“Thinking about finance as an analytical capability as opposed to a function is huge,” she said, adding that CFO insights can provide a deep understanding of the organization’s operating model. “CFOs get the nitty-gritty of what would need to change in areas of the organization during a transformation that are often very overlooked, and really, really important to getting it right and keeping it on time.”
Identifying the Need for Financial Transformation
“Transformation is one of those words that gets so overused in business,” said Jeff Jones, president and CEO at H&R Block. “For us, it literally means repositioning the business for the next generation.”
While the iconic brand is practically synonymous with consumer tax preparation services, Jones said H&R Block had stopped growing and had begun losing clients. Noting that the business generates a robust free cash flow, Jones said the process it started in 2018 wasn’t exactly a turnaround.
“We talk about it as a crisis of relevance,” he said.
For Jones, the process needed a strategic partner. He found that in CFO Tony Bower, who has been at the company for 17 years.
“When we think about driving transformation, the first thing that mattered was alignment on the problem that we had to solve,” Jones said. “When you have a partner that deeply understands the business and is in it day to day with you, that’s kind of a ‘CFO-plus’ role, and I’m very fortunate to have that.”
Jones added that he relies on his CFO to provide a critical perspective.
“I couldn’t imagine somebody who didn’t just tell it to me straight all the time,” he said.
Feirn added that the CFO’s framing and strategic lens is valuable.
“The right question I always hear from our CFO is, ‘Tell me what you want to achieve, and then I’ll tell you how we’re going to do it,’” she said, adding that alignment in developing a transformation road map is preferable to arguing whether it’s the right strategy.
What Finance Transformation Looks Like
Jones acknowledged the pressure that can come from those who track the company’s stock price.
“We all get frustrated with how the market sees your performance, but when you’re really focused on a multiyear repositioning of the business, you’re going to be in zones that not all investors like—and to have the courage to do that side by side every day is just incredibly important.”
For H&R Block, finance transformation involved a robotic process automation (RPA) program that streamlined such tasks as expense report approvals or hiring and onboarding seasonal employees. Jones said RPA now handles roughly 35 processes throughout the organization and saves in excess of 50,000 person-hours per year.
The program has allowed executives to think more about machine learning (ML) models and finding the right balance between automating tasks and helping employees be more strategic and valuable.