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Arkk’s Chief Financial Officer on the flexibility a part-time CFO can bring

14 February 2020: in days gone by, the path to the Chief Financial Officer position was a fairly well-trodden affair. But as Arkk’s Chief Financial Officer Jenny Himsley outlines, the part-time CFO role offers a more flexible route to the boardroom.

Rapid changes in technology, particularly in the world of tax such as automation and machine learning, have opened up the expertise of many accounting professionals able to offer higher-level services to their clients. These services require expert knowledge and a consultative edge that some general practices may lack.

In particular, part-time or “virtual” CFO services are increasingly popular with businesses seeking a financial consultant they can rely on to help their business grow, rather than a bookkeeper or tax advisor.

After five years at AIM-listed online trading firm London Capital Group, the final two years as CFO, Jenny Himsley was keen to continue influencing decision-making at board-level while establishing flexibility around a young family. Not wishing to take a step down the career ladder, she tried on the part-time CFO role for size and ended up running a successful portfolio of small business clients for four years.

Himsley is now full-time CFO at Arkk, a cloud-based software provider in the regulatory reporting space. Arkk had previously been one of her clients and Himsley came on to the payroll when the business received venture capital funding in mid-2019 – a funding round she was heavily involved with as the firm’s part-time finance chief.

Here she tells ICAEW Insights about the benefits a part-time CFO can bring, the changing role of the accountant, and the shifting mindset of the profession.

In my own words…

“There’s a big market for freelance CFOs. I went freelance after starting our family, hit the networking hard, picked up four clients and started my business doing this.

People said to me, why not get a lesser role than you’ve done before, do it part-time and it’ll be less stressful. That’s not the part of accounting that interests me. Being involved at a much higher level was something I was always interested in. I enjoy the decision-making, the value-add, which you’re only going to do if you sit in on those board meetings and have more interaction with the founders.

Working with slightly smaller businesses, you can make a huge difference to their finance function and their business, which is a really rewarding role to play.

With smaller firms, you have direct contact with all the key decision-makers, sitting in on the board meetings, giving them a perspective they weren’t getting, plus your experience without having to take someone on full-time.

It’s really satisfying looking at the processes you put in place, seeing how their businesses have grown, how the founders and directors appreciate you and what you’ve delivered for them over the years.

One thing to bear in mind with smaller firms is that it’s important to fit in with a company’s culture. It’s more of a struggle if you don’t fit in with the mindset of the rest of the senior leadership team, and it’s something you need to constantly work on.

At a certain level, the whole role of the accountant has changed so much since I started out with KPMG. Ten or 11 years ago it was about building huge Excel models, checking the rates and numbers, setting the macros running and going for lunch. This way of working is slowly dying out as technological developments mean that authorities are yearning for greater visibility across many reporting standards.

It’s true that cloud software has enabled different ways of working, but there is also more diversity in terms of mindset in the profession.

I manage 11 people and the generation gap is interesting. Whereas previously, young accountants would have knuckle down and go through the pain of training to get to the good bit, the next generation have no intention of doing this.

They’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, they want to know how technology can be utilised to make them more efficient at their job and have a bigger impact on the company from the beginning. There’s a ‘this is boring, how can we stop doing this?’ mentality, where they try to find workarounds to problems so they can get to more interesting work.”