Branding the CFO

Branding the CFO

As readers of this newsletter are by now aware, a CFO has a constantly evolving list of responsibilities, ranging from the traditional forecasting and scenario planning to more recent additions, including building a relationship with the company’s CIO and building their own personal brands.

Today’s CFOs are expected to be strategic partners in sharing the company’s financial story, both internally and externally, including with investors, Tom Hood, EVP of business engagement and growth of the American Institute for Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), told CFO Brew.

The role also requires being open to new technologies, which Hood says creates a challenge for many finance professionals, who take their fiduciary and legal duties seriously and don’t want to run afoul of securities regulations by posting the wrong thing on social media.

“Most CPAs and CFOs look at social media like a snake,” Hood previously told CFO Brew. “They like to look at it, but don’t want to touch it.”

But there are many potential rewards to building an online presence, Hood said. That’s even for reluctant CFOs who might prefer to remain in the background with their Excel spreadsheets rather than in the public eye.

David Aaker, professor emeritus of marketing at University of California, Berkeley and author of several books on branding, told CFO Brew that it’s understandable why CFOs might shy away from building a personal brand.

“The problem of the CFO is that they’re probably used to being very conservative and hiding under the rug,” Aaker said. “They don’t want to be visible because there’s no upside and a whole bunch of downsides.”

But when CFOs become more social, Hood said, they create the opportunity to make statements that emphasize the company’s mission internally, create stronger brand trust, and ultimately build a greater legacy.

Aaker said like any exercise in personal branding, for a finance chief, building that public image includes a combination of three elements: visibility, awareness, and following. CFOs, Aaker said, can build their brands by providing macroeconomic lessons about their industry and sharing insights into the day-to-day work of their roles.

“That would be appropriate these days as companies more and more are willing to step up and address societal issues and challenges,” Aaker told CFO Brew

After they determine what their message is, CFOs should decide the best way to deliver that message. While Hood suggested LinkedIn as the “most safe” public platform for corporate types, Aaker suggested that CFOs should volunteer to serve on panels, build relationships with business journalists, and take a cue from their C-suite neighbors. JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon, for instance, has published op-eds on topics related to the finance industry and beyond, and created a public persona as an expert in his field.

One example of a CFO who appears focused on branding is Chevron’s Pierre Breber, who speaks on panels at conferences and universities—including as part of a sponsored speakers’ series at UC Berkeley—while also conducting the standard interviews with business publications, to help craft the company’s messaging around its financial priorities.

Hood added that members of the AICPA’s Future of Finance Leadership Group—a group of corporate CFOs—have been eager to embrace social media and speaking opportunities within the structure of an industry trade association.

“They also feel that working through us as the association— it gives them a safety net and that they’re making an impact on the whole finance and accounting profession,” Hood said.

“Make no mistake: Getting the numbers right and having the trust of the business and investors [is an] absolutely top priority,” Hood added. “Telling the story of what the business is doing, [understanding] the financials— all that is a big value add.”—LR

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