5 tips to ease CFOs’ worst worries

Worries about people they work with cause CFOs more sleepless hours than cybersecurity threats or customer complaints – regardless of whether they’re lying awake in Paris, New York, Dubai, Shanghai, or São Paulo.

Economic and political conditions, demographics, and culture shape the challenges CFOs encounter with team members, according to executive recruiters in France, the US, the UK, and China. They explained the common nature of CFOs’ workplace worries with similar approaches to managing worldwide, especially at multinational companies.

In France, many CFOs worry whether they will have to relocate their London finance teams if Britain ultimately leaves the single European Union market, said Pascal Bohu, managing partner at SIRCA Executive Search in Paris.

Meanwhile, many CFOs in the US deal with conflicts between team members from three generations, said Kathleen Downs, senior vice president of financial recruitment firm Robert Half Finance & Accounting.

And many CFOs of fast-growing Chinese companies struggle with managing overseas controllers who are much more outspoken and direct than is customary in Chinese culture, said David Wu, CPA, founder, CEO, and managing partner of executive search and HR advisory services firm GMPTALENT in Shanghai.

“You’d be surprised how much is similar,” said Clive Davis, who oversees strategic accounts for Robert Half in Europe, the Middle East, and South America.

Another driver common to CFOs’ workplace worries worldwide is the change in the role and responsibilities of CFOs from number-crunching technician to strategic thinker, team builder, and partner of the CEO.

“Fifteen years ago, we were mainly looking for technical expertise,” Bohu said. “Now, CFOs must also have soft skills and communication skills.”

The added demands can weigh on CFOs, as a Robert Half survey of more than 2,000 CFOs in the US suggested.

  • One-quarter of respondents said their top worries were either interpersonal issues with coworkers or supervisors, or their own on-the-job performance.
  • Finding and hiring the right finance talent for open jobs kept 23% of them up at night.
  • Seventeen per cent worried about unhappy customers threatening to take away business and 2% lay awake because of security threats to IT systems.

Regional breakdown

In the US, a multigenerational workforce of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials fuels interpersonal conflicts that CFOs must deal with, Downs said.

Baby Boomers tend to favour top-down communications and structured learning, while Millennials want to be part of a team and prefer flexible learning arrangements, she said, adding: “How people grew up with technology affects how flexible they are.”

In Europe, the many uncertainties of how Brexit could affect tax rates, fiscal reforms, and other regulations in the UK weigh on CFOs in the euro zone, Bohu said. Many French CFOs, for example, worry about what will happen to their companies’ subsidiaries and finance teams in the UK.

“It’s very hard to cope with,” he said.

As in the US, finding, hiring, and retaining finance talent is challenging in Europe, Davis said. Salary is important, but so are non-monetary benefits and the work environment. Millennials in the UK focus on work/life balance, which means they want to be able to work from home, dress casually, or leave early.

Many young finance professionals in France no longer want to start their professional career in auditing, Bohu said. Instead, they prefer to go to work for start-ups and tech companies, where they can be entrepreneurial, take on more responsibilities earlier in their careers, and get involved in a broader range of projects.

“It’s difficult for auditing firms to recruit young graduates,” he said.

In China, there’s no shortage of young professionals wanting to pursue traditional finance careers, Wu said. They are hired by Chinese companies expanding worldwide and will have many opportunities to get global experiences as they move up to controller and CFO over the next two decades.

Adapting to the fast change in the Chinese economy is proving more challenging for senior finance professionals in China. Many CFOs in Chinese companies were promoted quickly and lack international experience, foreign language skills, and skills to manage overseas teams, he said. “They need coaches.”

5 tips to ease CFOs worst worries

To ease these workplace worries, Robert Half suggests that CFOs:

  1. Address issues as they arise. Workplace conflicts get worse when ignored and avoided.
  2. Set goals and timelines. Make the results you need to see from your staff clear, with deadlines and expected outcomes.
  3. Recognise your team. Different people respond to different motivational techniques, but everyone likes to hear when they’re doing a good job. Don’t hold back on genuine praise.
  4. Evaluate your hiring strategy. In addition to having the necessary skills and fitting in with the corporate culture, great employees share a few qualities, including a can-do attitude, right-sized ego, and a sense of humour. Periodically refresh your recruiting plan to ensure you’re attracting the right people.
  5. Drive employee recruitment and retention. Finding skilled professionals when you need them can be stressful. If you nurture a talent pipeline year-round, you’ll be better equipped for the future.

Sabine Vollmer ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.