Thinking (and acting) globally
An interview with Worldpay CFO Stephanie Ferris
Stephanie Ferris was named CFO of US-based Vantiv, a leading provider of payments processing services and related technology solutions for merchants and financial institutions, in March 2016, 16 months before the company announced the biggest acquisition in its history: A $10 billion offer for UK-based Worldpay Group plc. The deal closed on January 16, 2018, and created one of the world’s largest payments companies, now called Worldpay, Inc.
In this interview with John S. England and Bob Bitter, both senior partners, Audit & Assurance, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Stephanie Ferris discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by the acquisition and how her finance organization is addressing them. She also speaks about her career journey and the importance of taking risks in one’s career with Carol Larson, senior partner, Audit & Assurance, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and champion for Women in Finance for the Deloitte CFO Program.
John England: What are some top issues for your finance team, given the scope of the Worldpay acquisition?
Stephanie Ferris: The acquisition is transformative because it brings together two large payment processors with a US and global footprint, and it was the first for Vantiv outside the US. At the company level we're focused on delivering on revenue and cost synergies—including expanding e-commerce revenue globally—and on integrating our technology platforms.
For our finance organization, our primary focus is on supporting the business by providing more insightful analytics and strategic financial support. We now have to do that on an international scale and consider the complexities of different tax systems, capital structures, and currencies, and think globally about many different aspects of our business. A big part of that involves retaining and recruiting the best talent to ensure that we are either developing or acquiring the necessary skills to work on a global scale. We are partnering with our talent organization and working to develop an operating model to help achieve that.
Of course, it's important to focus on shareholder value. For finance, that means assisting in delivering revenue and cost synergies, meeting customer commitments, hitting our financial commitments, and ensuring that the culture and operating models are working to deliver on those.
John England: How does the emphasis on shareholder value affect how you address relations with investors and the board?
Stephanie Ferris: The combined company is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange with a secondary listing on the London Stock Exchange, so our primary investor relations program will be focused on that. We are also evolving our program to address the needs of a more diverse shareholder base, as well as support the two exchange listings, and are evaluating how to upgrade our capabilities. Our primary focus, though, remains the same: to provide direct and transparent communication with our investment community. That means providing the right amount of information, being clear about our goals and what we need to accomplish, and explaining how we regard economic conditions.
I plan to apply the same type of relationship-building with the board as we do with investors because I believe the board adds so much value to the business. Building these relationships takes time, but they're very important. With the composition of our board changing it's even more critical to have strong board relations.
Bob Bitter: With technology driving change in consumer payments, how does that affect company strategy?
Stephanie Ferris: The majority of our capital investment is on technology because that is our manufacturing plant, if you will. Working with our COO, we spend a lot of time thinking, on a multi-year basis, about where we're spending that money, how much to spend on product development versus infrastructure, etc.
One of the reasons I love the payments industry is because the way consumers interact with merchants is evolving so quickly. Brick-and-mortar businesses expanding into e-commerce and online vendors establishing physical presences are giving rise to an omnichannel buying experience. In that environment, merchants want to be able to take payments in any way their customers want to pay. Our job is to make sure that we can enable transactions in whatever way consumers prefer, whether online, in-store or via mobile apps or emerging "mobile wallets."
Carol Larson: Turning to your career, what are some opportunities and experiences that have shaped it?
Stephanie Ferris: After spending the first part of my career in auditing and finance I had the chance to work as a general manager in our merchant bank division, where I was in charge of sales, product, client management, and marketing. When you run a business unit and you are the one who has to both set and execute the strategy—including closing new deals and hitting the sales goal—you get a much different perspective; you're going from the sidelines onto the middle of the field. That experience enabled me to come back to the CFO role with a more well-rounded view of what it takes to grow and run a business, and how I
Bob Bitter: How important is taking a post outside of finance to the path to CFO?
Stephanie Ferris: When you consider what CEOs and boards value in CFOs today, it is having people with experience beyond finance. But to obtain that experience you need someone who is willing to sponsor you and give you that opportunity. Therefore it's critical to communicate clearly about what you want to do with your career and where you ultimately see yourself, and also be willing to see what the company needs. In my case it wasn't simply that I wanted to run a business—the company needed help in that particular business unit, I was willing to do it, and others were willing to give me the opportunity. So it's important to have an ongoing dialogue with a mentor or sponsor, communicating about your aspirations, being willing to take chances, and seizing the opportunities.
Supporting others in their careers is also how I measure my own success. I consider how many people I can contribute to the business, whether through rotational programs or moving them to other positions after they leave finance. The development of finance staff is important, and I would like to have finance people in every part of the organization; I think it makes for much better financial decision-making and a better company over the long term.
Carol Larson: For women aspiring to the CFO position or another executive role, what do you consider important?
Stephanie Ferris: First and foremost, I think that to rise to CFO you have to have a love for finance. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be in the profession, because I think finance rocks! I also think it's important to take on roles that may seem scary or risky. You have to be willing to take a risk when the time is right, and not taking risks may be something that tends to hold women back in the profession. I think it's important for women to be encouraged to take some career risks, and to take them without worrying about having the perfect equation or plan for how their career and family decisions can all be balanced. Certainly, Wall Street could benefit from having more women in key positions.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with CEOs, CFOs, and other executives. Stephanie Ferris's participation in this article is solely for educational purposes based on her knowledge of the subject, and the views expressed by her are solely her own. This article should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for Worldpay, Inc., nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by Worldpay.