David Craig, CFO of Commonwealth Bank of Australia
What was your career path to becoming CFO?
I started with Price Waterhouse and then PricewaterhouseCoopers. In fact, I was at Price Waterhouse in total for 27 years, going up through the ranks to become an audit partner and then progressively getting involved in the management of the firm in the strategic planning and operations and then eventually being chief operating officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
That was through to about 2000, and then after that I moved in to the global world of PwC as the CFO of PwC Consulting based in the US so the global CFO. I assisted in the float and then sale of that business to IBM in 2002. I spent a period as the global transition finance leader for IBM for this business that they bought.
I shifted back to Australia in 2003 and joined Australand as CFO. While I was at Australand I also joined a board of Australian Gas Light [AGL]. In 2006, I joined Commonwealth Bank as group executive, finance and risk management and CFO. I have been the CFO of Commonwealth Bank since then.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role as CFO?
Obviously we’ve come through the GFC [global financial crisis] so it’s been [challenging] times globally for banks. I have a pretty wide mandate so not only do I handle finance and investor relations, but I also run the group’s treasury. You could imagine I’m responsible for all of the funding and margin and transfer pricing within the group. That was a pretty significant role through the GFC, as well as property procurement, group security and group audit. There’s a fairly wide range of roles and all of those things at different stages had their interests and challenges, particularly during the GFC.
Now we are dealing with significant regularly change. We’ve obviously been dealing with an extremely competitive environment but one where many other financial institutions have really struggled. So it’s been challenging to steer that course of safety for our customers through that difficult time.
How has the CFO role evolved during your time in the industry?
We have deliberately made it evolve. I personally believe this is a golden era for CFOs if they can rise to the challenge because in difficult times boards and chief executives turn to the CFO and the finance function to provide help to optimise profit, to manage costs, etc. I think it’s been a really good time for strong finance teams to flourish and to become the trusted advisor to the board and the management team.
What is one of the biggest challenges in the industry that affects CFOs today?
Different parts of the industry would look at different things. I’ve just returned from a tour meeting with my peers in the UK, in the US and Canada. The biggest challenge they are facing — of course we are facing as well but they are facing in spades — is regulation. [There’s] very, very slow credit growth, difficult financial conditions, and a huge amount of additional regulation and the need to raise lots of capital. In our case, we feel we a broadly on top of that. I think we are a very well regulated country and we have the necessary capital.
From our point of view it’s much more about using this time to maximise the opportunities that are available by choosing carefully what to invest in. We’ve been [looking at] technology and the pace of change in technology. My role, in part, is to help to ensure that our scarce dollars and investments go to the right places.
I also think that it’s a great time to build the skill set and particularly leadership skills of the finance function. We’ve been doing a lot of work around building up the competency of our finance team through rotating them around [the workplace] to develop and broaden their skill sets, give them much broader commercial acumen and leadership skills, as well as just straight accounting and finance skills. At the same time we are using this time to bolster our female talent and we’ve got real targets to try and significantly diversify our team.
What’s your advice for other CFOs starting out in their careers?
- Surround yourself with great people
- Know your own strengths and weaknesses
- Don’t be afraid to take on risks and challenges
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
I personally believe, and certainly in my own career, if you try your hardest and do a great job then people will give you things to do. My career has evolved from very little self-management, it’s primarily been about people giving me opportunities. I think sometimes people [think] the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and they jump around too much too quickly. If they rely on their wits and so on they’d be surprised how many great offers come along.