Nordic Leaders Circle Recap – Key Takeaways and Insights from Leading Nordic CFOs

In the recent Nordic Leaders Circle roundtable event, six CFOs shared their insights, experiences, and challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep reading for a few key takeaways from their enlightening discussion.

Takeaway 1 – The strategic role of the CFO

The role of the CFO has changed. In what was a traditionally reactive role, now these positions are taking on a more proactive approach to business. It used to be that CFOs focused their time and energy primarily on managing payables, receivables, and the accounting operations of their organisations. But now, they are taking on more strategic and company-reaching initiatives such as investigating the profitability of business units, the business cases behind strategic investments, and the terms of key contracts.

But they’re not alone in their endeavor to the “new CFO.” Rather, the entire finance and procurement units have come together to become strategic enablers and partners of one another – no longer siloed.

The panel was asked “On a scale from 0 to 10 (with 0 being totally reactive and 10 being totally proactive) where do you rate your Finance team?” Answers we received included:

  • “For us it would be 7. I think we have been historically very reactive, but we of course are turning to be more business partners. We have a lot of data, but we are still lacking the BI solutions to guide us in that journey.”
    – Tiia Ranta, CFO Lantmannen Cerelia

  • “I would rate us at an 8, actually. My team of controllers are really engaged in the long-term strategic decisions. And we, as an energy company, are really focused on the long-term business relationships from investment decisions.”
    – Fredrik Strang, Finance Director, Nordics, E.on

  • “I would say we’re a 6 and we’re trending upwards towards new levels. We have a quite decentralized finance organization with departments in each company. We’re now trying to scale it towards more shared services…we’ve always been a part of the business, but we can be more efficient and free up more time to be even more value-adding in our management teams and in our groups.”
    – Karl Orrling, Finance Director, Nordics, Alfa Laval

Most importantly, the CFOs all agreed that in their shift to becoming a more strategic partner in the business, they noted that it’s impossible to build a sturdy structure of strategic business decisions without standardised processes, high levels of automation, data, and highly skilled and trained people on your team.

Takeaway 2 – Standardisation before centralisation

In order to get their houses in order and start to build a foundation for strategic initiatives, as mentioned above, firms must centralise their finance and procurement functions. Originally, the purpose of decentralising was to maximise the cost-effectiveness of certain operations. At the end of the day, it was cheaper to offshore some operations to India, Romania, and the like. But now we’re seeing that not all operations succeed when offshored and decentralised. On this topic, the panelists were asked “On a scale from 0 to 10 (with 0 being very decentral and 10 being very central) where would you rate your finance organisation?” Here’s a few responses:

  • “It’s very centralised. And the Finance departments are centralised in each country, but the main office is in Norway and is responsible for the whole operation and order of business for the whole country. So, I would say a 10. I would say it’s good this way especially when we talk about standardisation.”
    - Ida Rod Fredriksen, CFO, Thon Group

  • “It’s not a fully centralised model. I’m giving it an 8. There would be an alternative to take it even further centralised but I’m not in favor of that. I think the mix that we have now is pretty good!”
    - Juha Kauppinen, CFO, COO, Sanoma Media Finland

  • “If I had to give one number, it would be around 6. Part of the Finance function in Netcompany is extremely centralised and has to go with processes, policies, how we define KPIs – and that is 100% controlled here from headquarter. Whereas anything that has to do with supporting the business, supporting the different partners is local.”
    - Thomas Johansen, CFO, Netcompany

Takeaway 3 – Beyond the pandemic strategy

An unavoidable topic given how COVID-19 has rocked the business world globally – we wanted to touch on how these 6 CFOs are thinking beyond the pandemic and what their next steps are. Though we’re not out of the dark yet, there’s still light at the end of the crisis tunnel and as the worlds starts to roll out vaccines and business starts to return to “normal,” we wanted to see what these thought-leaders thought that normal might look like.

The panelists were asked, “Once the world opens up, on a scale of 0 to 10, what will your company look like in comparison to where it was a year ago? (0 means it will look the exact same and 10 means it will be much more virtual, digital, and remote.) Here’s what they said:

  • “It’s hard to answer with one number. For sure certain parts of our organisation will be forever changed and other parts will come back to the way we used to work. The pandemic if anything has shown us that it is possible to do a lot of work remote. The way we interact and the way we communicate will be forever changed and I actually think that’s a good part…so to put a number on it, it will be somewhere 6, 7, 8-ish”
    - Thomas Johansen, CFO, Netcompany

  • “If you talk about my Finance team, it will actually be sort of quite a low number. I would say like a 2 or something because we were already remote to start with…We already had a system of working digital and remote, which worked quite well. But then I totally agree with Thomas in concern to the wider business organisation. It will definitely change.”
    - Fredrik Strang, Finance Director, Nordics, E.on

  • “I would agree with Thomas and Fredrik here on the way of working. Indeed, we’ve also learned a lot of things. We did this acquisition that we fully integrated and we did it all remotely with a counterpart that was new to us and that’s shown us that a lot work can, indeed, happen remotely. I firmly believe we will go into a hybrid form of work.”
    - Juha Kauppinen, CFO, COO, Sanoma Media Finland

  • “I would probably take it a step further and say instead of they will go to the office maybe we could try to create an atmosphere where people want to go into the office. And I think people will want to go into the office because even if we’ve proven a lot of things can be done remote, it’s always more desired to create the culture to have happy employees…I think it’s good to create an atmosphere where the office is some place you want to go.”
    - Karl Orrling, Finance Director, Nordics, Alfa Laval

  • “I think it’s back to something in between. I do agree a lot with Karl who’s saying that it’s working really well right now to work remote, but we are missing building the culture, creativity, innovation and even workshops with whiteboards – it just doesn’t work as well remote. I think we are definitely missing that, the culture, and the loyalty of the group. So, I think something in between will be a good thing.”
    - Ida Rod Fredriksen, CFO, Thon Group

  • “I think it was one of my colleagues that said, ‘People aren’t laughing in the same way when they are meeting via Teams than if they were actually physically in the office.’ Then I can give you an example where we’ve just recruited a person who plays a key role and is not sitting in any office or location. So, those are the opportunities you’ll also see from this remote working.”
    - Tiia Ranta, CFO Lantmannen Cerelia

Hear the full discussion!

To hear to the full discussion, listen to the full round-table discussion on demand here.

Marketing Manager, Basware Marketing Manager for Scandinavia and member of the Norwegian Country Management Team