The evolution of the CFO’s second-in-command

Group Finance Director or Group Financial Controller?

Over the past few years, we have seen the CFO’s number 2 emerge as an elevated, senior leadership role. More companies today are seeking senior finance professionals who are not just technical accounting experts, but effective business partners and change agents, to fulfil this critical role. The increasingly strategic and commercially focussed responsibilities placed on the CFO’s number 2 has seen the job title evolve from Group Financial Controller to Group Finance Director (for the majority of businesses of the scale to justify two senior finance roles), itself a reflection of the finance function’s ever-growing strategic importance.

The key driver of this evolution has been the rise of the CFO, taking on increasingly strategic and business-orientated initiatives outside of finance, necessitated by increasing operational complexity, technological developments and external factors such as global supply chain disruptions and surging inflation. Historically, the Group Financial Controller and their team would provide insights to the CFO on accounting, tax, finance operations and internal control matters, and the CFO would drive the right conversations with other departments, senior leadership and the board. Now, however, the CFO’s number two is expected to have these conversations, and work cross-functionally to come up with solutions, all while considering business and operational objectives to optimise the outcomes for the company.

This changing environment means that modern Group Finance Directors / Financial Controllers are key figures not just on accounting issues, but finance matters in general and strategic partners whose skills go beyond mere accounting acumen. Strong technical accounting skills remain, of course, a central pillar of any Group Finance Director / Financial Controller candidate, but it is far from the dominating factor in selecting a Group Financial Controller as it was historically. As the CFO’s number two increasingly becomes a strategically minded position, our clients are pointing to a number of other attributes that are required for success:

Systems / Tech savvy

You can’t succeed today as a senior finance professional without the ability to navigate technology and harness the data captured from it. Technology is advancing rapidly and businesses are increasingly investing in new systems to enable real-time data collection. As a result, today’s finance leaders must keep pace with new tools and systems to remain effective.

Leadership

As the role of CFO increasingly becomes more outward facing, his / her number two is being asked to step up to lead, coach, mentor and develop a team with a wider range of skills and act as a role model for the organisation’s values. Leaders with high levels of EQ, who have the ability to empower and encourage high performance through elevating levels of trust and promoting a sense of inclusion and belonging, are the candidates who are increasingly sought after.

Communication

Interacting with a broad range of stakeholders both internally and externally, it is more important than ever that the CFO’s number two can communicate confidently and effectively and adapt their approach to who it is they are communicating with. Even the most complex accounting, tax or internal control matters need to be presented in a way that other functions, the leadership team and/or the board can understand so that the best business decisions can be made.

Curiosity

The most successful senior finance professionals we’ve worked with in recent years, are intellectually curious individuals with a focus on continuous learning. It is these individuals who can be relied upon to drive change and add value, and in so doing, enhance business performance.

Commercial acumen

As the CFO’s number two interacts more broadly with the business and with external stakeholders, it is ever more important that the individual in this role understands how the business operates within its market, as well as the factors that determine the company’s success.

Due to the ever-increasing demands placed on the CFO’s number two, the factors to be considered when hiring this role are more complex and multi-layered than in years gone by. This complexity, paired with fierce competition for top performers, means it is often very challenging to find candidates with the unique set of skills required to succeed in the role. As a result, we are continuing to hear from a large number of clients who are failing to appoint Group Finance Directors / Group Financial Controllers through the means they have done so historically, including through direct advertisements, internal talent teams and contingent recruiters.

The organisations who are having the most success in appointing to this critical and often CFO-succession role, are those who engage with an experienced and specialist Executive Search Partner to ensure that no stone is left unturned in unearthing the very best talent in marketplace.

 

Wayne Poulton, Director, CFO and Finance Leadership Practice

M: +44 (0) 7483 015 592

E: wayne.poulton@normanbroadbent.com