Kristen Talman: Three things I learned reporting on CFOs this year

ESG, tax and the future of the CFO office
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· 3 min read

Starting a newsletter is always a wild ride. Starting a newsletter in the finance space when interest rates are the talk of the town, finance chiefs cannot seem to determine if there’s a recession or if inflation is rocking everyone’s boat, is a rollercoaster ride of reporting fun.

It’s tough to narrow down the top stories, so instead, I bring you three themes—one I came in with knowledge of, another I became fixated on, and one piece of collective wisdom for our early-in-career readers on the future of the corporate finance world.

ESG. When I started this job in May, shortly before the launch of CFO Brew, I had switched from covering environmental, social, and governance exclusively to broader corporate finance. In the months since, it feels as if every conversation has at least mentioned or touched on ESG themes. At first, I discounted it as good preparation by the interview subjects and their PR people to gather what my background was. But as the months wore on, it became evident that wider topics that used to sit in other pockets of the business are becoming material to the world of finance departments.

The game changer was in May, when the SEC released its ESG reporting proposal. CFOs, and their departments, suddenly had way more skin in the game as they looked into a crystal ball that at least had them signing their names to verify the accuracy of ESG data when submitting it to the government watchdog. Reporting managers were already feeling the weight of a rapidly changing SEC, and now, they had to refresh (or simply learn) their knowledge of all things green

I suspect these conversations will only grow and get better in the new year as executives understand the once-niche space more and more. It’s been a pleasant surprise this year, and it’s also the part of 2023 I’m most looking forward to.

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Tax. Who knew tax could be so fun? Apparently, the tax professionals. I feel like I got let in on the best-kept secret in finance this year every time I spoke to a tax expert. Now, I won’t say that I’ve submitted an application to sort through companies’ taxes just yet, but I have learned that knowing the ins and outs of tax can be the most progressive, and at times innovative, function in the entire finance ecosystem.

From crafting ESG tax investment strategies to the impact that tax continues to have on supply chains, it’s no wonder that tax professionals so closely track changes and teams join groups that advocate for their needs.

One size doesn’t fit all. The CFO office has historically been pretty predictable—generally, one studies finance or accounting, goes to a public accounting firm, clocks their time, and then looks to land a corporate position and advance their career.

The number of CFOs from non-traditional backgrounds I’ve spoken to feels like it grows daily. And, the piece of advice that I heard most from CFOs for future incumbents has been to try on all the hats: take a stab at financial planning and analysis (FP&A), try other business lines, understand the role of sales. Basically, to be a better finance chief, try it all before you get to the finance chief role.

It’s easier said than done, as I can only imagine. However, it’s been done, and, at some of the largest companies in the world—take a gander at our Coworking pieces for Paramount’s and Pearson’s CFOs—then head to their LinkedIn profiles to see the less-than-typical paths they’ve taken. I have a feeling that the next generation of CFOs will have similar curvy paths to the top.—KT

News built for finance pros

The latest news and insights corporate finance professionals need to know to keep up with their constantly evolving industry.