This series of articles looks to demystify the various C-level roles within fintech companies today – exploring the career paths taken by top managers, their critical skills, daily responsibilities and challenges, and even how the pandemic has impacted
their understanding of running a successful business.
This fourth instalment in the C-suite Series examines the role of a company’s top-level financial controller – the chief financial officer (CFO).
Like a treasurer, a CFO is traditionally responsible for managing a firm’s finance and accounting arms – ensuring the business remains in strong financial health, its assets are safeguarded, and reports are delivered in an accurate and timely manner. This
mandate affords the CFO one of the highest-ranking positions within the C-suite – particularly when it comes to the financial services sector, and fintechs.
The CFO often works closely with the chief executive officer (CEO) – leading functions such as financial planning, forecasting, cost-benefit analysis, and liaising with investors to secure funding. To fulfil this remit effectively, a financial officer tracks
and manages metrics such as cash flow, in order to optimise the company’s performance against company-wide goals.
The post-holder also handles all financial and accounting regulatory matters. In the UK, for example, CFOs must ensure books are kept in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (UK GAAP), which dictates how company accounts should be maintained.
Other regulations CFOs must adhere to include 2006’s Companies Act – a comprehensive code of company law in the UK.
While such duties remain core to the CFO’s remit, we will see in the coming sections that – as a result of the rapid evolution of technology, the challenges associated with globalisation and shifting regulations, and the increasing number of enterprise risks
(both internal and external) – post-holders are having to take on new responsibilities. When it comes to fintechs, such responsibilities can include talent oversight and management, supporting on technological transformations, and even helping to steer the
overall strategic direction of the firm.
The rich and diverse role of the CFO can help to streamline businesses and make them more robust – an invaluable asset, particularly during uncertain economic times, as we have seen during the pandemic.
But what unique benefits can a CFO bring to a fintech business? What soft skills are necessary for a CFO to succeed in her role? How has the role evolved in the wake of coronavirus?
To answer these questions, Finextra spoke with CFOs from a clutch of payments services firms around the world, and of varying sizes – namely, Thunes, Paysafe, and Brazilian fintech unicorn, EBANX.
The fintech CFO
Reporting to the CEO, a CFO handles the company’s income and expenses, investments, and overall capital structure. As such, a CFO is instrumental in a company’s long-term financial success.
CFO Magazine, there are four key roles CFOs traditionally adopt:
- The strategist (crafting corporate strategy)
- Change agent (generating business value)
- Production (standardising and automating transactional processes)
- Guardian (standardising control and compliance processes)
Commenting on his own responsibilities, Izzy Dawood, CFO of online payments solutions company, Paysafe, said: “As CFO I oversee all aspects of the finance discipline, including strategic planning, investor relations, M&A, FP&A, internal controls, and regulatory
relations. I work closely with the rest of our leadership team on seeking out revenue opportunities and identifying areas where we can enhance our processes or work more efficiently. I also support our leadership team with budgets, provide access to financial
information, and manage compliance with contracts, and reporting. I am very focused on tracking our performance and establishing corrective measures where we need to. With the support of my team, I prepare detailed reports, both current and forecasting for
our earnings calls, the management team, and the rest of the company.”
Alexandre Dinkelmann, CFO of cross-border commerce platform in Latin America, EBANX, echoed the significance of working with teams to get the job done: “As a CFO, your responsibilities are very broad, and involve governance topics, financial controlling,
strategic decision support, acquisition negotiation, partnership building, and so on. For support with this, CFOs need a multi-disciplinary team, selected for either their professional skills, or personal characteristics. In a fintech like EBANX, it’s crucial
to be close to the team, and invest time in their growth, and opportunities.”
But what makes the role of the fintech CFO unique? How does the element of technology impact the job?
“Fintech is a rapidly evolving space, with new market entrants and large amounts of M&A activity,” said Dawood. “This means that across the business, CFOs have to work dynamically and retain an entrepreneurial mindset. We also must be prepared to change
and pivot. Technology plays a big role in that.”
Dinkelmann agreed that agility and preparedness is key: “The role of the fintech CFO is less about analysing history, and more about forward-looking skills. In my view, CEOs and boards want CFOs to be in the jet cockpit, to help them navigate turbulent times
and anticipate where the mountains will come up. If you can do that – and I’m not saying it’s easy – you’ll be a better executive for your company.”
“It’s also very important for fintech CFOs to be ‘cross-functional’,” added Dinkelmann. “We need to practice a variety of disciplines. It’s not just about accounting and financial instruments. It’s about understanding channels, digital marketing strategies,
how you operate your sales organisation, and so on. The CFO should be able to really grasp the fintech business from different angles – to see the forest for the trees. All this does not necessarily come naturally, you need to study, and put yourself outside
your comfort zone.”
These skills are leading to a growth in demand for CFOs of all stripes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for financial managers will grow by
7% between 2014 and 2024.
“Businesses now realise that CFOs can create much strategic value,” said Kian Bin Teo, CFO, Thunes. They can support companies with fundraising, M&A activities and financial data analysis to scale business performance. Finance is a potent strategy.”
Accounting for experience
So, what kind of experience should fintech firms look for in a CFO? What indicators are there of a seasoned financial officer? What got Teo, Dawood and Dinkelmann to where they are today?
“I had spent about 20 years in finance before joining Thunes in May 2019,” said Teo. “Previously, I was the CFO at three Chinese tech companies in e-commerce, IT outsourcing and mobile internet. Prior to that, I was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs,
Deutsche Bank, and Piper Jaffray – mainly on the corporate finance side. In addition, I assisted many companies with IPOs and M&As in the early days of my career. An old friend introduced me to Thunes, and the company’s commitment to financial inclusion and
focus on emerging markets immediately appealed to me.”
Dawood also stressed the importance of exposure to a diverse range of organisations: “I’ve been working in finance for over 25 years now, and have held CFO positions several times before in a few different sectors. My experience spans both private and public
global organisations, which is valuable to my role at Paysafe. During my career, I’ve always tried to learn different skills in finance, in order to support the growth of the company. After taking on three different assignments – FP&A, Investor Relations,
and Division CFO – I built the skill set needed to…
Read More:Demystifying the role of the fintech CFO