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Gary Boomer on CFO 3.0 and digital transformation amidst COVID-19 [podcast]

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This episode of the Sage Advice podcast features Gary Boomer. Gary is a leading authority on technology and strategic planning in the accounting profession. As the Visionary and Strategist at Boomer Consulting, Inc., he created The Boomer Technology Circles and the CIO Circle, two peer groups that help some of the accounting profession’s top firms bridge the gap between technology and practice management and prepare technology professionals for a seat at the management table.

Below is an edited transcript of our interview.

What does COVID-19 mean for CFO 3.0?

Gary Boomer: When times are scary, simplicity is needed to get to the next level. Acceleration [in digital transformation] is what CFO 3.0 talked about…[technology] is going to get accelerated by the COVID-19. In some ways, this is good. In other ways, it is scary for people. Many of the CFOs surveyed felt [something like this] was going happen. On the other hand, many of them did not think they were prepared or had all the skills necessary to be successful.

And let me further say on skills, I do not mean individual skills. Our skills are all going to have to change and we are going to have to continue to learn, but it takes a team to be a leader today. We have always said the CFO and the CIO needed to be part of the management team. In accounting firms, it was too often just other service industry leaders on the management team. The CFO is sitting in the catbird seat and now is the time to leverage that and come forward as a leader.

Before COVID-19 struck, one of our questions was what is the biggest challenge facing CFOs today? Now, it is the need to get our entire workforce ready to work from home in a moment’s notice.

Gary Boomer: Right, and I think some gratitude here is appropriate. Those that have been doing it [work from home]—they are just getting better at it. Those that have not done it, they are scared. They don’t have the right bandwidth, don’t have the right equipment, or they have never used the tools.

I started doing video conferencing in 1992 when I was a partner with Barney and Associates. We had partners who just squealed about the fact that [teleconferencing] cost us $125-150/hour. But, we had three offices that were two and a half hours apart. Today, with our grandkids, the youngest one is three. He had a preschool Zoom conference yesterday at 10 o’clock, and within five minutes, these three-year-olds had Zoom mastered. It just goes to show that sometimes we are our biggest obstacles. Planning and preparation are huge right now. CFOs need to have a role in that.

Darwin didn’t say survival of the fittest—Darwin said survival of the most adaptable. CFOs will need to flex and adapt. Your thoughts on that?

Gary Boomer: It is not going to be their technical skills that bring them to the leadership role. It is going to be their communication skills and if they have a vision. What is your vision of when we come out of [the pandemic]? We are not going to come out of it just one day and it is just going to be over. How are you going to leverage your resources? What are your biggest dangers? What are your strengths? Have a plan. We used to call that strategic planning. Now, we are calling that the 90-day-pivot and plan. It has to be both for the company and for you personally. What are you going to do?

CFOs today are being pressured from the CEO and others about cash flow. Every partner I talked to in CPA firms are all very concerned about this. They seem to be the ones that have had video conferencing and work at home. They are not worried that they can’t get work done or that they won’t be able to build. [They are worried that] many of their clients are impacted.

Take the restaurant industry, real estate, and oil. Those are industries that are going to change significantly. There are going to be opportunities. How do you position one of those industries to come out of this and have a pivot plan for the next 90 days? Planning is very critical here. CFOs are an integral part of that because there is a big financial aspect.

What do you say to someone who is an aspiring CFO?

Gary Boomer: Communication skills, written and oral, are important. A little [knowledge of] history does not hurt. People who read are at a great advantage here because this is not the first crisis that we’ve been through. We are all familiar with the mortgage crisis. We are familiar with 9/11. I remember as a kid, not being able to go to the swimming pool because of Polio. That was scary back then.

We are going to learn from this. The big challenge is for CFOs and CPAs is to not get paralyzed. Do not allow yourself to be the victim. Too many people are worrying. They are not really thinking and strategizing. Going forward this is going to accelerate. You are going to see coaching be what management was in the 1980’s and 90’s. Having a coach, someone you can talk to that does not spiral you down but lifts you up and is still honest with you. [A coach who will ask you] what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How do you build this unique ability team? Because this is a team sport going forward. Going forward, you may need different people at the management table than what you have had in the past.

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