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The perceptions of the FD role are catching up with reality

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It’s been suggested that FDs have seven hats, which enable them to become the storyteller, co-pilot, magistrate, consigliere, engineer, muse and rescue service of a company. However, you can’t take a seat at the table without outstanding core financial skills – no matter how well you wear those seven hats.

Curious about the key skills necessary to successfully navigate such an expansive landscape, Real Business talked with Graham Crowe, the FD of TotallyMoney.com – a comparison site exclusively focussed on credit products and helping customers get better, fairer credit deals since 2007.

Here is what we learned about the FDs role in the tech sector and the key hurdles the financial team need to overcome if they are looking to scale a company.

I’d love to hear more about the companies you’ve worked for in a financial role, and what the many lessons were you learned at each.

My first senior financial role was at Iglu.com, which specialised in selling ski holidays. At the time, Iglu.com was a pioneer in online travel and one of the first travel websites to make any money. My previous roles at FTSE 100 companies focused on revenue and profit. At Iglu.com I quickly learned the importance of effective cash flow management as I no longer had the ‘safety net’ of a group function to bail me out if the going got tough.

I also learned to appreciate the importance of building a diversified portfolio.  If there was no snow in Europe, our sales suffered.  To mitigate the risk, we invested in building the cruise side of the business, which has many similarities to ski holidays but is not as seasonal.

After Iglu.com, I became the first FD of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).  The PPF is an investment fund set up by the UK government to protect members of under-funded final salary pension schemes when their employer goes bust. With a bigger team at the PPF, I learned the importance of setting a specific vision and strategy for finance which could help me explain how we would support the business strategy. The finance team vision also enabled me to highlight specific behaviours which I value such as always looking to improve processes through better use of technology.

The public responsibilities of the PPF required a significant level of independent oversight of our decision-making processes. I learned the importance of effective stakeholder management and of developing an open communication channels, particularly with the chair of the audit committee.

Having ensured growth while working with the likes of the PPF and Iglu.com, what would you say were the key hurdles that any FD needed to overcome to scale a company?

The first hurdle is to ensure the business has sufficient funding to scale. At TotallyMoney.com it took us over two years to develop our cards comparison platform. We were fortunate in that we did not require additional funding from our backers because we had already built a highly cash generative affinity card portfolio to fund our plans.

An FD also needs to be brave about upgrading accounts systems, even if it means accepting the risk of changing software provider. Understandably entrepreneurs don’t tend to focus too much on the choice of accounting software when they’re setting up their business. At both Iglu.com and TotallyMoney.com we needed to change the accounts software and re-design the chart of accounts to enable the scaling of financial control and reporting processes.

Read on for Crowe’s take on what it’s like to be an FD in the tech space.

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