ECOMMBX: Investing in technologies and personnel as CFOs

Representing ECOMMBX is GOLD magazine’s recent Cover Story, Georgia Pitta, Christoforos Panagi and Stella Orphanou recently shared their view of the ever-evolving role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

The Cover Story featured CFOs from 13 leading Cyprus-based companies and organisations, seeing them discuss, among others, the multifaceted challenges confronting them in today’s shifting landscape, the pivotal role of technology in their domain and the symbiotic relationship between CFO and CEO.

The Modern CFO

Georgia Pitta: In today’s dynamic business environment, the role of the CFO has evolved into that of a strategic partner of both the Board of an organisation and the CEO, as well as the wider management team. In fast-moving and demanding industries such as fintech, CFOs need to continuously develop their knowledge and expertise in areas outside their traditional comfort zone, including technology, product innovation, anti-financial crime and regulatory compliance. Nowadays, CFOs are involved in building strategy, formulating the business plan, actively identifying relevant risks and engaging in the effective and efficient management of those risks. Accordingly, CFOs are visible throughout the organisation and are pivotal in setting strategic targets and achieving them.

Challenges

Christoforos Panagi: One of the biggest challenges we face as the finance function relates to aligning our technology implementations with the reporting tools we use to extract all required information. Achieving this alignment is crucial, as it enables comprehensive financial reporting, monitoring of KPIs, regulatory reporting and strategy formulation. Additionally, the process of complying with legislative updates, such as the Central Electronic System of Payment Information (CESOP), involves significant costs. Compliance requires proper budgetary planning and monitoring.

Finance

Georgia Pitta: The company’s operations can primarily be financed through bank lending as well as financing from shareholders (equity financing). Depending on the industry, other financing methods include crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending and even government funding or grants. For startups, in addition to the vision and idea, a critical component of the business plan is the chosen financing method. Companies determine their financing approach as part of their initial strategic business plan. The CFO’s responsibility is to evaluate, oversee and ensure that capital is raised and managed in accordance with the plan, ensuring that strategic targets are monitored to make the company profitable and consequently self-sufficient in supporting its wider operations.

Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Christoforos Panagi: As a fintech company, driven by technological evolution, investing in new technologies is essential for our progress and growth. Given our commitment to offering our clients the best service through our developed systems, we have invested in both new technologies (software) and in specialised personnel who can develop and deliver our vision and strategy. This required significant investment in the development phase as well as in the integration and implementation of these systems and technologies within the organisation. Therefore, continuous monitoring of these developments from a budgetary perspective is crucial.

Stella Orphanou: AI has the potential to revolutionise the CFO’s role in problem solving and decision making by providing tools to manage performance proactively and support business decisions through its ability to extract, analyse and interpret real-time data quickly and efficiently. By automating many manual accounting tasks, AI can reduce human errors and related costs and streamline processes from bookkeeping to financial reporting to audits, forecasts, and tax compliance. AI is among the most powerful technologies we have ever encountered. CFOs should view AI not merely as an automation tool but as a strategic asset that can unlock new opportunities for growth and competitiveness.

My Most Difficult Decision

Georgia Pitta: I wouldn’t say there is a single hard decision. However, challenging decisions are part of the role and must be made daily. These can range from hiring the right people to engaging with technology providers and developing the right product. Decisions need to be taken rapidly and must be well-thought-out and targeted, especially regarding the outsourcing of critical functions, where extra care is needed to ensure that the decision is the most appropriate for the organisation. When dealing with people, empathy and transparency are vital. The impact of any decision needs to be monitored to ensure agility, appropriate and close monitoring of budgets, deviations from such budgets, and even the seeking of investment or financing.

Relationships

Stella Orphanou: The CEO-CFO relationship is critical to any business’ success, ensuring that strategic decisions are both well-informed and financially viable. At ECOMMBX, we maintain a healthy and balanced relationship based on trust and credibility. We work closely together to identify opportunities and tackle challenges through collaborative problem-solving. Generally, CFOs and finance experts must possess strong communication skills and maintain open lines of communication with all stakeholders. By building and maintaining effective communication, the finance function can align stakeholders’ needs with the company’s strategy, gathering informed feedback and valuable information. This assists CFOs and their teams in supporting robust financial decisions and leading their companies to success.

(This interview first appeared in the March edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.)

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