Paul Smith, Head of the Odgers Interim Financial Services Practice, discusses what finance professionals need to consider before moving into interim financial director positions
The interim management industry provides an often hidden, but essential role supporting companies across the UK.
Interim CFOs are proven executives that can be deployed on a short-term basis to support an organisation during a period of change, transition or crisis.
Transitioning from a permanent to an interim career
Moving to interim employment after a successful financial career can be a daunting prospect, particularly for those who have been in similar roles or the same institution throughout their working life.
Many interim FDs will have enjoyed long and successful careers but be looking to gain more control over their career path and perform a role that adds value.
For those who have held senior or board positions, entering the interim world allows them to capitalise on their years of industry experience and their ability to embrace change.
Many professionals choose to switch from a permanent role to an interim one once they have the time or financial breathing space to leave the stability of full-time work.
This is the point at which people reflect on their career and realise that leading financial transformation projects and providing strategic direction – where they had a real tangible impact on a business – is what they most enjoy about being a FD and want to spend the rest of their career doing.
A major shift in your mind-set will be required
As an interim, you are no longer an employee. When you take on an interim role, the client will be turning to you as an independent leader.
Adjusting to this can be hard for FDs who are used to working with large teams that they can delegate to.
Interims are also called on to make tough decisions, which might not always be the most popular ones. Companies across different sectors recruit interim FDs for different reasons, such as dealing with insolvency, implementing money-saving efficiencies or leading the business in a new financial direction.
FDs are now typically performing a wider role and gaining more responsibility, but in turn, they are also facing more scrutiny. It is the job of the interim FD to leverage their range of experience and insight to make the best decision.
Once the contract is up, an interim FD will have left their mark, but will also need to keep the relationship between management team and employees intact.
Mastering this balance can take time.
You will need to be prepared for a quick start
More often than not, interims are appointed at short notice.
The role either needs to be filled urgently after a departure, or a new project has been rushed to the front of the queue and requires an expert to lead it.
As such, those embarking on the interim FD path should expect the process to run quickly if shortlisted for a role, with little time between brief, interview and appointment.
Because of this, whatever time there is between interview stages will need to be used to research the role fully, so you can ask the right questions at interview and make sure the role is a good fit.
This can also mean that once in the role, interim FDs do not have the usual time to study the intricacies of a company’s previous financial information – be prepared to delve deep in a short space of time.
Reputation is everything
A successful interim placement can open more doors – so reputation counts.
Often, an evidence-based approach is used to recruit interims and a great recommendation can propel professionals into further positions in the same market.
It’s vital that you carefully maintain your track record, leave a positive legacy and never break a contract to move to another role.
Signpost relevant experience and achievements in your CV and during interviews. Highlight transferable competencies, as financial skills are in high demand.
The consumer and professional services sector are most likely to hire interim managers with past-experience in the financial services industry when recruiting outside of their traditional sector.
Keep an open mind and demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job and can get it done.
Be aware of your own financials
Interim pay, which is the daily rate charged to clients, can be high compared to the pay of permanent colleagues. Clients are aware that the UK has some of the best financial talent.
The premium does, however, reflect the sometimes last-minute and sporadic nature of the work and the loss of benefits afforded to full-time employees.
The career also brings with it new tax considerations. Interims work through their own limited companies and with this they need to invest more time in managing their own finances and pay close attention to recent developments from HMRC.
Make the most of ‘rest periods’
Interim work can be inconsistent. The transition from permanent roles to project-based work can be difficult for some to get used to, particularly at the beginning.
Try to think of this as an opportunity, rather than a downside. The most successful interims are often those that get out and enjoy the time-off.
Having regular breaks can also give you time to build up your network and think about which projects you’d like to work on next.
Many of the interim mangers we work with embrace the lifestyle change and spend their breaks either travelling or volunteering across the globe.
Carefully consider what you want out of a career as an interim FD and plan for the change – both work-wise and in your personal life – to reap the rewards.
Paul Smith is Head of Odgers Interim Financial Services Practice and advises finance professionals who are thinking of moving into interim FD positions.