Secret CFOs: ‘We want to track correspondence, but we know texting happens’

Two insiders reveal which tasks they resent and which issues are keeping them up at night.

At sister publication Private Equity International’s annual CFOs & COOs Forum 2019 in New York in January, we cornered two chief financial officers and convinced them to spill the beans on what their jobs are really like – on the condition of anonymity, of course. Here are their views tech challenges.

Which piece of software can you not do your job without?

Person A: I still go back to Excel. My reasoning for that is: we have a bunch of systems, for example we just implemented a system called DealCloud, which is great for CRM, deal tracking and pipeline. But we’ve lived without it. We have Concur, which does all of our expense processing, but I know it’s replaceable. There’s a lot of competition out there, and there are still workarounds.

Is it difficult to understand the return on a piece of software that supposedly saves you time and money?

Person B: The larger your firm, the easier it is to understand the return, because you can say ‘we had six people doing it, we were able to move one of these six to another role.’ When you’re in a smaller firm, and the things are getting done anyway, it’s more challenging to say, ‘if we put this system in, it’s going to accomplish [the task] more stylishly, and it’s going to get better reports.’ But in theory, it’s some of the guys work till nine instead of 10 a few nights. Your head count doesn’t go down, you don’t get more money – you spend it instead.

It’s a second-tier thing: you get better performance, you get better information. And hopefully the people working till nine instead of 10 are going to get better job satisfaction, not so much because they’re working fewer hours, but because the pain point in their job has been removed. But that’s a much more difficult thing, you can’t quantify that.

How are you handling instant messaging among the team?

Person A: It’s tricky. We want to track all of our correspondence, but we know texting happens and there’s work-related messages.

I brought up [the idea of tracking] people’s text messages, and I got a lot of pushback on that, because it’s less formal. It’s been something that I’ve thought about, but in a Securities and Exchange Commission exam I had about a year-and-a-half ago, they haven’t brought it up, so I haven’t really pushed the envelope on that one yet.

“It’s tricky. We want to track all of our correspondence, but we know texting happens and there’s work-related messages.”

Right now, all of our mobile devices, personal and business, are on the same device. We would probably have to have separate devices.

Person B: We do not track. Because of the informality, we really aim toward making the policy that you shouldn’t have business conversations through text. You could have a business conversation with a prospective portfolio company in terms of where we’re going to meet for lunch, where’s your office, innocuous things, but you shouldn’t have [business] conversations like that. Certainly, my group shouldn’t have any investor relations discussions with LPs. And if you keep that separate, it enables you to not have to necessarily track it in your system.

People are used to understanding that emails are discoverable and subject to review. If you look at texts, IMs, Facebook comments, in general outside of business, people aren’t accustomed to thinking of those as ‘this is a permanent record, I better think it through and write it in such a way.’ So for that reason, I think we’ll keep a policy that says you can’t use it for business purposes, which will enable us not to track it. If things evolve, and we have to track it, there will be an IT issue with text messages for how we manage it.