Ask the right questions - A CFO perspective from Tami Halttunen
One of the key drivers of innovation in companies is usually the CFO. This might come a bit as a surprise but it actually makes sense, CFOs always look for ways to work smarter and more efficient and this is why they often look at new technologies.
This is why we are starting a new blog series 'CFO Fireside Chat', where we will regularly get together with a CFO and pick their brain on the current challenges they are facing and how they overcome those challenges. We’ll kick this series off with our very own CFO Tami Halttunen, who with our recent news about the growth investment from Providence Equity into OpusCapita is looking ahead at exciting times.
Why did you start to work with finance?
I got involved with finance by a mere happenstance – my first entry level job after graduating was within the finance discipline – and because of certain qualities of the trade I ended up also staying in finance. During my Bachelor’s, I was at a point where I could focus on Marketing or on Finance, and decided on Finance. What I liked about finance & accounting back then [and why I like it now] is its concrete and quantifiable nature and the fact that Finance tends to be very close to where decisions are made. Early in my career it was also fulfilling to be able to reach a level of mastery where I was seen as an expert and could add real value to business decisions being made.
Generally, finance & accounting personnel – especially Business Controllers – are well connected in their organizations and I’ve personally enjoyed this networking aspect of the work throughout my career. We interact with business lines, sales, marketing and nearly all parts of the organization. It’s not only about analysis, you also need the ability to influence.
What are the things that keep you up at night? What are the biggest challenges CFOs face?
Compliance and controls are on every CFO’s mind. A company’s finances are arranged as strings of processes that permeate the entire organization. If these processes are not under control the company is likely to lose money with either lenient spending, leaking revenue or outright fraud.
Another area of concern is technology and making the right choices regarding the tools we use. In OpusCapita’s case, this is now maybe more topical than ever as we are renewing our entire systems landscape along with the carve-out from Posti Group’s systems environment. One of my core goals is to omplement all our latest technologies for our financial processes.
What would you say are the biggest changes in the way CFOs work in the last ten years
The speed of development in technology has been breathtaking. When I started in my first finance related managerial role, financial reports were still being printed out with matrix printers and consolidation runs lasted for 6-8 hours at a time but with a fraction of the data content compared to what we have nowadays.
The increase in speed of delivery and enhanced data content has changed the requirements of the job – now that there’s more questions we can find an answer to it has become even more important to ask the right questions.
How would you say the role of CFOs has changed over time?
Broadly speaking, the finance function is responsible for reporting about the past development, managing the processes and control environment and being proactive in shaping the future of the company. While all the three areas have always been on the agenda, the forward-looking aspects of the work have increased their relative weight. Since the mid 1990’s, the world has become increasingly interconnected. Can you believe mortgage payments in South Florida could affect interest rates in Southern Germany? That’s a lesson we learned from the 2008 crisis. Companies need to be able to predict their future in both the short term and long term in order to make the right choices today – this is obviously the most challenging aspect of the CFO work, but it is often also the most rewarding.
What is your organization’s digital strategy, how do you see your company transforming and what are the barriers?
Every time the flows of financial data require an unnecessary human intervention it creates an extra cost. Our aim is to reduce the need of intermediary steps in data collection, formatting and analysis while increasing the information we have available for analysis that supports our decision making. This will be achieved by making improvements in our master data, our product offering and our financial systems. This transformation will pick up speed as we renew our systems environment and master data management processes in 2019.
The greatest barrier to these kind of transformation projects is the weight of legacy – be it old data structures, multiple and overlapping systems and data sources as well as legacy mindsets. Invoice approval is a great example of the legacy mindset – still today large organizations are putting a lot of effort in controlling and approving invoices while what they should be doing instead is to focus on the initial services & goods orders.
Research shows that cash forecasting and accurate cash flow predictions are one of the top challenges, why?
Cash is a company’s most important resource and any interruption in the supply of cash will be detrimental to its operations. Forecasting financial performance in general might not be that big of a challenge but forecasting cash requires a deeper level of detail in terms of the timing of the cash flow. Forecasting profit and loss happens generally on a monthly level but when forecasting cash, one needs to understand its movements on a daily level in order to secure sufficient funds to operate.
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