How to do it...Finance

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1 Starting with some of the basics, an “excellent” CFO and his or her staff must be able to provide necessary data in an organized and professional format — and promptly — emphasizes Steve Kennedy, a senior vice president for Lancaster Pollard & Co. This includes making a priority of “constantly” revising their forecasts, based on external reimbursement factors, adds colleague Matt Lindsay, a vice president at Lancaster Pollard.

2 Crunching numbers and knowing the information isn't enough.

“The CFO needs to be able to articulate, verbally and in narrative form, the credit highlights of the organization and/or project, thereby transforming detailed financial information into a succinct credit picture,” Kennedy points out.

3 Not having strategic tunnel vision also is helpful, Kennedy notes.

“The CFO should be open to a wide array of funding alternatives,” he explains. “An open and educated approach to private sector and agency funding alternatives can benefit the senior living organization by reducing interest expense, eliminating unnecessary guarantees/resources, and injecting permanency into the organization's capital structure.”

4 Amy Gilfillan, senior director at Provista, also says to look further than  just number-crunching factors.

“A good CFO is one who takes a holistic view of the organization's needs, beyond just the numbers on the balance sheet,” she says. Recognizing the difference between ‘cost' and ‘investment' is critically important. Being too risk-averse in the current healthcare market is itself a risky approach.”

5 It is still worth paying attention to nuts and bolts, however — literally.

“CFOs need to be aware of the strategic importance of their supply chain,” Gilfillan notes. “Since supplies often represent 30% of an organization's expenses, gaining efficiencies in this area can prevent having to cut staff, thus maintaining their clinical quality and patient satisfaction ratings.”

6 Knowing and being able to discuss “intra-company” transfers of cash is another good thing, says Marty Zimmerman, president and CEO of LF Capital.

“Usually there's as many as three or more corporate entities involved [in running an eldercare facility],” he notes.

7 Undoubtedly, a top CFO must be a detail-oriented person, Zimmerman says.

“You've got to be on top of the numbers — and footnotes — in a report,” he stresses. “Being able to explain where the cash goes is important, as is making sure their footnotes are clear.”

Zimmerman says he likes to know a CFO can carefully budget ahead 12, 18 or even 36 months. Anticipating future capital expenditures is also crucial, he adds.

“They must have their arms around replacement costs of different assets that will be coming up,” Zimmerman says. “Somebody has to do the long-term planning and put a cost on things. Pipes might need changing, or air-conditioning, windows, a ceiling, a roof, whatever. These things have to be planned out.”

8 A CFO must be ready to assume the role of the building leader, Zimmerman reminds. He says he can walk into a facility and tell if there's a good CFO there “as soon as you turn the corner.”

“You can tell whether a [CFO] is meticulous, or less so. You immediately wonder whether it carries over to his work because there's so much that needs to be done. It's like running a good hotel, hospital, restaurant and rehab facility all at the same time.”

Whether or not it's verbalized, Zimmerman said top CFOs should rest assured their work is viewed thankfully from above.

“A good chief executive appreciates the heck out of having a good financial guy,” he says. “Rarely do you find one without the other.”

Traits to avoid

--A CFO who might be highly intelligent yet can't articulate ideas well.

--Someone who is reluctant to plan more than a year ahead.

--A strictly traditional learner who is unwilling to think and plan creatively.

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