2021 is the year of the 24-hour CFO

Celeste Barone, president and chief client officer of 4Pines Fund Services, explains the importance of playing offense in the CFO role today.

Pre-pandemic there was still something of a rhythm to the day. We met in offices, had meetings and most people wrapped up before heading home, well at least sometimes. Now life feels like an endurance test. Work is home for many of us. Computer screens are never far away, and our global economy has never felt so non-stop.


It’s fair to say CFOs are facing unprecedented pressure to perform 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If CFOs are not careful, that non-stop approach can lead to poor decision-making and bad strategy. Sports psychologists and trainers have long known that athletes that over-train don’t just tire themselves out, they also lose their ability to think long term and sustain through challenges.

Celeste Barone

After the pandemic, don’t expect things to return to normal. Instead, budget time now. Before the first quarter is closed, recalibrate operations and envision a new – and strategic – normal as we emerge from covid-19 shutdowns, but into the frenzy of what’s next.


Not just an in-house CPA


CFOs are so much more than advanced accountants. They are leaders, problem solvers and partners working in fast-paced business environments. That means CFOs need to be present and at the cutting edge of their profession at all times. But they also need to find time for strategic planning, forward thinking and training their staff to eventually be ready to fill their shoes.


I find it helpful to break the CFO’s responsibilities into “offense” and “defense” for my sports-minded colleagues. Many of the CFO’s traditional tasks are defensive, in that they are preventing negatives. Think verifying internal data and double-checking financial reports. It’s crucial work that prevents costly mistakes. But it doesn’t necessarily equate to setting strategy for the future.


That’s where playing offense comes in. That’s the proactive work that contributes to financial, operational growth and finding alpha. Pulling together siloed financial data to see market opportunities sooner, for example, or disseminating that data more efficiently so that all teams can move faster based on the same intelligence. The best CFOs are making time for these changes now.


Spend more time on offense


Successful CFOs have to play good defense, and that has often been the priority. But as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, CFOs need to spend more time on offense. And that means building trusted teams that – together with the right tech-powered solutions – can play defense 24 hours a day.


Most private capital back offices lack the resources to run 24 hours a day or to build smart technology platforms that can scale to the level today’s data-driven and digitally connected world demands.


To find those resources, CFOs need to take an unsentimental look at their many functions and determine what can be delegated, but also what can be done better using available tools.


What does strategy look like?


But what does an offense look like when you can mount it? Take cashflow across investments as an example. The basics of comparing investments based not just on the final return, but by velocity can uncover an awful lot of blind spots. And I don’t just mean poking holes in a favored asset manager’s favorite ideas, but finding investment strategies that are performing well, but are not getting the attention they deserve. What if you had software and committed team members that could better track cashflow across portfolios and compile real-time reports for your review and sharing?


These are the types of questions that CFOs should be asking themselves in the coming months as they prepare for the new normal. How are you doing things now, and how could they be done better if this endurance race is actually the new normal?


The in-house accounting team can be an asset to the investment team if it has time to analyze the numbers, extract patterns and communicate the upshots. And CFOs can be revenue drivers, rather than backstops. That should be the vision. These next months provide an opportunity to look at your organization and figure out how to get there.


Celeste R Barone is president and chief client officer of 4Pines Fund Services