Monday, May 27, 2024

LiveRamp CFO: Developing Quick-Twitch Muscles Key to Managing Dynamic Businesses

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To be successful, you must have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.

As today’s chief financial officers know best, the role of a leader is to define a common goal and enable the business to get there.

“I feel immense accountability for how every team across our business performs, and I think a lot about how finance can partner at a strategic level to make the business better,” Lauren Dillard, executive vice president and CFO at LiveRamp, told PYMNTS for the “Day in the Life of a CFO” series.

This organizational-level sense of accountability has become more critical than ever in navigating today’s complex business environment, which necessitates a stronger internal focus.

As Dillard explained, this broadened scope of responsibility extends beyond traditional financial oversight, pushing CFOs to forge strategic partnerships across various departments, from product and engineering to sales and talent management.

The role of the modern CFO has transformed. From formerly being viewed primarily as a compliance function or the guardian of the company’s purse strings, CFOs are now stepping into a more strategic and multifaceted role that is intertwined with the overall success and direction of their organizations.

A New Era of CFO-Led Accountability and Strategic Partnership

The steady transformation of the CFO role has been happening against a backdrop where the contemporary macroeconomic landscape has become increasingly dynamic, and where uncertainty is oftentimes the only certainty.

“The current climate has put a much greater focus on efficiency, smart cost management, smart capital allocation,” said Dillard, noting the stark departure of today’s environment from the “growth at all costs” mentality that once prevailed.

The shift requires CFOs to lead their teams in fostering a culture of financial discipline to best navigate the uncertain economic waters.

“While growth is still a top focus, profitable growth matters more,” she explained. “And a shift in thinking like that starts at the very top … we can’t control the value rate environment, the political and geopolitical environment, but we can control the value we deliver to our customers and the experience they have working for us.”

“We exist for our customers, and if we take care of our customers, the rest falls from there,” added Dillard, noting that from her seat as the CFO, “the finance team’s customer is the business itself. And that hasn’t changed. It is a constant that has only become more important.”

When asked about balancing traditional financial practices with innovative approaches, Dillard likened the CFO’s role to a gym routine. She described customer focus as the “elliptical treadmill” — a constant and foundational element — while also pointing out the necessity for the finance team to develop “quick-twitch muscles” to adjust to unforeseen changes and challenges.

Developing this agility allows the finance team to remain effective even when initial plans are disrupted by new developments.

“It’s crucial for us to remain nimble and lean on the data,” Dillard said. “This is where smart and tight expense management is key, as is partnering with the business to really understand those different expense levers and ROI data so that we can quickly move the knobs and dials if we don’t see revenue materialized in the way we planned.”

Harnessing the Power of Digital Solutions and AI

Today’s CFOs aren’t alone when it comes to tackling the challenges their businesses face. Not only is cross-departmental communication a lifeline for executive leaders, but automation and artificial intelligence are increasingly transforming the productivity of finance teams by streamlining processes, improving accuracy and enabling better decision-making.

“Any time you can introduce automation into an everyday or repetitive task you unlock time savings that can be redeployed against other initiatives,” Dillard explained. “This is not at all fun work. We’re talking row-level data reconciliations … the low-hanging fruit for finance organizations is shortening the cycle time for key processes, especially with respect to error or anomaly detection.”

Making digital investments requires cross-functional collaboration, with finance playing a pivotal role in evaluating ROI and guiding strategic decision-making.

Dillard emphasized the importance of partnerships between finance, IT and business teams to ensure that investments align with broader business objectives and workflows.

“It’s important to sit down and think about re-engineering a process before throwing an application at the problem,” she cautioned.

Looking ahead, she said the role of the CFO is poised to continue evolving.

With a greater emphasis on strategic partnership, accountability and using digital solutions, CFOs will play an increasingly integral role in driving business success, explained Dillard, highlighting the potential for finance to further optimize processes, drive innovation and deliver long-term value across their organizations.

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