Anniversary Special – What Makes A Successful CFO?

Every October WrightCFO celebrates its anniversary. To mark the occasion this year we have undertaken an interview with company founder and owner Sophie Wright to explore what makes a successful CFO.

Sophie is a Chartered Management Accountant, a strategic and commercial Finance Director and the founder of the award winning WrightCFO consultancy, as well as being the mother of two daughters, aged 6 and 7.

With just over 20 years’ experience working in finance, ranging from start-ups and independents to reporting into group HQs in Tokyo, London and New York, Sophie has spent much of her career in the marketing/ media industry. She created WrightCFO when she was the only Part-Time FD on offer. Today, there are over 60 finance professionals within the WrightCFO network, helping startups and SMEs from a wide range of industries from Cornish Seafood to Artificial Intelligence and everything in between.

Sophie has been appointed a Trusted Advisor for the “Couplepreneurs” community, as well as a Business Advisor at Lady Eleanor Holles School, and has sat on the CIMA funding panel of Big Data Research. She is also a CIMA Pioneer for Global Management Accounting Principles.

In this article we throw the spotlight on Sophie to gain an insight into the successes and strengths that have allowed WrightCFO to flourish into the competitive enterprise it is today.

The Interview

Q1 – What would you say is the unique selling point for WrightCFO?

‘In addition to very our personal service, WrightCFO Finance Directors (FD) are all commercial, hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves people, because this is what startups and SMEs need most.  

In addition, they are all Chartered Accountants, and experienced FD’s from the larger corporate world. They have made the decision to work flexibly, in an outsourced way, and as such all share the fact that they get an emotional reward from helping, growing, servicing and sometimes rescuing, SMEs. It’s what we all love to do.

Lastly, all WrightCFO Finance Directors are people people. When you run your own business and take that step to bring in a part-time FD, you are really bringing in a business partner. This person needs to be able to speak to you clearly, honestly and openly about your business. People skills are crucial.’

Q2 – Looking back over the years what are the key steps you have taken to expand and stand out from the crowd?

‘Expansion has predominantly come from referrals, and also from actively growing my network and connecting with key business owners who may need a Finance Director at some point in the future. I think our service is very simple. There are no fancy add-ons. No tricks.  You pay for an FD in bite-size chunks, only when you need them. There is no long-term contract. Businesses have total flexibility and control. Our service is open, transparent and honest. I think that is one of our key strengths.’

Q3 – What are the most important aspects of business management to you, for your business?

‘The right people are key. Firstly, in terms of running the business, I took some of my own advice and hired an outsourced, part-time marketing person who is much more experienced and frankly, better at marketing that I am, as well as some virtual admin support. As an owner of a startup, it’s tempting to do everything yourself. But it’s just not efficient, not to mention it fries your brain.

Another important aspect of business management is quality control of what you are selling. In my case, that means ensuring the FD’s are top people; checking their references, certifications and insurances, and holding on to people who have proven to add value to existing clients.

Lastly, you can’t run a business without being on top of your finances. I would say that, but it’s true.  It’s crucial to know where you are now and predict where you’ll be in 6 months, from a forecasting and a cashflow perspective.’

Q4 – What are the biggest benefits of employing outsourced Financial Directors and CFO’s?

‘As an alternative to an employed, full-time Finance Director, an outsourced, part-time FD offers the following benefits:

  • Much more affordable
  • Virtually risk free
  • No redundancy to pay out should the need for an FD disappear
  • No NI, Pension, Insurance or holiday to pay for
  • Totally flexible – only pay for the time you need
  • 15 day notice period (as opposed to the usual 3 or 6 months)

If you are a startup and this is the first time you would commission such a role in your business, the benefits include:

  • Freeing up CEO time so they can concentrate on selling the business and not struggling to do finance work
  • Having an external view of the business (this is hugely beneficial for business analysis and support)
  • Also an experienced FD can help you work out your optimal pricing structure for your business, negotiate contracts for you, be an essential part of your business planning, improve your cashflow and become more profitable among many other things, in other words they increase your chances of business success’

Q5 – What is the biggest innovation within the business financial sector since WrightCFO began trading?

‘Digitisation has come a long way in a few short years. It is now the norm for example, for your bank to have a direct link into your accounting system. In many instances your system learns through experience where to code costs that have come out of your bank. There is so much automation now, and efficiencies continue to grow. Robotics in the industry are being introduced as well.

CFOs and FD’s are increasingly encouraged to transform the back office and using real-time information, to make strategic decisions, is driving innovation. You will see more people moving away from spreadsheets and using ERP systems for financial planning.’

Q6 – What does the future hold for WrightCFO?

‘We have so far concentrated on servicing clients in Greater London, Surrey, Bristol and the West Country, but within the next year, we will be making a concerted effort to expand the service across more of the UK, so geographical expansion is on the cards. We look forward to offering our expertise and support to greater client base throughout the country.’

A Final Word

The range of support that a Finance Director can provide for a business continues to expand. The role of the FD is now deeply entrenched in many aspects of business management, to the increased success of the business. Perhaps it’s time your business considered a part time outsourced FD. We believe we know what makes a successful CFO, why not give yourself the financial support you deserve. For now we say thank you to Sophie and look forward to the coming year at WrightCFO.