communicate it and what the term even means.

COVID-19 has accelerated the ESG agenda

The pandemic has demonstrated our agilities in the face of extreme change and driven focus on the integrity economy. As businesses are forced to transform, it is an opportunity to embed ESG into your business purpose and strategy.

Looking ahead:

This connection between business and society will likely continue to grow in 2021, and companies should be ready. Employees — new recruits and long-tenured alike — are looking for companies that value purpose, and consumers want to believe in brands. Leading with purpose can distinguish one company from another, helping with recruitment and retention and attracting customers and building loyalty. Key to all of this is transparency. ESG is fast becoming a key part of business strategy, so companies will want to tell that story: how ESG trends are impacting strategy and operations, and what their processes are to manage ESG risks. ESG and human capital management disclosures can help improve transparency with investors and all stakeholders, but CFOs should expect more pressure for disclosures to show companies’ progress around their ESG efforts and for more standardisation.


Green finance is blossoming. Globally, the green bond market could be worth as much as $2.36 trillion by 2023. It is regarded as a way of meeting the needs of environmentalism and capitalism simultaneously. At its simplest, green finance is any structured financial activity, a product or service, that’s been created to ensure a better environmental outcome. It includes an array of loans, debt mechanisms and investments that are used to encourage the development of green projects or minimize the impact on the climate of more regular projects, or of course a combination of both.

Funding sustainable development

For the United Nations, green financing plays an important role in delivering several of its Sustainable Development Goals. Its Environment team is already working with public and private sector organizations in an attempt to align international financial systems to the sustainable development agenda.

Some of the activities UN Environment is involved in include helping countries re-engineer their regulatory frameworks, so that green borrowing becomes compliant, and helping steer public sector planning in a more environmentally friendly direction.

Clean sources of energy can be brought to fruition through the right combination of planning consent, strategic priorities, and availability of capital. Such projects could be given preferential treatment to make them a more attractive option than, for example, fossil-fuel derived energy infrastructure.

Typical projects that fall under the green finance umbrella include:

  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • Pollution prevention and control
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Circular economy initiatives
  • Sustainable use of natural resources and land

Looking ahead:

As companies work to develop and build on the “why” behind their purpose, CFOs — as the CEO’s partner — will have to translate this purpose into investment priorities, financial outlooks, how this manifests throughout day-to-day business operations and how they’re perceived by stakeholders.


The social tension and unrest that were just some of the defining elements of 2020 have perhaps helped spark many company leaders to do more to better support their employees and communities. In recent months, businesses have certainly ramped up their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Their employees are not the only ones to benefit; companies are seeing the advantages of embracing the different ages, ethnicities, genders, and education levels of their employees to create an inclusive, creative and collaborative workplace.

Where previously the topic of diversity and inclusion was largely relegated to HR, now organisations have begun to understand the strategic business value of diversity and inclusion programs, and the CFO has taken a more active role. While CFOs will continue to be involved in hiring and retention decisions from a benefits standpoint, increasingly they also need to understand the value of company culture to a workforce and strive to quantify that value through programs and trainings that help their company succeed.

A culture of inclusion is an environment in which all employees feel comfortable to share their ideas, perspective, and knowledge, facilitating ingenuity and collaboration. Many organizations recognise this and are embracing strategies to actively promote an environment of diversity and inclusion, which includes:

  • Recruiting and retaining diverse talent;
  • Maintaining relationships with diverse suppliers;
  • Offering training and mentorship to meet the diverse needs of employees.

As the workforce becomes less homogenous, companies are implementing diversity councils to create an atmosphere that yields ideas and offerings that are in sync with a changing market. Best practices include providing diversity and inclusion education and awareness, and executive management training on the value of diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

Looking ahead:

Many business leaders, including CFOs, are planning to help bridge the divide we have experienced globally this year, from the election in the US to civil disobedience in the UK and Europe. Around half of CFOs say they are increasing diversity and inclusion training for employees and creating new opportunities for them to have conversations about difficult social issues. Such efforts are beneficial to companies and to society broadly: Tolerance and unity will help improve productivity and innovation while also helping build trust and transparency with employees and other stakeholders alike.


Seven months after COVID-19 shut down the global economy, CFOs’ outlook on revenue and growth turned cautiously optimistic. After a dismal view in March, with no CFOs expecting any increase in revenue at all, things started to pick up as companies got a better handle on the pandemic and its impact on their business. The decisions many CFOs made to unlock new revenue streams in the early months of the pandemic helped their companies survive, and by October, many CFOs were confident enough to say they expected an increase in revenue in the next 12 months. These hints of a return to growth were also evident in the decline in CFOs who saw a decrease in profit.

None of us has ever seen such a complicated and intertwined set of factors driving a public health emergency of this magnitude, let alone the resulting converging crises.

How can you make better business decisions in such a challenging environment? Become more ready and resilient in the way you respond and strategize. Scenario planning and modelling are not “nice-to-haves.” They are an essential part of running a complex business, especially when dealing with high levels of uncertainty. It is possible to build muscle for times like this, and there are steps you can take now.

CFOs can focus all these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders need to be able to understand what is key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Looking ahead:

CFOs will continue to focus on rebuilding revenue, customer strategies and scenario planning as they look to emerge stronger in the new year. They will keep making changes to products and services, pricing strategies and customer segments to increase revenue — and about half of CFOs see returns coming in early 2021. They will also invest in data analytics and automation to help spur growth in the next year, as well as growing their involvement in ESG and D&I efforts across their businesses, as they shepherd them towards a successful 2021.

Marcus Blackburn is a Director with the CFO Practice at Norman Broadbent Group, a market leader in Talent Acquisition & Advisory services. If you’d like to understand more about us, or discuss how we may be able to help you overcome your people or organisational challenges, please do not hesitate to contact me for an initial confidential discussion via

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Welcome to the New Reality – Regulatory Reporting and Staff Burnout!

With the news this week that many listed businesses may be poised to delay publication of their 2020 results as a result of the renewed lockdowns and the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return to ‘normal’ that many businesses and teams hoped for 2021 may be further away than they think. Both finance departments and their audit partners amongst the big four are warning of a significant backlog of work, along with additional pressures on staff from school closures and the need to provide childcare.

Norman Broadbent has commented before on the expanding role of the CFO, which took a significant leap forward during the COVID pandemic as many CFOs took on additional responsibilities, which also trickled down to their teams. These twin pressures of increased workload and increased obligations at home have left many finance teams burnt out, and in need of support at the worst time of year, with almost half of all market-listed businesses having their year-ends in December.

While regulators are expected to make an announcement soon, perhaps extending reporting deadlines to relieve some of the pressure, the news will be of concern to many investors, who will be keen to see how businesses have fared in the tumultuous landscape of 2020, and their plans for the road to recovery.

Now, more than ever, the interim finance professionals we work with have a critical role to play in stepping into the breach and delivering real added value in supporting beleaguered teams to complete their reporting obligations and get back on an even keel. We have seen demand skyrocket for interim finance professionals with Plc Group Reporting expertise to support existing finance departments in the delivery of the financial accounts.

As cost control is imperative for many businesses, an interim solution is not only the most effective solution, but also often the most cost efficient. Interims are seasoned professionals well-used to the pressures of these critical financial roles, as well as adapting to new environments, working remotely, and so on. Their experiences of delivering multiple assignments in many other listed businesses is also a great advantage. Many of our clients have found this to be a more cost-effective interim solution, over alternatives such as utilising expensive big 4 accountancy staff to support in the delivery of the annual accounts.

If you would like to learn more about how interim executives can support your business, please contact Jonathan Stringer via for an initial confidential conversation.

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The lonely CFO … surviving (and thriving) in 2021

The CFO role is often thought of as being largely preoccupied with numbers and data, but in recent times, and indeed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that role has evolved significantly and as such become increasingly challenging. As we have discussed many times over the last few years, the CFO is no longer simply the mainstay of financial stewardship, control and governance but is a business leader with a true multi-functional remit and an enhanced role in determining and shaping the future of organisations.

This shift is nothing new in itself – it has been a growing trend over a number of years, that has been accelerated by the pandemic and the fact that CFOs have been thrust into every major organisational decision, from business transformation and automation to business analytics and driving operational efficiencies. This is all amidst an increased people focus, made more complex by the shift to home-based working.

As the CFO’s role is evolving, so are the hiring requirements for the direct reports of the CFO and the finance team more broadly. From a technical perspective, recruiting candidates who are digitally savvy and possess strong finance business partnering skills is continuing to be a priority. Equally softer skills such as critical thinking, resilience, flexibility and a continuous improvement mindset look set to be in high demand throughout 2021, as CFOs seek to develop teams that can support them in their new expanded roles.

Since the start of the pandemic, in order to deal with the number of critical issues that have arisen in a short time frame, CFOs have had to pivot to focus on these new priorities whilst simultaneously considering the longer-term view. From the conversations we had with CFOs last year, highlighted below are several key areas CFOs and their businesses will need to consider as we enter 2021.

Business transformation and change

An undeniable fact is that the world has changed and there is no turning back. For organisations to survive and thrive in the current climate, the CFO has to remain in the strategic seat and be an agent for change more than ever. Business transformation and automation are nothing new conceptually, but what has changed is they now need to become a reality – and fast. Fundamental change is uncomfortable for most but standing still is not an option.


For the CFO to deliver to ever increasing stakeholder expectations and react rapidly to the inevitable market shifts that will arise in the coming year, they must automate wherever and however they can – and at pace. While a majority of organisations had automation underway to varying degrees pre-COVID, many put plans on hold in the midst of the pandemic in 2020. Businesses now need to focus on these projects as a matter of urgency. The automation of transactional processes provides the foundation for the benefits of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to be maximised and integrated into new ways of working.


The CFOs that will thrive in 2021 and beyond will be those that show the greatest leadership at all levels, providing direction underpinned by purpose, integrity and authenticity. In the virtual world, CFOs are learning entirely new techniques for engaging and communicating with their teams at a time when the pressure and risk of disconnection of individuals from their organisations has never been more acute. As the demands on finance teams grow further, by taking on strategic responsibilities and working to extract the benefits of new technology, in addition to BAU tasks, CFOs will have to pay even more attention to their team’s mental health and wellbeing.

Planning for the recovery

Although it’s uncertain when the economy will start to recover from the impact of COVID-19, it is imperative to think about future plans. CFOs are currently in the throes of assessing multiple recovery models to determine which markets and segments could bounce back first. This analysis can help in focusing on investments and developing plans to respond to the recovery. During economic downturns, it is natural to focus on cost-cutting, however, by staying the course on initiatives that support long term growth, CFOs can play a critical role in financing and positioning their companies for recovery.

Building a future-fit finance function

With the CFO spending their time on new priorities, their direct reports, and the entire finance function for that matter, must operate with enhanced levels of responsibility and with greater creativity and business focus. It is no longer enough for finance leaders to oversee a team that assimilates and reports information, but instead, they must develop the capability to identify, analyse, interpret and communicate the most valuable data, in the right language, at the right time. Individuals with responsibility for more transactional tasks will continue to see their roles significantly reduced by automation and will need to be upskilled. Where this isn’t possible, finance professionals with the analytical, planning and business partnering skills required for success will need to be appointed.


Intensifying their focus on relationships can help CFOs optimise business performance while minimising organisational disruption and laying a stronger foundation for the health of the enterprise. CFOs who invest in deepening and broadening their relationships both internally and externally will emerge as even more capable leaders as they learn to engage with colleagues for maximum impact.

This point on relationships extends to the CFO community. With ever increasing levels of accountability, the role of CFO can be a lonely one and what has arisen from the pandemic is increased levels of collaboration, knowledge sharing and an ongoing sentiment that we are all in this together. The CFO community is a tight knit one overall and whilst competitiveness amongst peers still exists there was a noticeable increase in the desire to advise, guide and support one another through the challenges that 2020 threw at us. No one has the blueprint for success for the year ahead in what is already likely to be a similarly testing 12 months, so cooperating with those facing similar challenges can only engender a more positive result for all.

If you would like to discuss the points raised in this article, the wider market and/or any people challenges or plans you may have for the future. please do not hesitate to contact Wayne Poulton in confidence via or +44(0) 7483 015 592

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2021 CFO Focus: Happy New Lockdown

Without wishing to state the obvious, 2020 has been a challenging year. With US political tension, US/ China economic conflict, Brexit, and the commercial and emotional impact of Covid-19, it has been tough. Many organisations have classified the effect of the pandemic as posing either a severe or having a significant impact on their business.

In a recent CFO survey by Deloitte, 57% of respondents said their focus was on reducing costs and increasing cash flow to help mitigate the impact of a changing business landscape. During the pandemic businesses have focussed on investments in organisational and business process, improvements across both software and data, and general IT. Unsurprisingly that focus looks set to continue during 2021 ensuring businesses will be fit for purpose as the ‘new normal’ emerges.

Over the past year, Norman Broadbent’s interim Finance Practice has seen a staggering increase (over 68%) in clients seeking support to deliver finance change and transformation programmes. Clients have been a mixture of FTSE and AIM listed PLCs, who have been redefining their new target operating models to achieve significant savings through simplification of organisational structures, automation of back office processes, and better real time MI through more effective ERP technological improvement.

We have also seen a significant increase in clients wishing to deploy a balanced approach when delivering finance transformation projects. This has manifested itself in clients deliberately mixing/blending external interim consultants (typically Ex Big 4) with their own senior leadership team. The drivers behind this shift away from Big 4 management consultancies delivering such change programmes have been around clients requiring more effective knowledge transfer, the opportunity to upskill and develop their existing leadership team, and significant cost savings. Clients have become even more outcome focused with defined milestones along the transformation journey. In summary they are seeking defined ROI in terms of time spent, business improvement, reduction in costs.

Outside of Finance Transformation programmes, there has been continued demand across the four key skill competency areas. Demand has continued to exceed supply for skilled:

  • Finance Directors
  • Financial Controllers
  • Corporate Tax Directors
  • Treasury Directors

Projections for 2021

With the new Covid-19 variant impacting the UK, many clients have, and are continuing to opt for, interim resource to fill business critical positions. This is for three main reasons:

  • Flexibility of the contract engagement;
  • Guaranteeing the quality of resource in a landscape where prospective permanent staff may be reluctant to move companies;
  • Objectivity of what good looks like due to the breadth of expertise and experience gained from working in a broad range of organisations.

Until the UK economy begins to stabilise, we believe clients will continue to opt for highly experienced and flexible Interim resources. For the time being, the new norm seems to reflect a continued pattern of remote working, with clients requiring seasoned hires at short notice on an interim basis until such time they feel confident in reinvesting in FTE headcount to achieve the right long term permanent solution.

If you would like to discuss our findings in more detail, the wider market, and/or your growth plans and challenges for 2021, please do not hesitate to contact Jonathan Stringer, Managing Director, Finance Officers Practice via or +44(0) 7483 015 307

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“Oops …” Pandemic hiring and how not to get it right

The Covid-related uncertainty has resulted in CFOs being asked to do more and more. Many would argue this is nothing new; however, the message ‘less time in the weeds – more time looking ahead’ is more important than ever as CFOs seek to restructure areas such as FP&A, treasury and financial reporting, to get them fit-for-purpose and to deliver optimum results.

CFOs have had to become comfortable with uncertainty, drive change, adapt to survive, pivot quickly, ditch the tried and tested, and be more accepting of radical solutions. Whilst no one is advocating a complete reversal of their instinctive conservatism, there are clearly occasions when a ‘low-risk/no-risk’ default position may not be best.

Alongside technical acumen, commercial and leadership intelligence are critical in ensuring CFOs play the combined roles of strategist, operator, leader, steward, and catalyst for change. With these increasing demands, it is becoming more challenging for businesses to find the right mix of skills, attitude, and competencies when appointing a finance professional.  Some companies already find it difficult to prioritise which competencies are most critical to business success. Even when they do, assessing candidates based solely on the most rigorous interview process is never perfect, especially in the current climate when face to face interviews may not be possible.

Due to the many challenges associated with recruiting a finance professional, many businesses (and recruiters) often simplify the process by interviewing individuals with appropriate experience, shortlisting candidates based on personal ‘fit’. For an increasingly complex and demanding role, this is a flawed process that can lead to poor hiring decisions. More sophisticated businesses have integrated assessment not only into their recruitment process, but also for future development and succession planning purposes.

While Covid-19 continues to pose a serious threat to long-term vacancy and employment rates, those still hiring have discovered new innovative recruitment processes which will give them an advantage when competing for talent in the future.

These organisations that continue to recruit have faced numerous logistical challenges. Social distancing makes it difficult to interview in person, HR departments are operating remotely, and processes such as right-to-work document checks have had to happen over video. Figures Gartner show 86% of businesses have been conducting virtual interviews during the pandemic, and 85% are using new technology to onboard employees.  Candidates that were keen to move pre-pandemic may now be hesitant to move. So now, perhaps more than ever, it is important that those companies hiring can demonstrate a professional and positive candidate experience.

In terms of the hiring process, there has often been an initial telephone screening followed by a virtual interview via Zoom or Teams. Onboarding has simply moved online. Videos are used to show how certain activities should be carried out in practice, and employees can also access additional e-learning modules.

Perhaps the most positive impact of Covid-19 has been a realisation that remote working does not necessarily affect productivity. With a continued shift towards flexible working, it is likely companies will prefer recruiters to expand the scope of a search away from a solely regional focus. This has enabled companies to access to a much broader (national) talent pool when looking to hire.

By conducting a virtual process an audit trail of data and documentation has been created, which is an opportunity for an employer to gain better insights into the candidate journey and make long-term improvements to each stage.

The pandemic has also helped to “innovate and rethink” elements of the recruitment process. Incorporating video calling technology to allow for remote interviewing is something that will remain, at least for initial interviews. Similarly, adapted induction programmes have proved efficient. Put simply, if a recruitment process does not involve face to face interviews then companies really need to add more into their process to properly validate the hire.

At Norman Broadbent Group we ensure Psychometric Assessment is a key part of our Search methodology. Using our in-house expertise, we deploy the most optimal Assessment approach. Typically, 2-3 candidates are taken through an Assessment process to remove subjectivity and help optimise hiring decisions. Even where the best candidate for the role is clear, Assessment is helpful in identifying and confirming developmental areas before an employee starts work.

Norman Broadbent Consulting routinely reviews existing and developing CFOs for both selection and development. The issues mentioned above – the increasing need for CFOs to proactively drive change, to show great resilience, to possess enhanced influencing skills, and the need to take a much broader view of the business and commercial context – are all features we can measure and benchmark. Given that many of our clients must do more with less, meet year-on-year increases in professional requirements and are faced with increasingly complex commercial choices, the need for effective talent management is more prevalent than ever before.

If you would like to find out more about The Norman Broadbent Group and how we can help your organisation, please contact Marcus Blackburn or Dr Stephen Sloan for an initial confidential discussion.

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Case Study: Combined Interim and Permanent CFO Search


Our client, is an international retail and manufacturing company which also markets a wide range of ancillary interior products. The Company employs over 650 people, mainly in the UK, and has international operations in New York, Chicago, Paris and Dubai.

The organisation had recently appointed a new Group CEO which formed part of an ambitious growth plan. The new strategy included driving the existing brands, partnering with core customers, investing in people and growing key geographies – UK, Northern Europe and USA.

The current CFO had been in the role for over 5 years and the Group CEO was keen to ‘upskill’ the position and bring in a more commercially rounded finance leader to help execute the newly formed strategic plan.


After an initial briefing with the Group CEO it was clearly evident that the shareholders had already lost faith in the existing CFO and that the CEO-CFO relationship was becoming more and more untenable.

It was agreed that the best solution for the shareholders would be for the current CFO to be replaced, however the CEO was concerned that with suitable CFO’s typically on 6 months notice, it could potentially take 8-9 months for a new CFO to be properly onboarded.

We advised our client that they should run a combined Interim and Permanent process. Under NDA, we would identify a suitable Interim CFO quickly, which would then allow the CEO to reach a suitable compromise agreement with the current CFO. Once the Interim CFO was in place Norman Broadbent would then commence a thorough permanent search process.


Within 72 hours, we had provided our client with a shortlist of 3 candidates for the Interim CFO position. Due to the confidentiality of the search, all candidates were placed under NDA, and were available to start immediately. After 2 separate interviews, the preferred candidate was identified, offered and accepted the position, with a 6 month commitment on both sides.

The existing CFO agreed a compromise and was put on garden leave whilst the Interim started.

The Permanent search then commenced and 5 external candidates plus the Interim CFO were identified within 8 weeks. After 4 separate interviews and psychometric testing a permanent CFO was identified, offered and accepted.


An International retail and manufacturing company was looking to ‘upskill’ and replace it’s existing CFO quickly to allow them to execute an ambitious growth plan.

Norman Broadbent Research & Insight team identified 3 suitable interim CFO’s within 72 hours which enabled our client to replace their existing incumbent within a week of being briefed.

This ultimately facilitated a more efficient and cost-effective permanent CFO search process, with a permanent CFO subsequently being offered within 10 weeks of the Interim CFO starting.

Jonathan Stringer | Director Interim Management

+44 (0) 7483 015 307

Marcus Blackburn | Director CFO Practice

+44 (0) 7483 015 595

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A Brexit Dividend or Boris Bounce?

In 2019, activity slowed in developing and advanced economies, with trade tensions weighing on exports, industrial output, and capital spending. However, despite last year’s slow pace of global economic growth, Q4 2019 was exceptionally busy for our CFO Practice.

Due to UK economic uncertainty, many clients took urgent action – these tended to centre on transformation projects designed to reduce costs and simplify operational processes. For example, we saw an unprecedented number of mandates being signed off for interim CFOs with turnaround expertise. We also saw demand for Interim Business Transformation Directors able to support Leadership Teams in implementing cost reduction programmes whilst simultaneously supporting internal client comms/messaging.

2020: What now?

  • Many within the CFO community are putting greater focus on their Supply Chain & Procurement functions. According to Retail Week, 29% of retailers don’t have true visibility of their supply chain. A Norman Broadbent survey in Q4 2019 found that 85% of clients felt a more effective procurement strategy globally was business critical to their survival.
  • Technology is a common issue for all CFOs having to operate their businesses on multiple ERP systems globally (often not fit for purpose).
  • In our survey we found that 65% of CFOs said even though they had an IT Department, there was no overarching tech strategy to address issues around business intelligence. Similarly we found there was often no defined tech road map to enable more automation and reduce the burden and cost of manual intervention in the production of accounts for many global organisations with multiple sites. Because of this, many CFOs have been considering establishing shared service centres out of city centres to reduce cost of rent and labour.
  • Treasury has been a continuous focus for the majority of CFOs. Renegotiating banking covenants and achieving cost savings through consolidation of Banking suppliers has been business critical. Over 42% of CFOs surveyed said their Treasury capability was a) limited to cash management, b) did not have the capability (internally) to implement Treasury Management Systems, and c) could not effectively manage the risk associated with moving to different Banking providers.
  • Many clients continue to opt for fixed term contracts as opposed to daily rates due to the IR35 legislation. As the demand for highly skilled interim talent continues to outstrip supply, clients are being more creative and building into salary packages completion bonuses to ensure they retain contractors over the term of engagement and ensure successful outcomes.

Norman Broadbent Group provides a range of Talent Acquisition & Advisory Services to corporate clients. Regardless of whether your company is in growth mode, consolidation, or turnaround, we have the expertise and knowledge to work with you. If you’d like to hear more about our track record, or to discuss a specific assignment, please contact Jonathan Stringer on +44 (0) 207 484 0036 or via

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Retail CFO ‘snap-shot’

Over Christmas many ‘high street names’ suffered due to lack of consumer confidence, a change in buying habits, and shift to online. The likes of John Lewis, N Brown, Moss Bros, Joules, Topps Tiles and Superdry all featured in this challenging roll-call … The impact for many retailers has been significant, requiring radical change and transformation to get their businesses ‘fit-for-purpose’ and ready to weather further challenges.

So what has this meant for the CFO? At a high-level we can see there are huge pressures on costs (domestic and international), renegotiations with lenders of finance providers, a greater focus on  supply chain management and efficiencies, smarter use of tech, the automation of back office finance processes, and  tighter cash management.

To help our clients understand how their peers are thinking, and to gain much-needed insight into the market, we conducted a CFO survey over recent weeks. With a significant number of CFO’s responding, we got a good feel for sentiment and thinking. In summary we found:

  • There is current and forecast future demand for Finance Directors and CFO’s with a strong retail bias. A track record of turning around under-performing organisations is high on Board agendas
  • When interviewed during the survey, a high percentage of CFO’s highlighted the skills gap within their own teams, particularly around financial control, reporting and business partnering
  • 70% of CFO’s said ‘diversity of thought’ is business critical. Taking on an Interim Executive gave them an unbiased view on how things could be done better due to the experience gained working within multiple organisations
  • 85% of CFO’s surveyed said strong stewardship and accurate business intelligence was more business critical than ever
  • Whilst those surveyed would prefer sector expertise, there is an undercurrent of ‘openness’ i.e. clients are more open to considering candidates from outside of sector
  • Technology, international expertise, and previous exposure of working for organisations within a listed environment are again in demand. This is driven by a need for prior exposure to good governance and strong financial controls
  • For finance leadership and transformation positions, 68% percent of CFO’s surveyed said they would happily engage an interim to fulfil their requirements due to internal/external skill shortages
  • Gap management and process transformation were key themes during 2019. However 2020 has presented new challenges on talent acquisition due to the balance of both commercial and technical skills being required in equal measure
  • Although cost was almost always a factor, 89% of CFO’s surveyed commented cost was of secondary importance to effective delivery, upskilling, and knowledge transfer to existing staff. Time to hire was always a major issue requiring an effective solution quickly

Many clients said the key to success is upskilling their work force whilst diversifying the thought process across their finance leadership team. Raising the bar on expectation and performance within finance is critical to their business success. The benefit of having interims supporting the SLT on change and transformation programmes enables the delivery of effective leadership and guidance quickly in areas such as  FP&A and Technical Accounting. Many CFO’s said they do not have the luxury of waiting six months for their direct reports to learn and evolve over time due to the commercial pressures currently facing the business.

Norman Broadbent Group provides a range of Talent Acquisition & Advisory Services to corporate clients. Regardless of whether your company is in growth mode, consolidation, or turnaround, we have the expertise and knowledge to work with you. If you’d like to hear more about our track record, or to discuss a specific assignment, please contact Jonathan Stringer on +44 (0) 207 484 0036 or via

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Industrials: Interim Update

Across the Industrials sector, Norman Broadbent’s Interim CFO Practice has supported a multitude of clients seeking advice, market insight, and benchmarking for singular and project hires. With Brexit negotiations going down to the wire, and increased pressure from competitors, the requirements for exceptional interim finance leaders has never been so strong across both PLCs and SMEs.  We are seeing a greater need for interim executives who are well versed in shaping and determining strategy, securing funding, liaising with key investors, and streamlining existing financial processes on large scale transformation programmes.

We recently partnered with a major UK transportation business that required our support in bolstering the CFO’s bench of finance leaders with career interim talent. The individuals selected from our network not only had precise functional expertise but also a solid and proven track-record of delivering within the sector. This particular client was seeking an Interim Group Finance Director for a sustained period whilst the current incumbent dealt with integrating a major overseas acquisition. The combination of our speed to hire, our 40-year-old network, precise shortlisting and vetting processes gave the CFO great confidence during a chaotic period. This has allowed us to build a good foundation from which we will continue to support with multiple hires during their M&A activity.

Since September 2019 we have also supported a major UK Water Supplier with a technically gifted Group Financial Controller, a Waste Management business with an Interim Head of Internal Audit and an Automotive supplier with an ERP Programme Director. Our clients have been utilising our Interim Executives for gap management as well as delivering finance transformation and change projects across their businesses. This has resulted in the achievement of significant cost savings, when historically businesses would have defaulted to utilising consultancy firms to bridge the gap where key technical finance skills are required.

At Norman Broadbent our experienced and high performing Interim Management team is regarded as a trusted advisor to business leaders and finance professionals. Our sector & functional expertise allows us to blend our knowledge of the Interim Executive markets, and most importantly provide a “best in class” solution for our clients.

Should you be keen to discover more about our services and how we may help you, or to discuss a specific assignment, please do not hesitate to contact me for an initial confidential discussion via or on +44 (0) 20 7484 0119.

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Why Diversity is important

The CFO and their finance function are operating in a new and ever changing world. Organisations face almost unprecedented uncertainty, and the business environment is more complex, and evolving at a pace not seen before. In this brave new world, the finance function extends well beyond its traditional capabilities. Growing regulation has led to increased specialisation and complexity of some finance roles as strong technical skills are required. Furthermore, the growing role of finance as a Business Partner means many finance roles are increasingly orientated towards commercial and decision support with finance playing a central role in providing actionable insight that facilitates effective strategic decision making. As a result, the skills and experiences that finance professionals need to bring to the table are increasingly diverse.

In recent conversations, one of our clients (a technology firm who are well advanced on their digital finance journey) explained there has been a move towards recruiting finance business partners with heavy commercial creativity who are willing to challenge the status quo and capable of thinking outside of the box when it comes to approaching business problems. This prompted a debate around whether finance professionals are best suited to these roles on every occasion and whilst for the time being this is more often the case than not, they do envisage a future where candidates from a commercial background rather than a finance background take on these business partnering roles, further diversifying the blend of skills in the finance function.

It is not just diversity of skills that are required; it’s also diversity of ideas that are important to the finance function in a fast paced, ever evolving environment, where the ability to innovate, respond swiftly and challenge deep-rooted viewpoints has become essential for enhanced performance. There is a growing recognition that a wide range of perspectives and experiences is critical to the success or otherwise of businesses. A McKinsey report in 2018 found that firms in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to enjoy above average profitability than firms in the bottom quartile. Indeed there is a growing recognition that a wide range of perspectives and experiences is critical to the impact finance can have on driving business performance.

We have seen this in the hiring patterns of our clients over the last 12 months in particular, as they become increasingly likely to make out-of-sector appointments and address diversity imbalances in their teams.

  • So far this year, 55% of our Finance Director appointments have been ‘in sector’ hires. This compares to 63% in 2018.
  • So far this year, 40% of our senior finance appointments have been female. This compares to 32% in 2018.
  • We have seen a 45% uplift in demand for our female talent pipelining service where we pipeline ‘next generation’ female talent. This service line has been especially popular in the construction, engineering and professional services sectors.

At a time when disruptive innovations and new business models are posing a threat to incumbents in the majority of industries, diversity of thought and experience are vital. By bringing individuals with fresh ideas into the finance function, companies will have a better chance of re-inventing themselves and in doing so improve their chances of staying ahead of the competition. The finance function of the future in top performing businesses is likely to be very different and more diverse in every sense than the finance function of today.

Wayne Poulton, Director, Finance

Norman Broadbent Solutions

DDI: +44 (0) 20 7355 6941

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