Mark Freebairn, Partner and Head of the Board and CFO Practices at Odgers Berndtson, explains what CFOs need to do if they want to become CEOs
For some time now, there’s been a very clear trend in CFOs progressing onto CEOs. It’s a trend that should come as no surprise to executive leaders. With more CEOs under increasing pressure, many CFOs have become the nominal second in command, often taking non-finance related responsibilities off their CEO’s plate.
As result, CFOs have begun playing a more strategic and commercial role which has inevitably broadened their remits beyond the finance function. With many CFOs breaking out of the traditional financial management confines, executive teams and boards have begun to realise that finance and general management are more closely aligned than they previously thought. This has given CFOs more opportunities to gain experience relevant for the CEO position. From owning P&L business units to engaging with external investors, the CFO’s evolving remit is making them likely candidates for the top job.
That’s not to say it’s a done deal for anyone who is currently a CFO. The CEO jobs market is comparatively small, CEO turnover is typically slow, and competition is intense. So below, I’ve outlined the key areas CFOs should gain experience in and the opportunities they should capitalise on if they want to compete for the CEO positions out there.
Take responsibility for P&L business units
Overseeing specific business units is a natural extension of the CFO’s responsibilities. It provides experience of managing products, costs, and revenue generation – all of which are staple requirements for the CEO role. But it also provides operational credibility internally, which will prove advantageous for any CFOs lining themselves up as a succession candidate to their own CEOs.
If possible, CFOs should take on responsibility for turning around a failing business unit. This is the fastest way of gaining commercial experience relevant for a CEO role. Particularly as economies emerge from the pandemic, boards will be looking for leaders who can demonstrate an ability to drive growth and new business despite significant internal and external challenges.
Likewise, CFOs should involve themselves in other business functions. Whether it’s procurement and the supply chain, or facilities and security, CFOs should play a role outside of the finance function in order to gain broader business experience.
Build a highly-autonomous finance team
The CFO’s role within organisations and their ability to easily expose themselves to other P&L units makes them suitable candidates for CEOs. However, CFOs are only as good as the team around them. Building a high-performing finance team that can drive the day-to-day operations of the function will have several outcomes. Firstly, it will free up a CFO to take on more responsibility around the business and gain more time with their CEO. Secondly, it’s a valuable proof point that CFOs can use in any interview to demonstrate their ability to build strong teams – as a CEO, building a strong cadre of trusted executives is crucial for success.
This should be a team that can be trusted to perform autonomously, with a strong second in command that the CFO can rely upon.
Take on a non-executive director (NED) role
While financial management is central to any successful organisation, CFOs still need to develop expertise outside of the function if they are to step up as CEOs. Taking responsibility for P&L business units will provide this, however it won’t provide a CFO with the same board-level perspective that a NED role will.
Taking on a NED role will not only help CFOs to understand what boards expect of CEOs but it will also provide experience of a different kind of leadership; one that is less hands on and more about guidance and mentorship. Within the commercial sector, there are board roles among smaller quoted companies, those backed by private equity, or family owned businesses. Advisory boards and subsidiary boards are also a good option.
On the public sector side, board roles exist within organisations owned by or reporting to government. These include major infrastructure operators, the NHS, regulators, museums and other arts institutions. Likewise, a charity trustee role (while unpaid) is similar and will help to develop both a CFOs network and board skills.
Auditing, budgetary reviewing and balance sheet responsibilities are often sought after skills in non-executive directors, making CFOs ideal for these positions.
Take on internal leadership positions
These types of leadership positions should be separate to the finance function and can include things like internal workstreams, strategic initiatives such as I&D and sustainability, or CSR projects. The benefit of taking on this responsibility is two-fold. It helps build necessary leadership skills and provides leadership experience. But it also showcases a CFO within the business in a leadership capacity outside of finance. The later will be beneficial for any CFOs looking at internal progression onto the CEO position.
Mentoring achieves similar outcomes. This helps build leadership skills and can lead to greater exposure around the business. What’s more, any mentee may later become a useful contact in a CFOs network.
Network outside of the organisation
CFOs often underestimate the power of a personal network. Building relationships with other senior leaders will enable a CFO to generate career opportunities that can lead onto CEO appointments. While professional networks within the CFO community are valuable, networking outside of these types of environments is likely to be the most profitable for career advancement.
Any CFO looking to make the jump to CEO should build relationships with a variety of third parties. These include shareholders and brokers, investors, M&A specialists, bankers, and even lawyers. A CFOs experience and perspective can be incredibly valuable to these types of professionals so getting on their radar shouldn’t be difficult. Making the effort to build a relationship with them will pay dividends in the long run, and may lead to hearing about, or if you’re good enough, even being recommended for a CEO position.
THE ACCELERATION TOWARDS A MOBILE FIRST ECONOMY
By Brad Hyett, CEO at phos
Over the last year, we have seen a big shift towards contactless payments. Fuelling this has of course been the coronavirus pandemic, which has made the public hesitant to handle cash due to the health concerns.
As multiple national lockdowns forced physical stores to close, and customers demanded easy, cash-free payment options, merchants had to quickly adapt. The result? An increased provision of pay and collect services.
In the UK alone, 83% of people use contactless payments according to data from the Office of National Statistics.
So it’s vital that merchants are equipped with the most efficient payment solutions, as the UK heads towards a mobile-first economy.
Proliferation of contactless payments
In 2020, 90% of UK card payments were contactless. This equates to an increase of 12% on the year prior, despite the total number of payments made falling by 11% from 2019 to 2020. Moreover, the affordability of smartphones has increased significantly over the last decade. And it’s estimated that 84% of UK adults now own one.
We’re Seeing merchants embrace more efficient and cost effective payment methods in response. While physical payment terminals are often too expensive for many small businesses, software point of sale, or SoftPoS, enables merchants to turn hardware that they already own – i.e. their mobile device – into a point of sale terminal.
With merchants increasingly adopting these innovative technologies, contactless payments will continue to gain popularity among the general public. In 2020, 13.7 million people in the UK either didn’t use cash at all or only used it to make a single purchase. That’s double the same figure from the previous year.
Changing consumer demand
Now more than ever, consumers are aware of how innovative payment solutions can add efficiency to their daily lives. As such, consumers now demand better payment services, including reduced queuing times, checkoutless stores, and bespoke loyalty schemes.
Businesses such as Mercedes offer an end-to-end digital car purchasing service, so customers can go through the whole car purchasing journey from the comfort of their own home. This includes car deliveries, financing, insurance and more.
Meanwhile, eCommerce giant Amazon has started trialling checkoutless ‘Go’ stores, speeding up the shopping experience by eliminating the queuing process altogether. The days of waiting for a table at a restaurant are also over, as more people have grown used to booking in advance.
Hence, it’s important that we empower small businesses to remain competitive and provide them with the payment solutions to meet customer demand.
The digital payments revolution isn’t slowing down anytime soon. By 2026, only 21 percent of transactions will be made using cash.
The US might have been slow out of the gate, but it’s starting to see increased adoption of mobile payments. In-store mobile payments grew by 29% in the States last year alone.
This growth was primarily fuelled by Gen Z-ers and millennials. Latest projections show that there will be 6 million new mobile wallet users by 2025, with millennials accounting for 4 million of this figure. These two generations, the former in particular, have grown up with mobile banking.
For most Gen Z-ers, their first foray into financial services was with a challenger bank like Starling or Monzo. These banks are able to offer online features such as ‘split the bill’, fee-free withdrawals abroad and much more to cater to the modern financial needs of the younger generation.
The Middle East experienced similarly sharp increases in contactless payments. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 200% growth in contactless transactions. This shift towards a mobile-first economy in the region was inevitable; the pandemic merely accelerated this shift. A recent study showed that 80% of people living in the Middle East planned to continue using contactless payments post-pandemic, with speed and security being the main draw.
The future is mobile
As parts of the world now start to come out of lockdown, there’s an openness to new solutions and a widespread acceptance of new technologies.
It is now a case of when, rather than if, we’ll see a permanent shift to cashless in the future. For businesses, embracing digital innovation will be key to remaining competitive and keeping pace with consumer demand in this fast-changing payments landscape.
HOW MERCHANTS CAN IMPROVE THE ONLINE PAYMENTS EXPERIENCE
By Alan Irwin, Senior Director of Product at Global Payments UK
The dramatic increase in online shopping over the past 18 months has encouraged many businesses to invest in developing their omnichannel shopping experiences. The reasons vary – some are keen to capitalise on the trend of older shoppers migrating towards ecommerce and some are trying to make up for loss of sales in brick-and-mortar stores during the pandemic. It is also true that many businesses are shifting their models to sell direct to consumers to avoid high marketplace fees and are therefore building their ecommerce channels for the first time.
The checkout experience is arguably the most important and delicate part of the ecommerce transaction, as it can make the difference between a happy customer likely to return, and a shopping cart abandoned out of frustration and confusion. A survey from March 2020 suggested that 88% of online shopping orders were abandoned, i.e. not converted into a purchase. A seamless, customer-centric online payment experience is therefore critically important in ensuring completed transactions. But with so many payment providers available, what should businesses be looking for when trying to keep friction to a minimum?
Keep clicks to a minimum
Less touchscreen interaction equals less abandonment. Adapting the payment page to fit any device and supporting popular mobile digital wallets like Google Pay ensures a seamless, stress- and hassle-free checkout experience for the customer and keeps clicks to a minimum. Friction can present itself in the most minor features – for example, when the customer is navigating the payment form, the appropriate keypad should be shown to the customer when required. It’s much easier to enter a card number using the dial pad instead of switching between QWERTY keypad layouts.
Simplifying online forms with autofill and tokenisation also significantly reduces friction at checkout and shortens necessary time taken. Ensuring checkout forms are tagged correctly for “autofill” is a great way to offer customers a single-click to input the payment, shipping, and billing data that they have stored in their browser profile. Similarly offering a guest checkout option will help convert customers who are in a hurry or looking for a one-off purchase. This can also be achieved by offering to store the payment details (called ‘tokenisation’) for express repeat and one-click purchases.
Make it easy to understand
A tailored payments approach can increase both domestic and international global sales. By offering a checkout experience in the customer’s language, the option to pay in their currency of choice, and use their preferred method of payment (whether it’s PayPal, Alipay or card), businesses can build loyalty quickly and put customers at ease. It is equally important for merchants to ensure they always display simple direction and information about next steps to instil confidence and prevent customer drop-off. The customer should be informed of what is happening at every stage in the process, for example, whether they will proceed to SCA (Secure Customer Authentication) next or go straight through to completion.
In addition, validating forms in real-time means merchants can highlight potential errors to the customer early on, and payment providers should provide this functionality. This could be an invalid expiry date, an incorrect digit in the card number or incorrect CVV number based on card type. When issues are only flagged at the end of the process, this forces the customer to go back through the steps to figure out the error. Real-time signposting of problems removes this potential friction and reduces the potential for a declined transaction.
Ensure seamless security
Merchants should work with a payment partner who offers the right blend of security and compliance management without it coming at a cost to the end-to-end checkout experience for the user. Instilling trust and security in your checkout flow while utilising the right solutions to drive seamless authentication flows will increase customer confidence and help prevent drop-off.
The greatest level of security and control comes from either utilising hosted payment fields that the
merchant can natively integrate into their checkout flow, or a hosted payment page where they can
manage the look and feel. Showcasing your brand on the checkout page with trust signals and logos also adds to building trust with the customer.
Staying ahead of regulations is also important. Secure Customer Authentication (SCA) will soon be mandatory in the UK for all eligible digital transactions, and this doesn’t have to be a friction-full process. Tools like Transaction Risk Analysis (TRA) and Exemption Optimisation Service (EOS) can quickly score transactions and drive exemptions where there is the right blend of transaction risk.
The devil is in the details
These three rules for successful ecommerce checkout experiences may seem straightforward, but it is important to apply them at a micro level. It can take only one minor point of friction to cause a customer to abandon their cart, and this will inevitably be replicated across other similar customers. It is critical to identify friction points early on and anticipate customer needs throughout the process. Discussing these points and any opportunities to improve customer checkout experience with your ecommerce team and payment provider is an important first step towards ensuring your entire shopping experience remains competitively seamless and loyalty is won. It may be that your payment provider cannot address them, in which case it could be time to move on in order to stay competitive.
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