CFO leads transformation of PSP Investments in a changing world
Canada’s CFO of the Year Award finalist Nathalie Bernier
CFOs around the world are being called on to take on new, broader responsibilities to help their organizations thrive in a business environment that grows more complex every day. Canada’s CFO of the Year Award finalist Nathalie Bernier knows this first-hand: the CFO of PSP Investments (PSP) has been leading the strategic transformation of her organization.
Nathalie joined PSP as CFO and Senior Vice President, Strategic and Business Planning in 2015. She points out her organization isn’t quite like other investment firms: PSP is a Crown corporation that manages investments to fund retirement benefits for members of Canada’s Public Service, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force.
As PSP reached the 100 billion assets under management mark in 2015, the organization’s leadership recognized that what made them successful in the past may not be the same criteria that would make them successful going forward. So they embarked on a journey to significantly transform every aspect of the organization.
“We’re creating a much more scalable and efficient environment, and we’re changing our culture to put collaboration at the heart of everything we do.`` - Nathalie Bernier, PSP Investments
Need transformation done right? Call the CFO
It’s a highly complex, challenging effort—and as CFO, Nathalie is leading the way, responsible for all aspects of the transformation. “It was a natural fit,” she says. Nathalie and her team are used to measuring, monitoring and reporting on the organization’s progress clearly and candidly. And they’re adamant about achieving value.
“It’s part of our DNA,” explains Nathalie. “Before we start a project, we want to make sure we’ll create the benefit expected and we’ll prioritize the projects that bring in the most value.” It’s a critical quality that helps Nathalie and her team choose among PSP’s many transformational initiatives.
“The strategies used in the past won’t provide the answers organizations demand today. Business leaders have to embrace transformation by breaking down silos and encouraging innovative strategies. This approach won’t only help their companies identify the right solutions, but realize the value that will define them in the future,” says Tahir Ayub, Managing Partner, Markets and Industries, PwC Canada.
Across the organization, Nathalie and her group have worked hand-in-hand with other parts of the business to execute their transformation programs. The CFO facilitates the annual business planning sessions for each department; the CFO and her team then helps each department analyze priorities, develop the business case and make sure there’s value creation.
She believes putting the CFO and her team in charge of major transformational projects helps give organizations’ leadership teams confidence. The CFO brings credibility and impartiality to the change effort. “We established trust with the audit committee and board by being extremely transparent about what was going well, what was falling behind and why, and recommending how to get back on track or offering a rationale for deferring action.”
Leading by example
Nathalie has also led efforts to transform the finance function. They automated many of its processes, implemented systems and added functionality in order to create the room needed to integrate more closely with the business and provide the kind of insights that deliver real value to other departments.
Reporting has changed significantly, too: hundreds of pages of financial data have been replaced by concise analysis that provides exactly what the audit committee and the board needs to fulfil their governance obligations. “We didn’t hesitate to transform ourselves and identify areas where we needed to evolve.”
“Every business is looking for new technologies to boost growth and bring greater returns. For transformation to be successful, organizations need to focus on meeting their business objectives—embracing collaboration and innovation. Everyone wants to implement digital solutions, but these ideas are only good when they drive results across the entire organization.” - Tahir Ayub, Managing Partner, Markets and Industries, PwC Canada
One of the most significant change might be to PSP’s Treasury group. Before, Treasury was a support function with a relatively modest debt issuance program restricted to the Canadian market and Canadian investors. Today, Treasury expects to launch a global debt program and recently added a significant number of foreign investors as part of its most recent issue. PSP representatives have met with over 100 government funds, treasuries and international banks. “Treasury has moved from a support function to being a key partner in contributing to the success of our organization,” says Nathalie.
No matter the challenge, CFOs are up to it
The role of the CFO continues to grow and evolve in a market that’s in constant flux. Leading organizational change efforts might be an unexpected addition to the CFO’s expanding list of responsibilities—but as PSP Investments’ Nathalie Bernier has proven, the CFO is absolutely up to the challenge.
About Canada’s CFO of the Year Award
Presented by Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, PwC Canada, and Robert Half, Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award is given annually to recognize and honour the best in financial leadership.