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A CFO on the Go: Which Apps Are at His Fingertips

CFOs look to mobile apps to improve their productivity.

Patrick Renna exemplifies the modern CFO in his usage of mobile business apps, tapping away on his tablet as if it were a tiny ERP system, which in a way it is.

Young, skilled in operations and strategy as much as finance, and extremely tech-savvy, Renna  is a far cry from the standard description of the CFO a generation ago — the one often referred to as “the math guy in the back room with the green eyeshades.” Today’s strategy-minded finance heads like Renna attend to their wide-ranging responsibilities anywhere but in a back room, typically with a smartphone in hand, perusing one of the several business apps they have installed, to keep in tune with what’s going on in their department and company, all while increasing their own productivity.

The New Way of Doing Old Things
Apps have taken finance by storm, and it is a good thing they have. In today’s cloud-based, mobile world, the old ways of buying and using on-premises technology seem increasingly hidebound. As the iPhone has demonstrated, millions of apps exist for the taking — easily and inexpensively. Executives want their business productivity tools to be as simple to use and as efficient as the more personal apps that populate their smartphones.  

Certainly, this is the case for Renna, CFO at Boloco Inc., a Boston-based chain of 22 higher-end burrito restaurants throughout New England. He relies on a variety of apps to enhance how he gets his job done. “The one I probably use most is my mobile banking app,” he says. “Since we’re a multi-location company, we have a lot of money coming in every day from each location that is deposited into different banks, with all of the money eventually ending up in our main bank account. Ten years ago, I’d be writing checks between accounts. Now I move the money on my smartphone when I get up in the morning and drink my coffee — or eat a burrito at lunch.”

He’s even snapping pictures of checks using his smartphone and making instant deposits. Another app he relies on is file-sharing tool Dropbox. “The beauty of it is if I’m in a meeting and not in the office, and someone texts me that they need a file pronto, I’ve got it all there on Dropbox,” he says. “I click, they get the file.”

Getting Work Done Miles from the Office
Renna does a fair amount of travel, not surprising since Boloco is on a fast-growth track and is looking beyond New England for future expansion. In this regard, he uses TripIt, a travel app that organizes trip details, lets users book restaurants and hotels from one place, and provides local information, such as directions. Any app that can consolidate data is helpful for CFOs who are frequent travelers and have much more important matters to deal with (like their company’s growth strategy) than figuring out how to get from point A to point B in an unfamiliar location. “I’ve got my business travel itinerary organized on there so I can see over the course of the next three weeks where I’ll be,” Renna says.

Related to this is another a business expense-tracking app he uses called Concur, whose services has received attention in the Ask & Share section of Proformative (the tool can also be combined with the TripIt app). “If I go on a business lunch out of town with a client and pay the bill, I snap a picture of the receipt, assign it an expense code, and when the credit card statement comes in, all my expenses are organized by trip,” Renna says. “At the same time, the company gets a copy of the expense reports for reimbursable purposes.”

Other popular apps that are widely catching on among finance executives are:

  • Box: Another content-sharing tool, this app allows for remote file viewing and sharing.
  • Meeting Mapper: For iPad users, it’s designed to make meetings more successful, with an easier way to create and schedule action items than documenting meeting minutes on paper.
  • EchoSign: Finally, you don’t have to be there in person when a filing needs the CFO’s signature. This e-signature solution from Adobe lets users send, sign, track, manage, and access documents from mobile devices.
  • Workshare: Recently made available to Android users, this app synchronizes files with mobile devices and maintains documents’ security – something that should make those who audit internal controls happy.

This list barely scratches the surface of the powerful tools that finance executives are carrying around in their pockets, or under their arms. As Renna puts it, “Once you start using mobile apps for business, you really can’t go back to the old ways of doing things.”

Russ Banham is a veteran financial journalist and author of 23 books, including The Ford Century, a history of Ford Motor Company translated into 13 languages. He writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal, CFO, The Atlantic, Chief Executive, and other business publications. 

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