CFO Checklist: Your First 90 Days
So you’re transitioning into a new CFO role.
Maybe it’s your first go at the job, or maybe you’re an experienced CFO switching companies and looking to make an impact in your first quarter.
Whatever the case, you’ll need a solid 90-day plan if you want to make a decent dent in the company’s financials and stake your claim as a valid member of the senior leadership team.
While there are many things you can’t plan until you’ve actually got your feet under the desk, it is helpful to have a good understanding in advance of how you’re going to tackle the job, and what you’d like to get done within your first three months as CFO.
That’s why we’ve built this CFO checklist.
It’s your eight-step guide to your first 90 days as a CFO, detailing what you need to achieve, which tasks to prioritize, and how to set yourself up for a successful career as a Chief Financial Officer.
New CFO 90-Day Checklist
While you might decide to switch up the order of this checklist a little (totally fine, by the way, promise we won’t be offended), following these broad steps is a good place to begin when pulling together your 90-day plan as a new CFO.
1. Establish Your Role, Responsibilities, And Relationships
A great first step is estab;osjomg exactly what’s expected of you:
- In your role
- In the company
- Within the wider senior leadership team
That’s a lot of overlap, which is why this phase is so critical.
While there are “general CFO responsibilities” that all finance leaders must own, the boundaries and scope of the role differ from company to company.
This is based on the age and stage of the business, the CEO’s vision, and the company’s history with CFOs.
First, review what’s happened in the past:
- What did the previous CFO achieve?
- What did your CEO admire about that CFO?
- What could they have done better, both from your perspective and from the CEOs?
- Why did they leave?
Now, turn your attention to the present and investigate the status quo:
- What is the makeup of the senior leadership team now?
- What is my relationship to each of them, and how will we work together?
- What pending responsibilities exist that were left behind by the previous CFO?
Particularly important here is a one-on-one (or, more likely, several) with the CEO to discuss your role and responsibilities. Your goal here is to establish exactly what is being asked of you in your role, and what the CEO considers “success” in the CFO role.
For instance, do they want you to take more of an advisory role, providing a financial backdrop to the CEO’s decision? Or does that CEO want you to be more active in the strategic direction of the company?
Determine the boundaries and scope of the CFO/CEO relationship early, as this will prevent you from stepping on any toes, but also help you fulfill what’s being asked of you (which, all too often, actually goes unsaid).
Then, look to the future, asking:
- How might this role develop over the course of the next year?
- Where do I want to see my role as the CFO going?
- How might I need to change the working dynamic between myself as the CFO and other senior leadership team members?
2. Audit Existing Financial Practices
Next, it’s time to dig into current operating procedures.
Note that you’re not actually looking at the company’s financials just yet (that’s coming next).
To establish more context as to why the books are the way they are, it’s critical that you understand the status quo with regard to practices and policies.
Here are some things to look into:
- How the company is currently receiving income from customers
- What software packages and workflows are in place
- What funding or loans are in place, and how these have been obtained
- How spending and procurement are managed
- What risk management procedures might look like
- Who manages suppliers’ contracts, and how
- How employee compensation is managed
- How financial reporting is taking place currently
- What skill sets exist on the finance team (and where there might be gaps)
During this process, make a special effort to take note of any areas that need immediate attention (for example, if spending risk management protocols look weak), and carry those through to step four (building a priorities list).
3. Dig Into Company Financials
Now is your time to dig into the books.
You’ll want to divide your analysis into three broad categories:
Review how budgets have been created in the past, what methods have been used, and what data have gone into their formulation.
Then, compare those budgets with actuals.
- How accurate were the budgets?
- What led to any budget variances?
- How have processes been informed by these differences?
Review cash flow statements to understand how the company is faring from the perspective of available cash.
Dig into balance sheets to analyze company assets and liabilities, and note any areas you’d like to improve (for example, excessive debt that needs paying down).
Then, jump into existing forecasts. What do these tell you about the financial future of the company? Most importantly, what needs to change?
For instance, your current forecasts may look a little light on the revenue front, meaning your company won’t be able to pursue its expansion goals. This is something to note as you design your priorities list and move into developing a financial roadmap.
4. Build A Priorities List
Your priorities list is not a full blueprint of how you’re going to transform the company’s financial situation.
That will come in stage seven (developing a financial roadmap).
This step is about nailing down any urgent tasks you’ve identified that need to be solved immediately, before you even think about a longer-term strategic plan.
Examples might include:
- An absence of risk mitigation policies
- Holes in the company financials that need remedying
- Non-compliant supplier contracts
- Large skill gaps in the current finance team
Once you’ve pulled together this priority list, put a plan in place for ticking them all off (for instance, you might immediately run a job ad for a new FP&A person if your team is lacking on the financial analysis front).
5. Lay The Foundation For Successful Collaboration
The modern CFO role is one that is especially collaborative.
As a CFO, you’ll need to work closely not only with the other senior leadership team members (such as the COO and CEO), but with department team leaders.
For instance, you’ll be developing sales and marketing budgets, so having a good relationship with the leader of each of these teams will be beneficial for understanding their true needs and for gaining buy-in on new initiatives and budgets.
Set up one-on-one meetings for each key relationship and discuss:
- What was the relationship between this person and finance previously?
- What would they like to see from finance going forward?
- How can finance collaborate with this department to create more realistic and accurate budgets and forecasts?
- What bottlenecks and challenges (with regard to finance) is this person or department experiencing?
6. Assess The Tech Stack
You’ve already looked broadly at what software tools and associated processes are in place currently.
Next, sink some time into investigating the current finance tech landscape.
This is a rapidly evolving category, meaning its very likely that new products have emerged since you last took stock of the situation, and existing software you’re familiar with may have been updated (or may now be outdated).
Look specifically for:
- Financial modeling and scenario analysis tools (like Finmark, from BILL)
- Bookkeeping automation platforms
- SaaS procurement and approval workflow software
- Market intelligence offerings
- Spend management software (like Divvy)
Compare the technological landscape to your current usage, and make a note of platforms or software categories that can help you achieve your finance teams’ goals.
For instance, if one of your goals as a CFO is to increase the accuracy of your forecasts, then a financial analysis tool with scenario planning is likely to be a powerful investment.
7. Develop A Financial Roadmap With Attainable Goals
Within the first 90 days of your tenure as the CFO, you should put together a roadmap for financial success, which essentially acts as your plan for the coming year or so.
The exact length of time you build the roadmap may vary depending on when you came onboard.
If you started at the beginning of quarter two, for instance, your first 90 days ends at the beginning of quarter three, so you’ve only got two quarters left to plan for. In this case, you might build out a 6-month or an 18-month plan (or both).
Your financial roadmap should include:
- An analysis of revenue drivers and how to leverage existing revenue streams moving forward
- How you’ll develop the finance team in terms of skill set and headcount
- New procedures or policies you’ll be putting place
- Software you’ll integrate into workflows to improve efficiency and accuracy
- Actionable financial goals with realistic metrics attached (see our list of recommended KPIs for CFOs)
8. Design A Finance Communications Plan
All too often, financial plans are something that are hatched in the board room and then poorly (if at all) communicated to team leaders, with little context as to how the numbers actually add up.
This leads the department heads disillusioned with finance as a whole, and makes the beginning of each fiscal year (when new budgets are typically distributed) more than a little tense.
Seek to gain buy-in from department leaders by designing a finance communications plan.
That involves turning all of those graphs and numbers into a story that makes sense from the operational perspective of each team leader.
Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve determined that sales team headcount is a key revenue driver. To make room in the budget to hire more, you’ve had to cut the advertising budget for the next two quarters.
Explaining the entire context of this decision (rather than just telling your VP of Marketing that they’ve got less to play with than last year) is going to be key to fostering transparency and effective interdepartmental teamwork.
Make Your First 90 Days Count
To be an effective CFO in today’s environment, you need to work efficiently, effectively, and accurately.
The value you bring to the table is not your ability to pull together financial statements and forecasts (though we’re sure you’re skilled at this); its your strategic insight, decision-making, and financial recommendations.
All of this means that you need a solid financial planning platform to take care of the numbers and the graphs, allowing you to dedicate more time to interpreting those results and providing strategic assistance to your leadership.
This content is presented “as is,” and is not intended to provide tax, legal or financial advice. Please consult your advisor with any questions.