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Interview: –The future CFO is data-driven

What will the future of finance and the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) role look like in the future? We had a chat with the CFO of Visma, Stian Grindheim about this.

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In January this year, the Norwegian business newspaper E24 ranked Stian Grindheim as one of the Top 10 Young Leadership Talents in Norway 2021. He has been the CFO of Visma for the last couple of years, after starting as a Management Trainee almost seven years ago. 

“It has been fantastic to be part of the Visma growth story. Since I joined a little over six and a half years ago and until today, the company has developed tremendously, becoming a true software company and expanding the footprint across Northern Europe and beyond,” says Grindheim. 

Just like every other business aspect, he believes that the future of finance is more data-driven than today. We asked him about the future of finance, and what will be important for future CFOs.

—Future CFOs must be even more data-driven but tight financial control will never go out of style

Visma has undergone massive restructuring for the last few years, and so has Group Finance, with several new members joining the team the last few years. How has this impacted the strategy for finance?

“One of the most amazing things about Visma is that the organisation is like a living organism that never stops evolving. The structure of the Visma Group is changing as the company continues to grow and more business units join the Visma family. This naturally also applies to the Group Finance function where we have expanded the setup to scale with the business.

– Stian Grindheim

The heart of the finance function in Visma is the finance teams in each business unit, taking care of the day-to-day financial operations with a high degree of freedom.” 

He explains that the strategy of Group Finance has been to build a support network around the Visma companies that can scale as Visma continues to grow. This involves country finance teams in each core market, acting as local support for the different companies.

“At the same time, decisions are becoming increasingly data-driven and there are scale effects (Economics of scale) to ensure a good analysis infrastructure across the group. We have a small group team that helps provide tools and analysis that can be used across the group.”

With data-driven decisions becoming increasingly important, how do Grindheim look at the future, say 2030? How is the working environment different from today?

“By 2030, I hope many of the manual reporting tasks of today can be automated either through robotics or simply better APIs so data can flow more seamlessly from one system to another than today.”

Grindheim’s goal is to shift from simply reporting the numbers to understanding what the numbers tell us.

“I think there will be an even stronger focus on data-driven decision making. Stakeholders will expect more data and more sophisticated analysis made available in a way that is easy to access and understand.”

At the same time, he is not neglecting the core mandate of the finance function:

“Some things will never go out of style. Delivering tight financial control with high-quality numbers and solid cash conversion is going to be as important in 2030 as today.”

Fast and accurate reporting and good cash collection routines are key

With today’s product offerings within areas such as accounting software and ERP, what does Grindheim believe has to change in order to adapt to the future needs?

“With increasing demands for data, it is crucial that our systems – as well as other businesses’ – can communicate easily with the rest of the world through excellent APIs. Simplifying and automating workflows will be key success factors as well.”

He, and the other’s in his team are striving to work towards what they call “world-class financial control”. What does that mean?

“World-class financial control for me means fast and accurate reporting of the financials and good cash collection routines. In Visma, we have a soft close on the 4th and a hard close on the 5th working day each month. Fast reporting gives us the opportunity to take action based on the numbers.

Lastly, we do not try to fool ourselves or investors by inflating revenue or EBITDA. We have a cash conversion of around 100% – You can track the profit we report to our bank accounts.”

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