Now more than ever, startups and corporates are looking for ways to run lean. There is pressure to make cuts to staff and outsource when possible, and this has led to a trend of hiring virtual CFO services over the more traditional in-house full-time CFO.
You, your board and your investors are probably asking some questions like...
- How do we run on as little executive overhead as possible without missing out on making the right decisions?
- What services do virtual CFOs offer and what will we need to find elsewhere?
- How does working with a virtual CFO actually happen? How often will they be available? How will they deliver reports?
- And, of course, How much do part-time CFOs cost in 2018?
In this post, we'll cover some of the basics of working with a virtual CFO and provide you with some resources for the next step in your decision-making process.
What do virtual CFO services offer?
We'll cover some of the more specific deliverables below, but let's start with some of the broader benefits of virtual CFO services.
- A CFO can identify and manage bookkeeper/controller to produce reliable data and interpret the results, providing insight to help steer the ship toward your stated goals. The result is that you know exactly where, when, and how to focus your team and inform your stakeholders.
- A CFO can be a much-needed sounding board, coach, or guide. Look for a seasoned veteran who you can trust, not merely someone to fill a role. In the end, you'll have a team member who knows your business and can help hold you accountable as you work to reach clearly-defined goals.
- A CFO can position the finance function as a competitive advantage. If you're financially frustrated, chances are your competitors are too, but they're probably not reading this post and actively seeking a solution. An experienced CFO can help you cut waste, deploy cash efficiently, and find opportunities for greater production or expansion. With their help, you can be in a position to step ahead of the other organizations in your niche.
In addition to these more over-arching items, virtual outsourced CFO services almost always offer:
- Identify key metrics and map out reporting to monitor
- Interpret financial results on a regular basis
- Manage annual budgeting process, development of annual strategy
- Cash management & planning
- Strategic planning
Virtual CFO services selectively include:
- Fundraising. Virtual CFOs may create the financial story and can do some light pitching, but don't expect them to spend six months on planes pitching VCs or banks all over the country.
- Manage finance-related IT systems. Don't expect the virtual CFO to manage IT staff, company network, internet access, security, or CRM/ERP systems.
- Participate in board meetings. Virtual CFOs may prep and coach the CEO and can be requested for a presence in meetings.
- Mergers and acquisitions. This usually consists of light advisory and analysis help, but don't expect the provider to take on a months-long due diligence project on a moment’s notice.
Your organization may not be in need of these services at present, but if you are or anticipate being in need, it would be wise to ask about these offerings up front.
Virtual CFO services usually DON'T offer:
- Shouldering burden of all things legal
- Managing HR/Admin (benefits, insurance, hiring/firing of non-finance staff)
- Daily, in-person participation with executive management team
- One-stop for all investor relations
Keep in mind that some virtual CFO services group CFO-level insights with bookkeeping and controller services, essentially delivering an outsourced finance department. If your provider offers CFO services as a stand-alone option, remember that you will not be receiving:
- Optimized workflow
- Transaction entry & classification (recall the adage: garbage-in, garbage-out)
- Accounts receivable
- Accounts payable
- Bank account reconciliation
- CPA support for year-end tax and audit
- Financial control implementation and oversight
The Nuts & Bolts Of A Virtual CFO Engagement
Getting a virtual CFO onboarded, systems in place, and everyone up-to-speed often takes three to four months. A weekly meeting cadence is customary for this period. Some of the common activities accomplished during this time are:
- Goal Setting - Your provider should start by understanding your short and long-term goals. Your goals help determine the information you’ll need to hit the milestones en route to achieving them. Your information requirements, in turn, inform the technology, team, and process needed to generate it.
- Report Design - Your provider should be able to present reports which match the way you interpret data. Some owners digest visual data better and will benefit from more charts and graphs. Others are more numbers-data oriented and can consume reports with numerical data only. The service provider will highlight the few key metrics that you need to be watching now and evolve those as your business challenges and opportunities change.
- Technology Recommendations - Your provider may see that your system would work more efficiently with new software with a balance of price, performance, security, and stability.
- Rebuild Balance Sheet - After some analysis, the provider may need to rework your balance sheet to get a more accurate picture of financial reality.
- Build or Enhance Financial Processes - One benefit of hiring a virtual CFO service provider is that you are not only getting their expertise, but you can benefit by borrowing from their knowledge of processes they've built or used in other businesses. This onboarding time can be used for restructuring your processes for better productivity.
The Virtual CFO service should be able to give you a 90 to 120 day roadmap of everything that will occur in this time period. This roadmap is a crucial first piece in the engagement with the service provider.
Weekly or Monthly Deliverables
After onboarding is completed, the virtual CFO often has a monthly scheduled meeting with your company to review and discuss the financial reporting package. The CFO should also be available at other times as questions come up or when information is needed by either party.
CFO Insights and Communication
The right virtual CFO service will deliver detailed and comprehensive financial reporting. Additionally, they may schedule meetings to provide context and expert guidance around these reports.
Communication is usually handled via phone or video conference with a service like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Document sharing may be handled by email or a document management solution like Box, SmartVault, or Google Drive.
The frequency of regular reporting will depend on your company and needs. The starting point is usually monthly, though weekly cash flow or daily flash reports may need to be shared and monitored.
The data itself will likely come from a variety of sources. The components of the ultimate reporting package may temporarily live in various formats like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, QuickBooks, or an industry-specific analytics tool like SaaSOptics (for SaaS) or AutoTask (for MSPs). The virtual CFO often delivers the final monthly report in a single, easy-to-read PDF.
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