Attention finance executives: The relationship between CFOs and their boards is changing significantly from what it was a few years ago. And to be effective, you'd be wise to prepare yourself to address the questions and issues boards are focused on.
That's according to Jeff Burchill, CFO and senior vice president of FM Global, the Johnston, RI, insurance giant. Burchill says that after the economy tanked in 2008, boards switched from a focus on top-line growth and winning market share to an emphasis on cost containment--whether to close facilities, for example, or which assets to dispose of--for obvious reasons. But now, the interest is swinging back to strategy and top-line growth. (Burchill plans to discuss these observations in more depth at the MIT Sloan CFO Forum in Boston later this month).
That's not to say conversations about managing costs have disappeared. It's just that the talk concerns the top line more than two years ago.
At FM Global, for example, there's a stepped up emphasis on discussing international growth, and related issues, like the state of the supply chain, while, two years ago, board discussions were more analytical and internally focused.
But according to Burchill, that's not all boards are interested in. Most important, there's even more of a focus on risk management than ever. That is, boards expect to receive a much more complex and in-depth report on risk-management issues.
At the same time, the risks CFOs need to manage and discuss are different from those that come up in a cost constrained environment--issues related to such areas as protecting the brand, global expansion and mergers and acquisitions. And Burchill sees more attention paid to the liquidity risks associated with banks companies are doing business with. At FM Global, says Burchill, there's also stepped up interest in such areas as the quality of reinsurers.
According to Burchill, it all means that, he says, "The skill set of the CFO now needs to be more strategic. Whenever you're looking at managing your top line, the focus changes to increasing your revenue base through new products, mergers and acquisitions and so on."
The bottom line: The CFO's role vis a vis the board is considerably more complicated than just a year or two ago.