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Accountex 2019: How to be a kick-ass CFO

28th Mar 2019
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Are you a kick-ass CFO? In a provocatively titled talk at this year's Accountex, flinder's Alastair Barlow argues finance leaders can achieve more and work fewer hours.

Scan through this year's Accountex agenda and it's hard to miss Alastair Barlow's talk: 'How to be a kick-ass CFO and leave work early at month end'.

Barlow is the founder of flinder, a London-based accounting firm that specialises in managing the finance function for business clients. And it’s fair to say that Barlow isn’t particularly wedded to the title of accountant. As flinder’s own website puts it, Barlow and his co-founder Luke Streeter are “two entrepreneurs who happen to be accountants”.

So, wait -- what the hell is a kick-ass CFO? According to Barlow, it's nothing to do with a stock definition (do 'x', complete 'y'), but rather about how you work. The kick-ass CFO is, above all else, a methodology.

Pressed for a definition, Barlow explained being a kick-ass CFO means working "better with data and tech to deliver more insight for the business".

"A lot of finance functions and CFOs don't start with the business strategy and how it aligns with the finance team. They start with 'we need to deliver a P&L and a balance sheet'. So it's ripping apart that traditional view of the CFO and being a kick-ass CFO focusing on strategy and what the business wants."

At its core, Barlow's talk is about what’s called data mashing. That is, taking diverse strands of data and funnelling it through the finance team to deliver insight. Not just financial data, but operational data, too.

"It could be segmenting customers. It could be cohort groups. It could be a whole array of non-financial information depending on what the business is trying to achieve," said Barlow. A kick-ass CFO delivers value by making sense of it all.

"We talk about KPIs, and a business can have 50 KPIs, but clearly they're not all 'key' for every person. The CEO, for example, can't and shouldn't be monitoring them all," said Barlow.

"Who are the stakeholders? Rather than building reports for the sake of reporting, you have to start with user requirements. Before that, you start with who are the users of this? It might be investors or the C-suite, or it might be the finance team themselves.”

The kick-ass CFO cuts through everything and delivers value by tailoring information to people’s needs. And if that sounds like crazy amounts of effort, Barlow insists that it isn’t.

These reports can be blueprinted and standardised. And multiple data sources speeds up decision making, he explained. Time won’t be the issue.

And that’s what all this is really about: time. Not just time for work -- but just life in general. Whether that’s seeing your kids, or you just want to “watch Rachel Riley on Countdown”.

If you’re attending Accountex 2019, check out Alastair Barlow’s talk on day one in the accounting in business theatre.

While you’re at it, the No Accounting for Taste podcast will be recording live at Accountex: join the AccountingWEB team and special guests at 3pm on day one in the How To Theatre.