CFO Talk:  What Skills Should CFOs be Developing on the Modeling Teams?: An Interview with Lance Rubin and Giles Male

Steve: What skills should CFOs be looking to develop in their modelers and in their modeling teams?

Giles: First, Our expectations outstrip the current reality. We expect, or a better word might be hope, a good modeler to have sound proficiency in Excel in addition to good Problem-Solving skills. However, the majority of the SMEs that I work with, even the fundamental Excel skills, are seriously lacking for the average finance professional. So even those first steps on a journey of development are not covered for most modeling teams.

Second, the other side of this, is the softer skills. You see many very technically gifted modelers who can get to really clever solutions. But when it comes to sharing insights and communicating and influencing a group of stakeholders or a CFO or clients, they fail.

It’s this much more holistic view of being a good modeling professional which includes both the technical capabilities and messaging skills that creates world class modeler.

Steve: Are those messaging skills being able to talk with somebody or are they about creating the visuals that help people understand what the model is telling them?

Giles: It’s both. The first part of good communication is listening so the modeler can properly scope the project with their client. So scoping a model, whether it’s as part of a project team or with a client, involves a huge amount of active listening. You can’t just sit there and expect to be told all the right answers for what you’re going to do. You have to engage with the person you are listening to and ask the right questions and lead them at certain times in certain directions. Listening is a really important first tier skill.

Then, presenting your insights after you have built the model is important. It is not just visually putting together the right content but being able to communicate the key points and share your insights.

Lance: It is not just the visual to me, it is the storytelling and the creativity. So how do you lead someone into this journey of decision making where you take them from what they know now, which is probably a very small part of the tip of the iceberg to exposing the biggest story behind the tip of the iceberg and explain the “so what?” and “now what?” . And then managing the dialogue around all of the questions they have. It is the modeler’s role to engage and lead the audience through that journey and through that story.

So, financial models need to be great storytellers.

I don’t think many financial modelers would resonate with the word story because they feel like that’s kind of lying or telling stories is not really part of it. They want it to be just about the facts. It’s the way in which you communicate it. And some of the technology that I use allows my clients to do that interactively so you can actually touch and drag the visual and drag the charts and get the answers straight away without touching Excel. So, that’s exciting stuff which I am very passionate about, because, just like Tom Cruise does in The Minority Report, where he’s swishing through scenarios, you could swish your way through to glory on a model by touching a bar chart, which is growth or revenue or conversion rates and seeing valuation or seeing cash flow or seeing other charts move at the same time as you’re doing that.

I’s incredibly powerful, incredibly engaging for people. I think that’s what is needed. You need to convert complexity into simplicity without losing the message. That is not always easy.

Steve: You two have such a great way to put it. You both have really captured this idea of make it exciting, make it fun, make it insightful. Understanding how to describe the situation is really important and then telling the story. In my mind I picture a stage with the modeler on it. When the modeler can get people to buy seats in that auditorium, they have created the type of stories that are compelling enough to draw an audience they can share their insights with.

That wraps up today’s CFO talk. Thank you for joining us Lance and Giles. I sure appreciate it.

Lance/Giles Pleasure. Thanks, Steve.

Steve CFO.University is a community of member scholars, companies and trusted advisers committed to the professional development of chief financial officers.

Next in our series with Lance and Giles - Modeling Demand Beyond the Simple Financial Model

Until next time; enjoy, learn, engage and stay safe.


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