A CFO Conversation: The Journey to Finance Transformation


The first step is always the hardest, and this is especially true for your finance transformation journey.

Gina McNamara, CFO of SAP ANZ and Mark Partin, CFO of BlackLine sat down to discuss how to successfully begin this journey, achieve the end goal of finance transformation, and the equally important goal of transforming the people on your accounting teams.

Gina McNamara: Mark, I get asked a lot about where I see the future of finance going. We just need to look at companies that are no longer around, like Kodak—they chose to ignore digital and persisted with their old solutions.

One of my colleagues says, “Get off the couch.” When you want to get fit or improve something in your life you get off the couch, and it’s a good term to put into business.

Mark Partin: I agree, and the hardest part about getting off the couch—I know this personally—is taking that first step. And the first step for finance transformation is acknowledging that there’s a better way.

So much of our daily lives in Finance and Accounting is busy, busy, busy. I’m empathetic to that, but I also know it’s not going to get easier. So that first step is really important, and no matter what level you are in Accounting and Finance, you need to be thinking, “How can I do this better? How can I get the attention and the budget so I can get this moving now?”

There are a lot of people in the ecosystem and in the leadership of companies that recognize the value of transformation, and I think it’s easier for us now to tell the story of transformation in Finance.

Gina McNamara: Absolutely, and we have a responsibility to our shareholders in every company, whether it’s privately or publicly owned. People trust us, and we need to drive this change to improve the business.

Mark Partin: When I think of finance transformation for the CFO role and the finance and accounting role, it’s about accountants and finance professionals finding a path for improving their processes. So much of it is manual and repetitive, and we’ve been doing it this way for so long.

The end goal of any finance transformation is to become a strategic partner to the business. We can help leaders focus on growth, decision analytics—the things that really matter to companies that are trying to grow in a global environment that’s highly regulated with a lot of compliance.

Finance and Accounting can be a good partner. But first, they have to go through a transformation process to take these very old transactional systems and processes and turn them into something more automated.

Gina McNamara: I agree. I think it’s really about our accountants and finance teams stepping outside of their comfort zone, learning new things, and allowing the tools and the automation to do what they used to do.

At SAP, we’re focusing a lot on the actual transformation of the person, making sure they’ve got a development plan that looks at how they want to evolve in this transformation, so they’re really a change agent. They’re no longer looking back in time at the historical numbers, and are more forward-thinking, focusing on, “Where can we go next, and how I can help my business get there?”

The partnership you mentioned before is key: being viewed as a value-adding partner and not a historical financial accountant.

Mark Partin: So much of this comes down to people. When you first think of transformation, you think of process but it’s also culture. You have to start with systems but then shift to focusing on the person.

Gina McNamara: In the past, we might have put too much focus on the process and the system and didn’t think about the people, because it was outside our comfort zone of looking at the numbers. Now it’s a fundamental part of leadership. Each finance person is a leader or a potential leader, and they can really start to think about being part of and partnering with the business, not just being the finance person behind the spreadsheet or computer.

Mark Partin: And it’s about time, don’t you think? Because if you think about transformation in the enterprise, it’s already happened in so many other places, and for some reason, Finance and Accounting are the ones who wait the longest.

Maybe it’s because we didn’t get the budget or we haven’t asked for it, or maybe the time has finally come. Leadership and the IT groups understand what transformation means in other parts of the enterprise, and now it’s time for Finance.

Read this CFO Playbook for the top industry trends, stats, benchmarks, and practical guidance you need to accelerate your finance transformation journey.