Andy Burrows is a UK-based finance consultant who coaches businesses all over the world to drive performance using data and financial strategies that work in practice, not just in theory. Follow him on LinkedIn or on his website Supercharged Finance.
How did you come to start Supercharged Finance and what do you do there?
I started out as an accountant, but I decided that I wanted to go beyond financial reports and auditing accounts to use my skills in business. Once I got set up to do that, I had lots of different roles, including finance director, director of transformation, etc.
The patchwork of different roles taught me a lot over time. Starting Supercharged Finance was an opportunity for me to make use of everything in my background and put my varied experience to good use helping other finance professionals at all levels with their businesses. That’s what I think is really important—benefiting the business.
How does finance drive business performance?
When you think about it, you can see how finance ties into performance and you can see how the elements of finance drive performance and impact it. For instance, an annual strategy meeting actually has the purpose of driving business performance; it’s not just an exercise in a vacuum or to come up with a set of numbers that looks better than last year. It means taking into account the strategic risk cycle, the controls, and the processes to fit the system together into a whole.
I try to keep people focused on the KPIs that really matter rather than churning out numbers and just handing them out to all management, when a lot of those numbers don’t actually mean anything to the management team as a whole.
How does employee engagement tie into managing the finance aspect of a company?
There’s no doubt businesses perform better when employees are better engaged. I always have a value driver tree in my strategy sessions, and employee engagement can go on that tree. Employee engagement improves performance through better customer service and less attrition, just to name two factors, so it does have a definite impact on the company’s bottom line.
Another way I approach employee engagement, though, is from a leadership and behavioral point of view in finance. I say to finance people that they need to work on their behavioral skills and that it will not only help their job performance, but it will make them happier people. If people are better led, then they tend to become more satisfied employees.
Do you think automation helps or hurts CFOs and finance executives?
Automation is a great thing in finance. We should try to automate as much as we can. Why would you do something that a computer can do for you? Managers delegate things, so why not delegate to a computer?
Where I slightly qualify that statement is that I see a lot of hype around particular types of automation, and I don’t like it that hype seems to be driving confusion and FOMO (fear of missing out) to some extent. Robotic process automation is one example in which money may be wasted when the company could have gotten the same results using Visual Basic and Excel macros, to be quite honest.
What do accountants need to do to become CFOs?
I run an event called the Financial Career Growth Master Class, and part of that is called “The Learning Journey from Accountant to CFO.” What you need to learn falls under three headings: business acumen, behavioral skills, and various tools and techniques. These include time management, goal setting, how to manage others, coaching, leadership, and some practical skills like activity-based costing, balanced score cards, KPIs, and process improvement techniques.
Mainly, the process involves learning these skills and getting job experience that will move you forward. Sometimes this involves moving to different jobs, while other times you can stay in the same job or at least at the same company to accomplish it. You start with the baseline of reporting, planning, and analysis. Then you move into managing others and eventually get promoted if you can manage the team well and understand the business at the level that is needed.
To get to the CFO level, you need to add strategic insight and competitiveness to all the other skills, like the icing on the leadership cake.
What impacts have you seen from the COVID-19 outbreak on your business and the businesses with which you work?
It isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not like a recession. Some businesses are thriving and have more to do than they can even handle, while others are just gone, at least temporarily, and may have a hard time even when they do come back because of how things have changed.
The issue for me is how we can leverage the stuff that’s doing really well to help those who are struggling to survive. I know of some small consultant firms that are really being hit hard, and they have said that it has brought home to them that they may have had more confidence in their plans than has really been justified.
I’m not negative about it. I feel like it’s a shakeup now, but in a few years’ time, we will be in a very different place. I think a lot of that will be good, but no doubt it will be different.
How can businesses deal with the economic uncertainties of the pandemic and protect their companies?
I’m reluctant to give a two-minute answer to this question because I try to stay away from clichés or easy answers. What I see is that this is affecting businesses in different ways, so generalizing isn’t really helpful.
In these crisis situations, I tend to think the thing that serves us best is doing what we always do, which in this case is dealing with the information we get and re-forecasting, re-planning, and reassessing the situation to make decisions based on the information we have.
One thing I think the pandemic has proven to businesses is the importance of being agile and adapting to situations quickly. It’s important to understand what the situation is and what the value drivers are that need to drive that decision making. Managing with fixed plans and fixed budgets just don’t work right now, so scenario-based planning and forecasting is needed for companies to be more agile and adaptable.
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