Fran Lawrence, CPA

CFO/deputy treasurer for the North Carolina State Treasurer

Fran Lawrence, CPA, is the CFO/deputy treasurer for the North Carolina State Treasurer. Previously, at Progress Energy, she worked in internal audit and the accounting policy and research unit.
Fran Lawrence, CPA, is the CFO/deputy treasurer for the North Carolina State Treasurer. Previously, at Progress Energy, she worked in internal audit and the accounting policy and research unit. (Photo by Brent Clark/AP Images)

'When change comes, start early and be open'

Anticipate change: During the last 15 years of my career, I've participated in implementation planning for several significant new accounting standards, from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and IFRS to GASB [Statements] 67 and 68. My teams and I got out in front of these changes. When the SEC delayed SOX implementation by a year, my colleagues and I at Progress Energy did a full implementation anyway as a dry run. It was a lot of work, but we wanted to make sure we were ready.

Get stakeholders involved: I began my state government work when GASB 67 and 68 had recently been issued. We launched into planning right away. Particularly important was getting internal and external stakeholders involved early. They included the N.C. Office of the State Controller, boards of trustees over pension plans, areas within our department such as the retirement and state and local government finance functions, and the N.C. General Assembly.

Learn to work lean: Because state agencies have limited personnel resources, we've had to get creative in our implementation efforts. In addition to having an incredible team, we formed partnerships with the state controller's office and Big Four firms. And every month we had information-sharing calls with 40 or more colleagues in other states. In addition, because of the new GASB standards, we've changed the structure of our accounting area to comprise more CPAs and employees with greater technical expertise.

Reach far and wide for best practices: Those of us who learned best practices in other work environments integrate them into our government work when possible. We put the correct policies and procedures in place and document them. We also learn from the state controller's office by discussing our two areas' interpretation of standards. I have pushed for practices such as these because they allow us to be more open and strategic in our work.

Be part of the strategy team: My fellow state CFOs agree that in the last few years our role has evolved beyond our core skill set of accounting, budget, and financial reporting. We now balance that technical training with leadership skills and the ability to open up to the bigger picture. I see this blurring of lines in all the professionals that gather around a table to make strategic decisions—IT, HR, legal, communications, and accounting. Each of us contributes our particular expertise, then as a group we make decisions that work in the long run.

—As told to Amy Krasnyanskaya, a freelance writer in Cary, N.C.

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