B2B payments takeaways from the CFO Leadership Conference

Last month’s CFO Leadership Conference in Boston featured several themes one may expect to surface at a senior level finance event – topics such as the urgency of factoring in inflation to budgets and forecasts, the importance of being approachable and communicating well, and how to prioritize IT projects aimed at data analysis and automation.

But it’s probably a safe bet many in the room didn’t expect the 12th annual event hosted by the CFO Leadership Council to kick off to the tune of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

From our point of view, CFO Leadership Council President Jack McCullough’s choice for conference entrance music was pretty spot on. Baseball fans may remember that when legendary relief pitcher Mariano Rivera ran out of the bullpen, “Enter Sandman” was his signature song. And while that one may test late ‘90s/early 2000s knowledge, even the most casual baseball fan knows the hallmarks of the best closers – clutch, mentally tough, impossibly consistent, and most of all, calm.

Sports metaphors are overused in business – but the critical importance of those “closer” traits surfaced often during the conference. Ram Charan, global business advisor and best-selling author, implored the audience during the opening keynote to recognize their roles as company leaders. Flywire CFO Mike Ellis, in a candid session on how to prepare a company to go public, zeroed in on the critical role of the CFO in providing optionality. And Moderna CFO David Meline, in the aptly named “How to Change the World” one-on-one conversational keynote with MIT Sloan School of Management’s Danielle Li, summed it all up in an understated way in saying that “being calm is a pretty good trait to have as a CFO.”

McCullough told the crowd of nearly 200 gathered at the event that “the CFO has emerged as the critical chess piece in businesses these days,” and “is no longer limited to reporting history, they make history.”

And CFOs are once again (or perhaps just continuing) leading in historic times. The topic of the event’s opening keynote with Charan was how CFOs can best manage and handle inflation and prepare for a recession. His talk was full of practical takeaways, as were conversations and presentations held across the event. If you’re a member of the CFO Leadership Council, you can access many of those recordings here until June 8. Here are a few takeaways as it relates to B2B payments.

  • Cash is trapped. Accounts receivable is a cash trap. Charan advised CFOs to revisit payment terms with customers and ask really hard questions (like, are customers using you to finance them?) about whether they’re even good customers to have. To get cash sooner, get complete visibility of accounts to reliably and accurately determine which ones could be problematic. A clear and accurate view of accounts and status lends the confidence to ask those tough questions.
  • Un-automated A/R is also a talent trap. Many finance leaders we talked with at the event expressed interest in automating accounts receivable to free up the time of their talented team members. Attendees validated that the finance job market is very competitive, it’s hard to attract people and retention is in sharp focus.
  • Finally, there was widespread agreement that a recession is coming, and it’s time to rethink projects that use capital. Interestingly enough, Charan was clear that digitization projects should not be off the table. He encouraged the audience to find inexpensive ways to do it, because, he said, if you are not connected to the customer digitally and using that data, you are falling behind. In a panel run by NetSuite’s Industry Marketing lead Ranga Bodla, CFOs recommended running internal programs to surface automation ideas, along with projects that are quick to implement – nothing that takes more than 18 months. They also advised not to lay a system on top of a broken process, and make sure to define the problem with the right stakeholders.

Many of these challenges surfaced in our annual survey of CFOs and finance leaders. We encourage you to read our Pulse on Payments: 2022 B2B Payments Outlook to learn what your peers had to say about A/R automation, along with other pressing topics such as international expansion and B2B payments challenges. And for more takeaways from the show, check out this video with B2B Head of Marketing Lindsey Christensen below.

Here’s some more coverage from the event worth a read: