5 Essential Traits To Look For When Hiring Your Next CFO

Now more than ever, finance leaders must step up to guide companies toward sustainable success.

The role of the CFO has always been unique.

CFOs are expected to strike a perfect balance between leadership, finance, strategy, and analytics — all with a healthy layer of governance and automation for good measure. That’s a tall order, but it’s in pursuit of scaling while creating repeatable, dependable processes in the tech stack. Commendable, no doubt.

However, responsibilities are changing. Now more than ever, finance leaders must step up to guide companies toward sustainable success. In fact, 81% of CFOs now see identifying areas of new value as a primary responsibility. With routine tasks being replaced by payments automation, invoice automation, and other automated payment systems, CFOs find themselves with the bandwidth to position finance teams in more meaningful ways.

Many CFOs (and the departments they lead) now help drive company direction, identify investment opportunities, develop fundraising strategies, and improve business visibility. Simply ask Deloitte’s U.S. CFO Janet Lewell, who’ll tell you the role has transformed into a steward protecting a company’s critical aspects beyond finance to include even employee health, further cementing the CFO as an integral partner in the C-suite.

Recruiting the Right Candidate

For CEOs, finding someone to fill such a critical role can be a challenge. Someone familiar with the latest automated payment system isn’t enough, obviously. The ideal candidate will often possess distinct qualities and leadership skills. The following often top the list:

1. Pragmatic: CFOs are often tasked with doing more with less. This certainly requires creativity but, even more so, an ability to determine a realistic path forward — and then a willingness to take decisive actions to see projects through to completion.

2. Collaborative: CFOs set the tone for finance departments. If they’re not approachable, communicative, or open to staff ideas, it’ll permeate an entire department. Eventually, this can make collaboration difficult (even among co-workers), which is especially problematic for finance teams whose roles continue to grow in complexity.

3. Entrepreneurial: An ability to think outside the box is almost essential. Oftentimes, it’s one of the few ways CFOs can unearth value in the unlikeliest of places. Consider something as seemingly simple as payments automation (or invoice automation, at that). How many administrative hours could that save an organization? Better yet, how could those hours be redeployed to improve productivity?

4. Communicative: Communication is core to leadership. How else do you expect someone to rally a team behind your organizational vision or goals? If you’re about to implement, say, AP automation, you definitely need someone who can clearly explain the reasons. Otherwise, uncertainties about job security can quickly take hold. Be it written or verbal, CFOs must be skilled communicators.

5. Resilient: These are difficult times. That much is hard to deny, and everyone is experiencing pressures from family, colleagues, customers, employees and so on. CFOs need confidence in what they do, not to mention the stamina and resilience to handle new challenges from day to day.

The CFO’s role has never been easy, and it’s becoming more difficult with each passing year. According to reporting from The Wall Street Journal, there have been growing concerns among finance executives of all stripes — from small construction companies to big-box retailers such as Walmart — about balancing employment costs with company expenses due to COVID-19.

This alone would be a huge undertaking even without the CFO’s newfound responsibilities. CEOs need someone who can do more than shepherd in a new automated payment system. The goal should be to bring another strategic partner into the C-suite — someone ready to go beyond the role’s traditional boundaries.

Sarah Spoja
Sarah Spoja is the chief financial officer at Tipalti, a payments automation software that helps businesses manage their entire supplier payments operations by streamlining all phases of the AP and payment-management workflow in one holistic cloud platform. Sarah joined Tipalti from KKR Capstone, where she worked with portfolio companies in the finance and retail sectors; prior to KKR, she worked at Bain & Company in Boston and Sydney. She earned a Master of Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Master of Arts in mathematics and economics from William College.