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Gartner is predicting that 30% of EBITDA margins are expected to shrink by 2027 due to weak demand and rising costs.

If you’re sitting in the CFO seat, this - and an unfortunate host of other issues - are going to be issues on your desk before you know it.

If you want to hit the ground running, you’re going to need a game plan… or, perhaps, a new CFO checklist.

CFO Checklist Background

Why take advice from me? As an experienced leader in financial reporting for over 15 years and a certified Project Management Professional and IT practitioner who has helped implement financial systems in SMBs, large enterprises, and Government agencies, you could say I’ve learned a few things.  

Among those things, I've learned that almost 90% of new CFOs struggle with self-doubt that negatively impacts their performance.

While I can assure you that you’ve earned your spot in the C-Suite until I’m blue in the face, I’m confident that the new CFO checklist I’ve built will help you even more.

No time to waste—so let's cut to the chase with the initiatives that will kick your new role off to a great start.

First 30 Days: Get a Lay of the Land

Identify Urgent Financial Issues  

Take some time within the first month to assess the current state of your company’s financials. Then, set up initial meetings with key stakeholders to add context to your findings.

Why? You were brought in for a reason, so you need to find out exactly what that reason is from an unbiased perspective.

Understanding these issues is essential, so you should be careful to gather as much first-hand data as you can before you start asking individual stakeholders. It’s like being a detective employed by the mob… you need to find out what happened, but be careful not to point fingers.

Understand Unit Economics and Politics  

Unit economics refers to the direct revenues and costs associated with each business activity in your company. When put together correctly, they provide an overall picture of financial health. 

Make sure to understand politics, the players, and their impact. Developing a deep knowledge of unit economics and the potential politics plaguing departments and culture is also crucial.

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Questions to ask:

  • What does it cost us to acquire a single customer? 
  • What's our profit margin on individual products or services?
  • What’s the company's political climate and impact?

The answers will help guide decision-making processes around spending allocation and potential scale-up scenarios. This helps define and align a new CFO's top priorities with broader organizational needs.

Ongoing: Develop And Foster Strong Relationships

Across The Organization

An effective and progressive CFO can't work in isolation. 

Becoming a successful finance leader in today's tech-driven world goes beyond just number-crunching. It's about building solid relationships with all business units and external stakeholders you'll be working with. Incorporate these goals and interactions.

  • Understand each unit's unique needs. You can determine where the business is being too loose with the budget (I’m looking at you, sales) and which teams could use a bit of extra cash.
  • Talk openly about how financial processes affect these departments. This will give you a deeper understanding of how things work whilst enabling others to see the finance team’s value. Cross-functional interaction can improve spend management while ensuring alignment between operational actions and financial plans.

Building relationships with others can help streamline processes, help you understand payroll, and lead to faster resolution times if any discrepancies arise.

Another critical aspect is understanding your existing company's culture. Every interaction helps shape this understanding.

Questions to ask:

  • How do people collaborate?
  • What drives the people on each team?

New CFOs stepping into potentially unstructured surroundings must set the tone by fostering a positive and efficient work environment.

Within Your Finance Team(s) 

Maintaining a connection with relevant department heads, third-party services, board members, and other financial colleagues based on confidence and open communication is crucial for day-to-day operations. 

You get to tap into their existing knowledge of the organization, including its strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to access knowledge of the organization beyond the numbers.

But there’s a potential challenge… Be mindful that other operators on the finance team may have been looked over for the CFO position.

Ensure you listen to ideas, answer colleagues' questions, constructively provide feedback, help them find quick wins, and set clear expectations from day one. This fosters mutual respect, which leads to stronger bonds.

Tip

Everyone needs clarity about their role and tasks when a new CFO is onboarded; what will you be handling? What remains in their wheelhouse?

This will vary from organization to organization; however, some department structures are quite transposable across companies.

At 30 Days: Long-Term Vision And Strategic Objectives

One of your primary responsibilities as a tech CFO is financial planning and setting the financial compass for your tech company. 

Creating a vision and goals consistent with broader business aspirations is critical for the CFO, so you should aim to start this process at the one-month mark, completing it no later than 45 days into your new role.

Ongoing: Ensure Alignment With Company Strategy

Achieving alignment between finance department goals and broader company strategy isn't just beneficial—it's essential, especially for successful finance operations within any tech firm generating $5-$50M annually. This integration allows finances to support growth and fully deliver intelligent resource management.

Strategic alignment happens by maintaining awareness of daily operational matters while focusing on big-picture items, such as identifying team and corporate-level key performance indicators (KPIs). KPI tracking ensures that all efforts usher the company towards its strategic objectives.

Ongoing: Frame Strategic Objectives

The next financial planning step is defining individual strategic objectives to create a financial roadmap. You must be prepared to answer these questions: 

  • What milestones should be hit in one year, three, and five? 
  • Which markets should we plan on entering or expanding into?
  • Which customer is best for us to pursue? 
  • Where are we spending unnecessarily?
  • Which teams or departments need more visibility into their operations?

Your financial planning will significantly shape these answers and create an actionable roadmap for your organization's journey forward. 

Tip

Setting lofty financial goals without understanding how to achieve them is just wishful thinking. Your job is critical thinking.

At 60 Days & Annually: Audit Existing Processes

New CFOs should facilitate the auditing of existing processes to assess the current state and identify potential issues. Conducting an audit will let you see where things currently stand and uncover any red flags or inefficiencies.

3 key things to look for:

  • Inaccurate data: If your numbers don't add up, it could signal deeper problems with data entry or financial reporting procedures.
  • Lack of internal controls: Internal control deficits can leave room for errors or potential fraud. Make sure there are checks and balances in place across all financial operations.
  • Poor cash flow management: Funds that aren't being allocated efficiently or have a high burn rate without a significant return on investment (ROI) may indicate mismanagement of resources.

If these issues or other red flags aren't addressed quickly, they can cause catastrophic damage over time. Plus, if you can do something about them… why wouldn’t you?

This auditing process can be simplified using finance and accounting audit software, which tracks and analyzes comprehensive business metrics for you, allowing you to focus on the more subjective aspects of your role.

60-90 Days: Triage Your Audit Findings

After conducting the audit, the next step is prioritization. As the CFO, you'll need to decide what needs to be prioritized and how. 

Think of it like a triage process that prioritizes urgency and impact—tackling the issues that will significantly affect your company's financial health.

Start by categorizing problems based on their severity and how they impact your company's objectives. Then, create an action plan for each category, starting with high-priority items. 

When you make a plan like this and complete it before the 90-day mark, you’re proving your usefulness and inspiring company-wide trust in your abilities. In other words, you’ll want to do it.

Ongoing: Establish Effective Financial Controls

As a first-time or returning CFO in the tech industry, having adequate financial controls needs to be on your new CFO checklist. 

Setting up adequate internal financial controls is as crucial as it sounds daunting; however, it’s one of the most important areas you’re going to touch on in your role. Now that you’re in charge, you’re responsible for anything that slips through the cracks.

Ongoing: Implement Robust Accounting Procedures

Robust accounting procedures set the foundation of strong financial controls. So what does that look like? 

Here's an example. Think about your home security system – it's multi-layered with alarms, locks, and perhaps video surveillance. A sound accounting procedure should have multiple layers, such as accurate bookkeeping practices, regular audits, and stringent expenditure approval processes. Accounting procedures are your first line of defense against errors or fraud. 

Accounting procedures and systems provide reliable data to inform key performance indicators (KPIs)—the pulse points for measuring the health of your finance function. Start on the right foot with these three tasks.

  • Familiarize yourself with all current internal processes 
  • Identify urgent and non-urgent issues 
  • Deal with all urgent issues promptly
  • Set a realistic timeline to tackle non-urgent issues soon thereafter

It might seem overwhelming initially, but remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. 

Tip

Prioritize tasks based on their potential impact on cash flow or risk level.

Ongoing: Maintain Cash Flow Transparency

A successful CFO knows that transparency is critical when managing cash flow across the entire organization and in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) forecasting

Sharing financial information can help strengthen team confidence and facilitate more informed decision-making, ultimately improving spend management.

How do you achieve this transparency? 

The key is using modern digital transformation tools to give all relevant team members real-time visibility into cash flow status. These tools facilitate the automation of mundane tasks and workflows and free up time for strategic planning—making your days much more effortless.

After Your First 90 Days

You should aim to have all of these tasks completed or standardized for ongoing analysis by the end of your first 90 days. If you do that, you’re going to be setting yourself up for success for a long time to come.

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By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is a recognized thought leader and the founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, a digital content marketing agency.

Leveraging her 17 years of experience in accounting, financial reporting, and financial systems implementation, Moira has written content for fintech businesses for over ten years and been named one of the top global female B2B content thought leaders and influencers.