Wanted: CFOs Who Are More Than CPAs

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Chief financial officers who can do more than just count beans are finding plenty of opportunities to land work.

A string of community banks have hired CFOs in recent weeks. While churn in this position happens with some regularity, banks are increasingly expressing a preference for individuals who are more savvy and sophisticated than those who have historically filled the post.

The CFO's responsibilities have broadened since the financial crisis, becoming more challenging and requiring executives to have an understanding of areas beyond accounting.

"The CFO has to have the vision to work in what has become a more complex environment," says John Depman, a national leader for regional and community banking at KPMG. Compression on net interest margins, along with heightened regulation and risk, add "complexity" to the position.

At least half a dozen community banks announced changes in their CFO positions in November. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) also said that Marianne Lake would succeed outgoing CFO Doug Braunstein, and Edward Resch said he would retire as the CFO of State Street (STT) next year.

Some of the appointments took place after banks hired new chief executives. It is "very common that the new CEO will bring in a new CFO within the first year of the job," says Barry Bregman, vice chairman and global head of the CFO and financial leadership practice at CTPartners.

"The CEO absolutely must have a CFO that they can communicate effectively with and they know they can trust," says Rod Taylor, president of the executive recruiting firm Taylor & Co. "It's like a stagecoach driver wanting someone riding shotgun with very good aim."

Before becoming the CFO at Southwest Bancorp (OKSB), Joe Shockley Jr., met with Mark Funke, who had become CEO in October, to discuss the vision for the Stillwater, Okla., company. Shockley, who succeeded interim CFO Randy Waldrup this month, agreed with Funke's plan to focus on Southwest's core markets of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

Otherwise, "I would have found a way to say this isn't the job for me," Shockley says.

"It was a unique opportunity," Shockley adds. "The bank is in rebuilding mode. I thought I could use some of my experience to work with its management team and board in moving the bank forward and helping to rebuild."

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency hit the company's Stillwater National Bank with a regulatory action in 2010 requiring it to improve credit risk management. Late last year, the $2.1 billion-asset company sold about $300 million in troubled loans determining that workouts would take too long and be too costly.

The OCC lifted the written agreement in May.

A willingness to "take bold action" by selling off bad assets helped spur Shockley, a veteran bank CFO, to accept the Southwest job, he says. Shockley says he has worked to expand his knowledge beyond financial statements, developing a better understanding of lending practices. He has also studied the industry sectors for key customer groups, credit policies and the risk profile of lending portfolios.

CFOs can make themselves more marketable by becoming experts in compliance and strategic decisions such as mergers, industry observers say. Banks also covet executives who understand banking beyond traditional branches, particularly as technology evolves.

"Historically, CFOs were really chief accounting officers," says D. Anthony Plath, a finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "It's been an evolution from being just an accountant to someone who understands risk management and finance."

As banks struggle to make money from traditional banking and lending, banks are asking CFOs to "almost take on the role of a fund manager," Plath says. There is added pressure for CFOs to wring out more profits from banks' investment portfolios, he says.

Taylor says banks are asking him to identify CFOs who can help them grow organically or lead them through a merger, either as a seller or buyer. Though CFOs always have had an analytical role in consolidation, their role has expanded as valuations merit more scrutiny.

"No one wants to sell for the price they can get and no one wants to buy for the price they have to pay," Taylor says.

Banks want CFOs who have experience in areas such as raising capital, Bregman says. Banks must be more "creative" in raising funds, so CFOs with a proven track record in that area and credibility in the market draw extra attention, he says.

A bank's ability to raise capital could make the difference between independence and selling. They want CFOs who can "tell a compelling story that can lead to a successful capital raise," Plath says.

Banks could look to fill more openings in the next few years, as more CFOs nearing retirement age decide to step down earlier than planned, industry experts say. This could translate into more lucrative opportunities for those with a broader set of skills.

"To recruit and retain existing CFOs, companies are keeping competitive on compensation," Bregman says. "This is one area ... that companies won't be cheap on."

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Comments (2)
Agreed with the article but an left with the thought of how many real community banks (is JPM a community bank with $156mmm market cap?) can afford a CFO even with a healthy capital structure and a 1% ROA? ? Getting a CFO is just one more cost of keeping the regulators at bay. These small financial institutions are critical in many small rural areas and yet the cost (real and implied) of compliance will drive these institutions to close or sell and the velocity of money (critical for our economy) will decelerate in these smaller communities they serve. And that ain't good.
Posted by FreemenFreemarkets | Wednesday, December 05 2012 at 9:35PM ET
The expanded expectations for the CFO are confirmed in the obverse with our studies at the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF). As we show in our Benchmarking the Finance Function 2012 survey, many US companies simply outsource traditional accounting functions like payroll and tax. The results vary by size but finance/accounting, internal audit, compliance, and treasury are kept in house in most firms. The CFO is working at much more than bookkeeping. In addition, based on our annual Technology Issues for Financial Executives survey, we see a trend of more and more Chief Information Officers (CIOs) reporting to CFOs, so the CFO must also understand how technology can be leveraged to support the business.

Bill Sinnett
Senior Director, Research
Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF)
www.ferf.org
Posted by Bill Sinnett | Thursday, December 06 2012 at 1:03PM ET
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