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 CFO Summit XXXII Spring 2017

How to Build a True CFO Organization

Zachary Wasserman, a speaker at the marcus evans CFO Summit XXXII Spring 2017, discusses the change management strategies that can help transform the finance function.

Interview with: Zachary Wasserman, SVP & Chief Financial Officer - North America, VISA

"The finance function is one of the most critical in a business. It is the bedrock of credibility and execution, and it can have a major impact on how a business performs in the short-term, as well as how it can create value for all stakeholders over a long period of time," says Zachary Wasserman, SVP & Chief Financial Officer - North America, VISA. "That is why we need to set the bar high, and elevate our leadership and employees to be able to accomplish that," he suggests.

Wasserman is a speaker at the marcus evans CFO Summit XXXII Spring 2017, taking place in Florida, May 11-13 -

What is a "true CFO organization"? Why do organizations need a "finance transformation"?

A "true CFO organization" accomplishes multiple roles for the business. It has the dual role of being a key strategic partner to the business, helping to run the business, serve up key decisions and provide an analytical framework for running the organization, while providing a really strong control environment and an environment of operational excellence, so the business can run effectively, efficiently and responsibly.

What steps or strategies help set up such an organization?

First and foremost, it starts with talent. CFOs need to find people that are experienced in the world of finance and diverse in terms of their experience, education and business backgrounds. People who have had roles in different parts of the finance house, who can draw connections between issues and apply the right discipline to each problem. They also need a clear vision of the orientation of the finance team, and must be a strategic thought partner. Executing on all of these together is what gives one the credibility to do all that the finance team needs to.

What team is needed to go through this transformation successfully?

You need a team that is engaged and inspired by the vision of where finance should be. Ideally employees should have diverse backgrounds, from within a company's various finance functions and different types of companies, industries and roles. Many of the best finance leaders have spent time outside of the finance function, so they have a better sense of connections, can communicate financial topics with non-financial leaders and understand where the business needs to go more broadly.

What big lessons did you learn from the transformation you undertook at VISA?
What challenges and lessons can you share?

While Visa is one of the most recognized and valuable companies in the world, it is also a very young company. It was only in 2008 that it became a for-profit commercial business. So the organization is very young in many ways. The finance organization is a reflection of that. The team has always been strong but over time it had different focus areas based on business needs. Historically, there was a focus on developing and maintaining a robust control environment with a strong handle on business trends. In the past several years, the goal has been to augment that, not replace it. To augment that with a strong focus on being a strategic partner, having a seat at the table, and enhancing decision support and financial analyses so that we can shape where the business is going and provide the analytical framework to make the best decisions.

Our first challenge was a people one. Did people understand how to do that work? One of the key things we did was try to understand capabilities, recruit new leaders and promote others who could help us accomplish the goal. We also assessed the broader employee workforce to identify the most important skills and competencies, to enhance and develop those further. In many cases the decision support and strategic financial analyses were being done by shadow finance teams that operated within the business line. We felt it was important to bring those people and functions to finance, so the function could be more comprehensive and people could have a more robust career path.

One lesson I would highlight is that this is a multi-year journey. The learning process does not happen overnight. When coaching an organization through a transformation, you must iterate the message and have a structured approach to track and reinforce where the right path is. To drive a transformation, a structured approach is a must. Most people are very adaptable, and inspired to elevate their work and impact on the business. It just takes coaching and a clear direction for them to get there.

Contact: Sarin Kouyoumdjian-Gurunlian, Press Manager, marcus evans, Summits Division
Tel: + 357 22 849 313

The CFO Summit XXXII is taking place at the JW Marriott, Grande Lakes, Orlando, Florida, May 11-13, the Summit includes presentations on executing a successful finance transformation, cyber security preparation, ACA updates and the implications for business, and how CFOs can drive innovation and value-creating growth.

For more information please send an email to or visit the event website at

The Finance Network - marcus evans Summits group delivers peer-to-peer information on strategic matters, professional trends and breakthrough innovations.

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Please note that the Summit is a closed business event and the number of participants strictly limited.

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