The role of CFO is constantly changing.
Today’s CFO isn’t fighting for a place at the executives’ table; they’re an integral part of the leadership team. The most impactful CFOs are continuously growing, learning, and developing their skills as finance professionals and as company leaders.
Whether you’re a CFO looking to continue scaling your skillset, or a finance professional who aspires to be a CFO someday, focus on developing in these five areas.
And, if you’re a CEO looking to hire a CFO for your B2B SaaS business, these are the traits you should be looking for. Let’s jump in!
1. Ability to dive deep
A great CFO should be able to explain not only what’s happening with the business, but why it’s happening, and what should be done next.
For example, if NRR is going down, the CFO should understand why, whether it’s a trend that is expected to continue, whether it’s specific to a certain cohort of customers, and what can be done to improve it.
Nearly all of a company’s strategic decisions rely on diving deep into its SaaS metrics. The CFO should be the expert who guides the leadership team through their most important decisions.
Plus, investors want to know the implications of the metrics, not just have the metrics read out to them during a board meeting. The best CFOs are prepared to answer investors’ questions on the spot instead of saying, “Let us look into that and get back with you next week.”
When we asked Rajeev Dham, Partner at Sapphire Ventures, what makes a great CFO, here’s what he said:
“Being able to double click on certain misses, spend areas, or KPIs, and really understand at a very granular level why that particular thing happened and what the implications are going forward.”
2. Ability to zoom out and see the bigger picture
The best CFOs aren’t just focused on what’s happening this month or this quarter; they’re thinking about where the company is headed. They ask what the company should be doing now to set the business up for success five years from now.
They keep a pulse on trends in the economy and in the SaaS ecosystem. They ask questions like:
- What does this year’s economic forecast mean for the fundraising environment?
- What’s the labor market looking like?
- What does that mean for our hiring plans in the next 18 months?
Then, they are able to synthesize these big-picture questions into actionable tactics to help the business succeed over the short term and the long term.
3. Trusted partner to the executive team
One trait that makes top CFOs stand out is acting as an integral member of the leadership team, not simply the leader of the finance team. The best CFOs are the right hand to the CEO, guiding their decisions on how to allocate resources.
The best CFOs are a sounding board for their fellow executives, offering input on whether proposed tactics make financial sense for the business. They have effective communication skills and can push back with the executive team when necessary. They can also communicate effectively with different types of stakeholders, including the board, prospective investors, and shareholders.
To become indispensable to the executive team, the CFO needs to build a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs, the product roadmap, and the overall business strategy. They need to be clear on what each department needs to succeed, and they need to be effective at cross-functional collaboration to build a strong partnership with each department leader.
4. Strong data analysis skills
In many ways, the role of CFO is a data job.
Everyone knows that a great finance leader needs to know the business’ financial metrics. But, they also need to be able to wrangle the metrics easily and accurately so that their teams can quickly get insights to strategically guide the business. (Note that this is not the same as having an opinion and then selectively finding data to support it!)
A crucial part of this skillset is determining where to automate processes for better efficiency. Without careful thought and planning, the data can become overwhelming, and finance teams can spend more time organizing and manually cleaning up the data than they do looking for insights. As the company grows, internal resourcing can become a huge barrier to making sound, data-driven decisions.
The best CFOs think carefully about how much time it takes to wrangle the data, and they build a tech stack that makes it easier to get fast insights as the business scales.
5. Exceptional team builder
Last but not least, the best CFOs are also the best team leaders. CFOs need to be great at strategically choosing which finance roles to hire at which times—and at hiring the right people for the job. They also inspire and challenge their team members to grow. This means understanding their direct reports’ career goals, giving actionable feedback, communicating company goals effectively, and providing learning opportunities for their teams.
As a bonus, the top CFOs share knowledge and inspire others outside of their own company. They find opportunities to write, speak, and educate others based on what they’ve learned in their own career journey, and they take pride in helping others develop their careers.