Ahead of his presentation at the FP&A Innovation Summit in San Diego on February 6 & 7, we spoke to Scott Griffiths, CFO, Marketing at Farmers Insurance.
Scott is the CFO of Marketing for Farmers Insurance, a $19B enterprise. He joined Farmers Insurance in 2008 and provides financial leadership for the Enterprise’s marketing resources, covering TV, radio, digital, sponsorships, customer research, internal and external communications, and innovation.
Griffiths began his career in auditing at KPMG in the UK, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. Moving to the US in 2001, he briefly worked in public accounting, obtaining his CPA license, before joining Countrywide Financial. He went on to hold several leadership roles at Countrywide Financial in both the Global Markets and Correspondent Lending Divisions.
Griffiths is on the Board of Directors on the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley and in 2016 was the recipient of the Corporate Caring for Kids Award.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in finance and what first sparked your interest?
I find accounting desperately dull. I say this as someone who obtained a degree in accounting, qualified as a Chartered Accountant in the UK, a CPA in the US, and in my work life spent countless hours reviewing, auditing and creating financial statements.
Accounting, however, gave me a foundation for a career in Finance. While some may group Accounting and Finance under the same job description, there is a clear distinction. Accounting ensures the accuracy, timeliness, and compliance of the numbers. Finance uses these, along with numerous other data sources, to impact the numbers.It is the latter that “sparked my interest” – seeing the power that data can have in shaping a Company. As data has become more abundant, the ability of Finance to impact the strategic direction and choices of a Company has grown exponentially.
How has the finance function’s role changed over the last decade? What do you see as having been the main drivers behind this?
At the beginning of my career, leading finance professionals were revered for their knowledge of accounting standards and tax laws, and their ability to close the books sooner than their predecessor. One of my early responsibilities was to create a voluminous month-end report and darn it, I was going to create it quicker that anyone has ever created a report. I’d wait patiently until that last journal entry was posted indicated the accounting system was closed for the month. Then, in a flurry of action, I pressed the buttons to start the intricate databases and spreadsheets I had painstakingly created to generate the report. My reward for such ingenuity? In my five years at the company, I was promoted 3 times – moving from Analyst to leading the Finance team. What value did it add? The giant report I created each month sat gathering dust each month on the desk of every executive, only moved when it was replaced by the following month’s edition.
Today, many accounting systems have automated processes and are integrated with reporting systems. While some manual intervention from the Finance team is required, the value of this contribution has reduced significantly, and therefore the career progression available to them. The only way to now advance through the organization is to find other ways to add value.
Do you think executives’ perceptions of finance leaders as accountants still prevent them taking up a role as a strategic partner in their organizations? If so, how can they overcome this?
Absolutely. However, it is not just the CEO’s perception of finance leaders as accountants causing this. I believe it is equally, if not more so, due to finance leaders seeing themselves as accountants. I have recently taken to not hiring candidates with solely corporate accounting experience when filling open finance positions. Educated in the black and white world of accounting, where every debit must have an offsetting credit, they struggle to answer questions such as “Are we using our resources effectively?”, or “If we had an additional $1M, where would you spend it?”. It is the ability to answer these type of questions with a strategic mindset, backed with financial data and acumen that allows the ‘accountant’ to be seen as a strategic business partner.
What do you see as being the most important thing to consider when forecasting during a period of sustained growth? What else can finance leaders do to drive growth?
Complacency. The history books are littered with examples of companies that got fat and happy, and subsequently fell into obscurity. While there are several reasons for this, the primary one is the inability to meet changing customer expectations. Whether it’s the phone maker that ignored the demand for smartphones, or the movie rental company that ignored their customers’ annoyance at late fees, customers’ expectations are changing at a fast pace. It is critical that currently successful companies are planning for disruption and investing their current resources to meet the future expectations of their customers.
What will you be discussing in your presentation? Is there anyone else you are particularly looking to hear from?
With the internet making it increasingly difficult to compete on price and social media giving companies nowhere to hide, providing an excellent customer experience is imperative to the long-term success of ANY business. As both leaders and finance professionals, we have a vital role to play in this. I’ll be discussing this role, providing real-life examples from my career and offering practical actions that each and every one of us can apply to deliver long-term success to our businesses.
As with any of the summits held by Innovation Enterprise, I always look forward to networking with my peers and hearing the differing viewpoints and challenges they each possess.
You can catch Scott's presentation at the FP&A Innovation Summit in San Diego on February 6 & 7.