GWG Life’s Bill Acheson Talks About CFO Challenges

For GWG Life CFO Bill Acheson, the job of chief financial officer means having to know everything about the company he or she works for.

“The CFO is in the unique position of being very well-versed in things that are important—accounting, controls, regulation, as well as financials and filings—but they’re also in the middle of business strategy and know what the risks around a company are,” Acheson told listeners at the Twin Cities Business annual CFO Forum on July 13 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley.

The forum was moderated by editor in chief Dale Kurschner and sponsored by CBIZ, Colliers International, BMO Harris Bank and Salo and a story about it was published in the magazine

Joining Acheson on the panel were Kathleen Pepski, CFO of Hawkins Inc., a Roseville-based chemical manufacturing and distribution company; Kim Nelson, CFO of SPS Commerce, a Minneapolis-based retail-focused technology company; and Marcel Smits, CFO and executive vice president of Cargill, a worldwide provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products, based in Wayzata.

The companies share some features. SPS Commerce and GWG Life launched IPOs (in 2010 and 2014, respectively); Hawkins and Cargill are longstanding companies. Yet each business has encountered a different set of challenges and opportunities.

For GWG Life, planning for growth isn’t quite as simple. “Our plans are based on the amount of capital we can raise and the cash flows that are coming from our life insurance portfolio, which at our stage of growth has a lot of uncertainty,” says Acheson.

“We have targets we want to achieve over time, but due to the nature of our cash flow, we don’t spend a great deal of time on planning that income,” he says. “We plan a lot more for volume and customer acquisition. Our capital can fluctuate significantly from month to month so we have to stay nimble and take a bit of a longer-term view.”

But regardless of how much you plan, “there are some risks you can manage and some that you can’t,” says Acheson, “and the ones you can’t, you have to get over and move on.”