Ahead of his presentation at the CFO Rising East Summit in Boston on March 7 & 8, we spoke to Jon Kanter, Chief Financial Officer at Goodwin Procter LLP.
Jon was promoted to the role of CFO in August 2016, having joined Goodwin (a Global Top 50 Law Firm) in 2013 as Managing Director of FP&A. Prior to that Jon spent over a decade working at PA Consulting Group, a global management consultancy as their Head of Consulting Commercial Finance, where he honed his business partnering and strategic analytical skills. Before joining PA Jon worked as an Audit Manager for Mazars, an international accountancy firm. Over his career Jon has lived and worked in four cities across three continents (London, Sydney, Washington D.C. and Boston).
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in finance and what first sparked your interest?
It was a family affair, growing up with a father who was a CFO, meant that I grew up being very familiar and comfortable around numbers and enjoying math and number puzzles from an early age. I grew up in the UK and back then over 70% of CEOs were accountants by training, so I took the necessary steps along the accountancy career path, but always saw this as a stepping stone to getting into business, I just didn’t know what business.
How has the CFO role changed over the last decade? What do you see as having been the main drivers behind this?
The CFO’s role today is much more that of a trusted business partner and advisor to an organization’s leadership and owners. The growing globalization of the economy, the ever-increasing speed of change, the constant need to stay ahead of the competition and the increased complexity of business models and markets, have all meant that the CFO is not just a seldom-seen, keeper of historical record. Instead most organizations need a CFO who not only has a seat at the leadership table, but is viewed as key contributor to the success and future direction of the organization. Someone who is seen and heard.
What technologies do you foresee having the greatest impact on the finance function in the future?
This will definitely vary significantly from one organization to another, depending on the sector, complexity, geographic span etc. However, there is little doubt that technology will ultimately result in efficiencies and will improve processes, which may not necessarily put downward pressure on headcount, but is likely to result in a shift in the skill-sets required in the Finance team.
What do you see as the finance function’s role in innovation of new products?
Again this will vary significantly from organization to organization, though at a minimum I’d expect Finance to play an active part in the budgeting/funding process for innovation, and should be part of the team that would assess a product’s business case, and be involved in the development of a business model/pricing strategy.
What do you foresee being the major risks you face at your company over the next year? What do you think presents the greatest challenges for finance leaders over the next year? Do you have strategies in place to overcome these?
While there are always macro-economic and political risks that could impact our firm and of course the whole sector, it is the constant threat of a cyberattack, or material cyber fraud that are probably the biggest single threats. We have an active committee with representation from across the organization, that is responsible for addressing these issues, ensuring the necessary controls are in place and the necessary education is provided to our employees, vendors and our clients.
What advice would you have for young people looking to get into a finance career?
Finance is as much about people, relationships and communication as it is about numbers and data. Make sure you give enough time to developing the softer skills as you do to honing the technical ones.
What will you be discussing in your presentation? Is there anyone else you are particularly looking to hear from?
I will be addressing the critical, but often overlooked, relationship between Finance and HR. So much of a CFO’s time and effort can be taken up addressing critical issues regarding talent management strategies, team performance, morale and motivation. Doing this without a true business partner from HR, who understands the business, the roles that Finance plays and the people who fill them, would be even more overwhelming. I am always interested to learn about how HR and Finance partner at other organizations to know how to get the most out of this relationship.
You catch Jon's presentation at the CFO Rising East Summit in Boston on March 7 & 8