Gerd W. Stürz, partner at Ernst & Young: “CFOs should consider becoming non-executive directors.”

The world is changing for non-executive directors on company boards, and CFOs are benefitting from it. Shareholders and boards of directors are increasingly keen to have CFOs of other companies as non-executive board members. According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, in 2002, 36% of CFOs from the world’s largest companies held non-executive directorships. In 2012, this proportion has now reached 46%. “Such positions do eat up quite a bit of time,” says Gerd Stürz, partner at Ernst & Young, “but they are very rewarding for the companies, who benefit from a seasoned CFO’s expertise, and for the CFO, who gets a new perspective from outside his own company.”

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CFO expert Clifford: Communication is key for both cash-rich and cash-poor CFOs

Scarce bank lending coupled with strong corporate earnings and flush bond markets have created a bipolar world for CFOs: they either face a bitter liquidity crunch or huge cash piles building up on their balance sheets. Speaking on CFO Insight TV, Les Clifford, a partner at professional services firm Ernst & Young and a leader of their CFO programme, discusses their new report looking at how CFOs on both sides of the divide can cope with the challenge.

For chief financial officers at cash-strapped companies, raising liquidity is a daily challenge. This requires open communication with the lenders, Clifford says. “What you want to avoid is crisis management. Oftentimes many people try to believe that around the corner it’s going to be resolved, there’s going to be cash.” Instead of open discussions about long-term solutions with their lenders, they opt for short-termism.

However, this can be a dangerous approach, Clifford warns. “Most lenders are good at looking at the market and making their own views of these companies already,” he says. “So coming together to discuss each other’s perception can break down walls. ... Make [the lenders] a partner more than purely a lender.

Chief financial officers at cash-rich companies seem to face the easier task. However, they too must ensure that their message is being understood, Clifford says. “The question is: Are CFOs communicating their decision clearly enough to investors?” Many finance chiefs may not do all they can in this respect, leaving them vulnerable to investor backlash.