The CFO’s Capital: Trust And integrity

Matthias Heiden

As CFOs, we need to accept challenges from the business to review compliance mechanisms – not to avoid laws and regulations, but to ensure that our systems are effective and efficient. Where we challenge others to become more efficient and save costs, we must do the same to ourselves, including our compliance management systems. It helps build trust and integrity.

From my perspective, you must have a certain personality as a CFO. You should have a feeling for processes and control steps, serving as a business steward to earn the business’s integrity and trust while safeguarding the company. You should also have something in your character that drives you to speak up. If you feel that a popular decision or action is not best for the company, your voice must be heard. Sure, it feels awkward the first time, but the CFO’s voice of conscience must be heard, and people value consistency. That consistency, tempered with honesty and fairness while maintaining independence, is where integrity is built.

In a sales-driven business like ours, we have a lot built around incentives and bonus payments. We have rules for these aspects, and we need to ensure that not only policies, but guiding principles are applied across the organization. Policies aren’t always popular, but if they’re applied correctly, people will appreciate them even when they disagree with them. Having the integrity to implement and support such policies is inherent to gaining trust.

Lacking trust and integrity, there’s no chance to succeed in business stewardship. Business stewardship, a key aspect to a CFO’s role, includes protecting the company’s assets. As a CFO, you must ensure that you proactively protect the company from things that will diminish its assets and value. This can be in the case of commission payments, for example, or deal structuring – taking unnecessary risk where the return isn’t likely to kick in.

That is why speaking up is so important. It’s risk management, protecting the company from risk and fraud. No organization is immune to such risks, and in our global world, you must recognize that some business cultures have practices that are not acceptable in other business cultures.

I described in an earlier blog the role I believe CFOs should take beyond the walls of the organization. When you’ve earned trust, you can remove emotions and focus on issues. For instance, when negotiating difficult deals, a CFO can explain things in a way that a sales representative cannot. Thus, trust and integrity are also critical prerequisites to being perceived as an independent business partner, allowing CFOs to earn their seat at the business table.

What is my personal benchmark? I always ask myself what I would do if this were my business and if it was my money on the line. I know it’s a common, unoriginal question, yet it remains a helpful guide to me. I also ask myself how I would want to be treated. In the end, trust and integrity are the capital we trade on.

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Matthias Heiden

About Matthias Heiden

Dr. Matthias Heiden, senior vice president, regional CFO, Middle and Eastern Europe (MEE), is responsible for the field finance organization of MEE. In this role, he supports the organization in managing P&L, continuously driving strategic finance transformation initiatives initiated by Corporate Finance together with the other regional CFOs. This team helps improve business-related processes and supports the Market Unit CFOs in their role as business facilitator and transformation agent.