roy hefers photo to showcase hif cfo journey at travelperk

In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, the role of Finance has undergone a significant transformation. Roy’s CFO journey since joining TravelPerk in June 2022 serves as a compelling testament to this paradigm shift.

No longer confined to being a mere scorekeeper Roy shares refreshing insight into how the modern Finance team has evolved into a forward-looking strategic advisor. Gone are the days when people approached their Finance counterparts to seek approval just to tick that box before presenting their ideas to the CEO. Instead, the goal is to foster an environment where colleagues genuinely seek your input to enhance their decision-making and drive performance. However, that is easier said than done.

“To establish yourself as a thought-partner you need to first and foremost create trust. That’s not something that happens from one day to the next. You need to demonstrate that you’re genuinely and selflessly trying to help those around you with their decision-making. To prove you’re invested in others you have to spend time on building deep relationships, learning the business and knowing the product inside out. It typically takes 12-18 months if you’re new to the business until you can add real value and insights across the org,” Roy added.

In a time when Finance teams are becoming more and more involved in strategic planning, we sat down with Roy to discuss the changing role of the CFO.

Let's start off with the basics. Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be the CFO at TravelPerk.

Prior to TravelPerk, I spent a decade helping scale hyper-growth tech companies. I helped raise over a billion dollars in both public and private financing, including through two IPOs. The first one was with Lumenis, a medical device manufacturer based in Israel that we took public in 2014 on NASDAQ. The second was with Hippo Insurance, which went public on the NYSE in 2021.

After seven years in Silicon Valley, my wife and I decided to move closer to our families (who live in Israel) and the opportunity with TravelPerk came up. So we relocated with our four kids to Barcelona where TravelPerk was founded in 2015.

“To establish yourself as a thought-partner you need to first and foremost create trust. That’s not something that happens from one day to the next.”

Was the CFO role always on the horizon?

If you told me 15 years ago that one day I’ll be a CFO I’d probably think you’re out of your mind. Back then the role was still perceived as being heavy on accounting, focused on being the score-keeper, getting the numbers right and being the bad cop on expenses. I came from a different background as a management consultant, where I was more focused on strategy and the business. And the reason I got excited about the CFO role is because I realised how much of the time good CFOs would actually spend on these topics; they’re more exciting for me personally and the ones where I feel CFOs can add the most value.

You say that the role of the CFO is less about purely Finance today. Can you elaborate on this?

Think about replacing the word “Finance” with “Performance”. I see myself much more of a Performance Officer. This better captures the role in my opinion, as it goes beyond a mere focus on numbers. It demands a comprehensive grasp of the business, the strategy, the key value drivers and what action we can take to drive performance. A CFO today is no longer just there to give the seal of approval before something goes to the CEO. It’s about becoming an advisor and thought-partner to the extended leadership team to help achieve their goals and drive impact.

A lot of it comes down to establishing yourself as a good sounding board, and that’s something that you build over time. Taking a backseat to empower others doesn’t always come naturally, but when you start to see the fruits of your labour, it’s hugely rewarding. This is the part of my job I love most, and the good news is that AI will not be replacing this capacity anytime soon. Hopefully not in my generation!

Can you share some tips on becoming a business thought-partner?

It’s all about establishing trust with your team, the leadership and across the company. There’s a famous recipe for building trust which I think really captures it well:

  1. Credibility: know the business, the market, your product and your customers’ key needs
  2. Reliability: deliver on your commitments and deadlines
  3. Intimacy: prove over time that you can be a confidant and a trusted partner for intimate and sensitive conversations (often it’s people matters like salaries, promotions/demotions, org changes or fundraising related matters)
  4. Don’t be self-centred: Always focus on genuinely trying to help your peers and think about the benefit of the team and the company. It’s not about you.

“A CFO today is no longer just there to give the seal of approval before something goes to the CEO. It’s about becoming an advisor and thought-partner to the extended leadership team to help achieve their goals and drive impact.”

You said AI is not yet ready to replace thought leadership, but is it contributing to this shift away from traditional Finance?

It’s no secret that AI is becoming a commodity. We’re already implementing it across the products and services we build for our customers, and increasingly within our internal processes, including Finance.

What AI could be great for today, is producing the raw numbers or reports, and potentially sanity checking them. This could free up the time and allow the team to focus on the real added value questions like; what do the numbers mean? Why is this happening and what action can we take to improve performance and beat our goals? Today the vast majority of finance teams are still spending way too much time on producing the numbers and sanity checking them. That’s important but it’s not a high value add. And it’ll be the first thing that AI will take over.

Do you have any advice for new CFOs?

If I had to give a word of advice to a new CFO, it would be not to obsess over making an immediate impact or impress your peers (or CEO) to prove that they made the right hire. Rather, focus on building an excellent team of A players whether it’s in Controllership, Strategic Finance, CorpDev or IR – do not compromise on talent density. Be patient and remember that results will come over time, not on day 1.

I also think that soft skills are at least as important as the hard skills, despite perhaps the opposite perception. Many years ago I used to think about “impact” as coming up with the right business plan that would generate $xxm of incremental profit for the company. Yes, that’s important but that’s also a very self-centred view. I’d urge CFOs to think about impact as the number of times your peers are actively reaching out to you on key strategic questions. Our job as Finance is usually not to provide the answers but rather help educate the organisation on the right framework to figure out the answer. So that they can ultimately come up with the right answer on their own.

Personally, I’m still far from where I want to be on this journey with TravelPerk despite being one year in. It takes time to build that trust. So, be patient, don’t obsess over immediate impact.

You’ve taken two companies to IPOs, any learnings that could help others get there?

The most important thing is to prepare early, without involving the rest of the company. You don’t want to distract the employees but ideally you’d want to run your internal finance processes for at least 2-3 quarters as if you were a public company, before you actually go public. For example, you can practise giving a guidance range on your key metrics and then hold yourself accountable to it and see how well you performed against that guidance.

The forecast model is of huge importance and being able to understand the key drivers of the business, and how you can influence them to hit your numbers, will be crucial to build trust and confidence with public market investors.

On the accounting side you should run a tight ship on the close process that is aligned with SEC timelines and minimise post-close adjustments. It takes time to get there operationally as well as build the infrastructure (e.g ERP, BI) and data integrity that will support you.

So better to start early.