Being a new CFO can be thrilling and empowering—but also sometimes a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time in a senior leadership role.
With our 90-day checklist in hand, you’ll know what to expect, so you can prepare yourself to handle everything from the intricacies of your financials to your first board meeting.
It’s worth noting that this is a guide, and you may want to tweak and adapt this to meet your needs – but this provides a starting point for you.
1. Define your top CFO priorities for the first 90 Days
There will be a lot on your to-do list and in your inbox, so we suggest focusing on these 3 areas.
Understand your financial performance and challenges
You’ll want to deeply understand your organization’s financial performance and identify any challenges you must address. Look at:
- Analyzing financial statements, budgets, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate your company’s financial health.
- Identifying areas of strength and weakness to form the basis for future strategies.
- Determining any operational or strategic challenges that may impact financial performance.
Build vital relationships
Building strong relationships from the start is essential if you want a successful tenure as a CFO. Aim to:
- Immerse yourself in the company’s culture, values, and priorities to understand it better.
- Collaborate with other executives and stakeholders to develop a vision for your company’s financial future.
- Prioritize building a strong relationship with the CEO and fostering effective communication and collaboration.
- Meet with your direct reports and key finance team members to establish open lines of communication and gain a deeper understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
Develop a long-term vision and plan
The business might expect you to map out a long-term financial vision and plan, so spend some of your first 90 days creating a great one. Make sure you:
- Collaborate with the CEO to understand their vision for the organization and align your financial strategies accordingly.
- Work together to develop a comprehensive long-term financial plan that aligns with the organization’s strategic priorities.
- Outline key financial objectives, initiatives, and performance metrics to guide decision-making and measure progress.
- Continuously evaluate and refine the long-term plan based on evolving business needs and market conditions.
You may have your own priorities, but it’s vital to set them upfront and use them to communicate with your team and across the business.
2. Do your research
Work should begin before you even start in your new role, so you have some context and understanding before day one. You could research your company’s history, mission, and values. It’ll help you better understand your business and what it stands for.
Think about other preparatory steps, such as reviewing financial statements and reports, and other company documents. There’s no harm in getting early insight into your processes; you might even identify some potential improvement areas.
Consider setting up early meetings with the CEO, executive leaders, and finance team members. Use these meetings to introduce yourself and learn more about the organization. Attend company events like town hall meetings, team-building activities, and other social events. Meet other employees informally and get a sense of your culture.
3. Find an external mentor
Searching for valuable guidance and support as you navigate your new role is always helpful. An external mentor can offer a fresh perspective and provide insights into your challenges and opportunities as a new CFO.
They can also offer advice on building relationships with key stakeholders, developing a leadership style, and managing the role’s demands.
Similarly, connecting with other CFOs or financial leaders in similar roles could give you insights into best practices, industry trends, and potential challenges. These peers can also offer a sounding board to discuss your ideas and plans.
4. Define what success looks like
Ultimately, success in the first 90 days will depend on your company’s goals and objectives and your strategic focus as a CFO. Here are some suggestions for goals that can help act as your north star—make sure you add some relevant metrics.
- Develop a financial plan that aligns with the company’s strategic objectives and ensures financial stability and growth.
- Establish effective financial controls and processes to ensure compliance and mitigate risks.
- Build strong relationships with key stakeholders, such as investors, lenders, and the board of directors.
- Develop a high-performing finance team aligned with your company’s goals and objectives.
- Implement digital transformation initiatives that prime your business for growth, improving operational efficiency and reducing costs.
- Communicate effectively with the CEO and other business leaders to ensure financial insights and recommendations are factored into their decision-making.
5. Meet with your finance team right away
As a new CFO, meeting with your finance team straight away is critical to establishing relationships, understanding their roles and responsibilities, and identifying any challenges or opportunities.
Schedule individual meetings with each team member to introduce yourself and learn their roles and responsibilities. Ask questions to understand your existing financial processes and systems better.
By talking to your people, you’ll get a feel of team dynamics and how team members interact with each other. Identify any areas where you can make improvements to enhance collaboration and communication.
Understand where to prioritize initiatives and allocate resources effectively. Set expectations for your team regarding performance, communication, and collaboration. Look at how you can establish a culture of accountability and teamwork.
6. Understand your finance team’s relationship with other departments
As a CFO, you must understand what other departments think of your finance team to identify areas for improvement and enhance collaboration. Schedule meetings with department heads to introduce yourself. Learn about different perspectives and concerns regarding your finance department and ask questions to understand better how you interact with other departments daily.
Review past interactions between finance and other departments to identify any areas of tension or misunderstandings. Identify areas for improvement and where you can work with other departments to enhance communication and collaboration. Understand and prioritize any issues you see need fixing and allocate resources properly.
Communicate effectively with other departments to build trust and credibility. Make your comms clear and concise, focusing on giving the most important and relevant financial information and insight with the right context.
Develop a plan to improve finance’s reputation and relationships with other departments. Include specific initiatives and timelines to address any areas of tension or misunderstandings.
7. Understand your CEO’s vision and long-term strategy
As a new CFO, you’ll want to align your financial goals and initiatives with your CEO’s vision and long-term strategy. Schedule enough meetings with the CEO to get on the same page. Come armed with questions to help you better understand the CEO’s priorities and goals and where you can help.
Once you’ve satisfactorily engaged with your CEO, review your strategic plans and initiatives to understand how they align with their vision and long-term strategy. Identify areas where you must allocate financial resources to support their big ideas.
Understand the competitive landscape. It’ll benefit everybody if you understand your competitive landscape and how the CEO’s vision and long-term strategy fit and position you in the market. You might be quickly able to identify financial risks and opportunities.
You could also think about reviewing your company’s previous investor presentations to understand how your CEO communicates their vision and long-term strategy to external stakeholders. Support them with financial information and insights that are easy to understand.
8. Build a picture of your company’s current financial health
As a CFO, you’ll want a comprehensive understanding of your company’s financial health, including its revenue, expenses, profits, and cash flow.
High-level, this knowledge will help you to identify areas for improvement where you can reduce costs, increase revenue, or improve cash flow. You will want enough insight to make informed decisions about your company’s financial strategies and initiatives, such as ones related to investments, financing, and risk management.
A solid understanding of your basic financials can help you communicate internally within the business and externally. Show control and understanding of your financial performance, risks, and opportunities to investors, board members, and other key stakeholders.
9. Understand current cash flow
While reviewing your cash flow, you may spot concerns like cash shortages. You may want to fix inefficiencies in your cash management processes, such as slow collections or excessive inventory levels.
If you’ve got good financial management software, you may want to identify patterns and trends in cash inflows and outflows over time. Once you’ve grasped your cash position, you may want to create a comprehensive plan to improve inflows, reduce outflows, and optimize your cash balance.
Examples of strategies you might want to implement include improving your cash conversion cycle, negotiating better payment terms with suppliers, or accelerating customer collections.
10. Know your company’s accounting practices
As a CFO, reviewing your accounting policies and procedures is crucial to ensuring compliance with standards and best practices. Keep up with your industry’s latest accounting updates and ensure your business is ready to handle them.
You may want to look at areas where you can make improvements to streamline processes or improve accuracy—whether automating processes to reduce errors or improving data quality. Again, financial management can certainly help here.
Think about how you can strengthen internal controls. It’s better to do the work to fix potential problems before they happen. Ensure that you have appropriate segregation of duties and effective fraud prevention measures.
11. Review your financial reporting
As well as making sure financial statements are accurate and complete and that you have the appropriate disclosures, you’ll want to present your financial information in a timely, clear, and understandable manner that meets the needs of stakeholders.
Your financial statements should be free from errors or inconsistencies. Financial management software can often support this, as it offers a fast and accurate way to reconcile your accounts and get clean, trustworthy data.
Ensure that your financial statements are timely by setting deadlines for each step of the financial reporting process. Put in the time to ensure your books are closed on time, financial statements are prepared and reviewed, and that you meet any regulatory reporting requirements when you should.
Ensure you are meeting stakeholder needs. By understanding their reporting requirements and expectations, you can create financial statements that meet stakeholders’ needs. Communicate with your board of directors, investors, lenders, and other stakeholders to ensure your financial statements are formatted correctly, presenting information meaningfully and usefully.
Think about how you can continuously improve. Because financial reporting is so important, you will want to spend time identifying areas for improvement. If you’re still using spreadsheets, for example, you may well want to get automation quickly in place to get the books closed much more quickly.
12. Audit issues
Looking at independent reviews of your company statements in the form of audits could be very helpful, as they might provide some insights you can act on quickly. You can identify strengths and weaknesses and where you stand financially.
You may identify areas where you may need to improve your internal controls or financial reporting processes—it’s particularly important to follow legal and regulatory requirements.
If you see problems, you’ll want to address any issues or concerns raised by the auditors. Identify responsible parties and build timelines for completing each action item.
13. Review budgets
Reviewing your budget is the first step in understanding your financial goals and priorities for the upcoming year. Focus on revenue and expense projections and any capital expenditures or investments to align with your strategic objectives.
A thorough budget review can help identify areas that may need adjustment. These could include areas where you may need to reduce expenses, increase revenue, or reallocate resources to support your strategic initiatives.
With the identified areas for improvement, develop an action plan to address any issues or concerns. Define the responsible parties and timelines for completing each action item.
Technology, such as automated reporting, forecasting, predictive analysis, expense tracking, and performance dashboards, can aid this ongoing process. Regular reviews will ensure you’re on track to achieve your financial goals and priorities.
14. Understand your key financial metrics with benchmarking
Financial metrics, in isolation, could tell you about the status or health of your business. However, they have relatively limited worth without benchmarking or a comparative context.
So, to help you understand how you are performing, benchmarking your finance department’s performance against peers can be an extremely useful exercise in the first 90 days.
Identify the key metrics you want to benchmark against other finance departments. These could include the finance cost, staff productivity, finance cycle time, and other relevant metrics aligned with your company’s strategic goals and objectives.
Then, identify peer organizations that are similar in size, industry, and complexity. Find this information internally or through industry associations, conferences, or other networking opportunities. Gather data from peer organizations. Use surveys, public financial reports, or other sources. Collect data for the most recent period.
Analyze data to identify areas where your finance department is performing well and areas with room for improvement. Identify the gaps between your company’s performance and peer performance and determine the root causes of these gaps. Use data insights to prioritize initiatives and allocate resources effectively.
Develop a plan to improve your finance department’s performance based on the benchmarking analysis. Include specific initiatives and timelines to address any areas of weakness. Align the plan with your company’s strategic goals and objectives and communicate it to your finance team and relevant stakeholders.
15. Meet important external stakeholders
You might want to speak to investors, customers, and suppliers to build a network of support and collaboration.
Aim to establish relationships based on trust and credibility, understand perspectives and concerns, and identify areas where you can work together. You may see financial risks and opportunities, as well as areas of possible collaboration. Be open to feedback and listen to what others have to say.
16. Get involved with strategic planning
As a CFO, your financial insight is invaluable. By the 90-day mark, you’ll want to take an active seat at strategic planning sessions to provide a clearer understanding of your financial abilities and constraints when setting wider strategic business objectives.
Introduce strategic planning sessions if they’re not yet a part of your company’s regular process. Facilitating such sessions can help you bake financial realities and goals into strategy from the start.
Build or update financial models to project your company’s future under various scenarios. You and your colleagues will better understand potential outcomes, helping you make informed decisions about strategic direction.
Analyze your current capital structure and consider if it aligns with your long-term goals. Address questions such as whether you should take on more debt, issue equity to fund growth, or if you’re over-leveraged.
Use scenario analysis to understand how different situations could impact your company’s financial health and ability to achieve its strategic objectives. Include potential opportunities like a new market entry, and threats such as economic downturns or disruptions in the supply chain.
17. Build your long-term vision and plan
This is the big one. The majority of your time in the first 90 days will be collecting information and building a picture of the current state of finance in the company. As you do so, you’ll start forming a long-term plan in your mind for what needs to happen and what you want to achieve in the long term, particularly after talking with the CEO.
Sometimes this can take less than 90 days, other times significantly longer than this – it all depends on the information you collect and the current state of the company. At some point, though, you’ll need to document your long-term vision and plan as you form it.
Keep it concise and tangible. You could think about building a five-year plan, aligned to your company’s goals – whether that be an IPO, M&A, growth targets, or something else. A one-page vision, with the information behind it, could be easier to communicate.
It may also be that the company or CEO has a long-term vision or plan, and you now build the finance plan around that.
Either way, don’t get lost in the detail as you onboard into your new company. Before your first 90 days are up, consider what your long-term plan, vision, and goals are – and get it down on paper.
18. Get input and buy-in on your vision
As a new CFO, we’ve already established that you need a clear vision for your role and have it aligned with your business’s and CEO’s strategic objectives. But how do you get your message across? Here are some key steps to drive support.
Clearly articulate your vision and how it aligns with your organization’s strategic objectives. Communicate your priorities and goals. Set expectations for how your team will contribute to achieving them.
Encourage open and honest communication with stakeholders to get their input on your vision. This includes seeking feedback from your team, board members, investors, and key stakeholders to ensure your vision meets their expectations.
Address any concerns or questions that stakeholders may have about your vision. Be open to feedback and adjust as needed to build that coalition of support.
Develop a detailed plan for making your vision a reality, incorporating feedback where necessary. Set clear objectives, identify key milestones, and allocate resources effectively.
Let the business know where you are, celebrating successes and addressing challenges transparently. You will want to provide regular updates to stakeholders on the progress of your vision and any challenges or obstacles that arise.
19. Make an impact at your first board meeting
Making a good impression at your first board meeting is crucial to establishing credibility as a new CFO. It’s a golden opportunity to build trust with board members that will be essential for achieving your goals and objectives.
Prepare thoroughly. Before the meeting, review the agenda, board materials, and any relevant documents. Ensure you understand the issues and come prepared with thoughtful questions and insights.
Take the time to introduce yourself to the board members and other executives. Establish a personal connection and build rapport.
Be concise and to the point. When presenting to the board, focus on the key issues concisely. Provide clear and actionable recommendations and avoid getting bogged down in details or technical jargon. Use your business and industry knowledge to show you know where the problems and opportunities are. Support your recommendations with insight and be prepared to answer questions.
Communicate transparently and honestly with the board. If there are issues or challenges, be upfront and provide a plan for addressing them. After the meeting, follow up with board members to answer any questions or provide additional information. Show your commitment to working collaboratively to achieve your goals.
20. Understand potential CFO challenges and roadblocks
As a new CFO in the first 90 days, you’ll be lucky if everything is plain sailing. Here are some specific challenges you’ll come across and tips on how to overcome them.
Understanding your business culture
Adjusting to your new company’s culture and dynamics is not always easy. To navigate this, investing that time in learning about the company’s history, values, and operations will be invaluable. However, interacting with a broad range of employees will provide the insight you won’t be able to get from marketing materials and internal communication.
CFOs often need to implement changes to improve financial business health, often leading to resistance. It’s important to communicate the rationale behind the changes and take feedback from disgruntled people or teams to involve them in the process.
Data inaccuracy and unavailability
Accurate, timely financial data is crucial for your decision-making process. If your existing financial management system isn’t up to the job, prioritize putting in place a more reliable system.
As you dig deep into your financial work, you may find regulatory non-compliance a bigger headache than expected. You may have to work closely with legal and compliance teams to understand issues and plan corrective action.
Building relationships with key stakeholders, both internal and external, is crucial for success. However, it will be challenging, especially if you’re gifted more with handling numbers than handling people. Regular communication and natural transparency will help in building trust.
21. Don’t try to tackle everything at once
It’s important to remember that time is precious, and you’ll feel that you’ll never have enough of it. As a CFO, it’s essential to prioritize critical issues to maximize your impact. Here are some strategies to help you do just that.
Start by identifying the most pressing needs and challenges facing your organization. Focus your efforts on the areas that require the most attention. Once you’ve identified your most pressing needs and challenges, prioritize the initiatives that will significantly impact performance.
Delegating tasks and empowering others can help free up time to focus on critical issues. Aim to build a strong team around you and foster a culture of collaboration. Collaborating with other departments can help you gain a broader perspective on critical issues and identify new solutions.
As new information emerges or priorities shift, be prepared to adjust your plan. Being flexible and adaptable is essential to achieving your goals. It’s important to communicate any changes to your plan to whoever needs to know. Ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same objectives.
22. Tap into the power of tech
A CFO isn’t traditionally responsible for creating a digital transformation plan, but your role is evolving, and digital transformation is a critical part of every business operation, including finance.
Given this, you should involve yourself in any digital transformation strategy, particularly where it impacts financial operations.
Modern financial consolidation, reporting and analysis involve automation, and you’ll want to identify the areas where it’ll fit. And with the rise of big data, AI, and machine learning, you have more information to draw insight than ever before.
By understanding the value of digital transformation, you can harness data to make more informed decisions, drive strategy, and steer the company towards its goals.
Here are some ways you could contribute to a digital transformation plan.
- Financial planning: You can help plan investment in digital transformation, balancing the costs and benefits and ensuring your business invests wisely in technology.
- Risk management: As with any major change, digital transformation brings risks. Your finance team can identify, assess, and manage some of them.
- Change management: Digital transformation often involves significant changes to business processes. You can contribute to managing this change.
- Data governance: Digital transformation often involves large amounts of data. You can help ensure you manage data appropriately, mitigating possible privacy and security issues.
- Skill development: Digital transformation often requires new skills. It’s your job to ensure that your finance function has the necessary skills for the digital age, including data analysis and digital literacy.
23. Place confidence in yourself and why you were hired
The first 90 days as a CFO are crucial for establishing credibility, building relationships, and setting a clear direction for your finance team. Thoroughly assess your finance function, understand your business’s strategic objectives, and develop a finance strategy aligning with them.
Building strong relationships with key stakeholders, including the board, business leaders, and employees, will be critical for gaining support and buy-in for your financial strategy. Of course, using the right technology can also help to drive efficiency and improve the accuracy of financial reporting as part of a digital transformation programme.
Most importantly, however, is to remember the skills and expertise you bring. You were hired for the role for a reason and although the first few months in a new job can be daunting, you are the right person for the job and it’s vital to remember that during tough times at the start whilst you’re still new in the role. Tapping into that mindset will also help project confidence in yourself that will benefit you in how you present yourself to others.
With a clear vision, strong relationships, and the right technology, you can make a strong impact in your first 90 days and set the stage for long-term success as CFO. Here’s a summary of those on your checklist.
- Define your top priorities for the first 90 days
- Do your research
- Find an external mentor
- Define what success looks like
- Meet with your finance team right away
- Understand your finance team’s relationship with other departments
- Understand your CEO’s vision and long-term strategy
- Build a picture of your company’s current financial health
- Understand current cash flow
- Know your company’s accounting practices
- Review your financial reporting
- Audit issues
- Review budgets
- Understand your key financial metrics with benchmarking
- Meet important external stakeholders
- Get involved with strategic planning
- Build your long-term vision and plan
- Get input and buy-in on your vision
- Make an impact at your first board meeting
- Understand potential CFO challenges and roadblocks
- Don’t try to tackle everything at once
- Tap into the power of tech
- Place confidence in yourself and why you were hired
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