It was still early in Laura Onopchenko’s finance career when she removed “Chief Financial Officer” from the list of leadership roles that she aspired to someday hold.
“I very specifically made the call that I did not want to be a CFO,” recalls Onopchenko, who says that at the time the decision seemed all the more contrarian, given her already-ingrained inclination to view the world through a financial lens.
“The reason that I was not attracted to the role was that I wildly underestimated how influential and how broad-based a good CFO can be and how unique the role is,” says Onopchenko, who later “relisted” “CFO” as she began observing the evolutionary nature of the position and how finance leaders themselves were contributing to the role’s development.
“Part of our job as finance professionals is helping the role to evolve, and part of this is to continue to look for places where we can have an impact that might not be obvious,” notes Onopchenko, who in 2017 entered the CFO office at NerdWallet, a personal finance company.
According to Onopchenko, the role of the CFO varies widely when you consider how companies demand new expertise and skillsets as businesses enter new stages of growth.
“In the time that I’ve been CFO at NerdWallet, my job has probably changed three times in terms of the work I’m doing,” adds Onopchenko, who today dismisses her early impression of the role as being a one-size-fits-all scenario. Says Onopchenko: “There probably are about as many different CFO jobs today as there are CFOs.” –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Laura Onopchenko
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: What are your priorities as a finance leader over the next 12 months?
Onopchenko: We have a pretty rock-solid plan for the next 12 months. As we continue to experience really rapid growth at NerdWallet, we want to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to support and enable this growth. One of the things that is really important for the finance and accounting team is to be just a few steps ahead of the rest of the organization. As an example, one of the things that we’re going to be doing is working on building out our revenue operations team. The last thing that we want is for the company to be delivering revenue at a level that our team cannot support, such that we’re not reporting at the rate that we are today or within the time frame that we are today or with the insights that we like to be able to provide to our partner teams now. We’re really working on building that infrastructure in both finance and accounting, so we’ve got a plan for that.
The other thing is that we are always on the lookout for ways that our teams can help to contribute in new ways. So, while what I mentioned before is going to be the bulk of our work, I know that there are going to be a few new things that are going to pop onto our plate—places where we didn’t realize that we had a role to play but where there is an opportunity for us to increase this business partnership to which we so aspire.
One of the things that we’re focusing on pretty heavily at the moment is making our first meaningful investments in brand. The greater the number of people who know about NerdWallet, the more our business will thrive, so we’re looking at brand awareness. We also believe that our business will thrive if, when we ask people who know about NerdWallet how their experience was, they say, “I loved my experience with NerdWallet.” We look at net promoter score for this. We believe that, very simplistically, the combination of these two things—the more people who know about us and the more people we help to solve their financial challenges or answer their financial questions or help them answer their questions about their money—will in the long term position us really well for all of the exciting things that we believe are ahead.