The CFO'S Perspective

When Does a Business Need a CFO?


There is no one better positioned inside a company than the CFO to develop structure from a complex process, and create sustainable financial success in business. The CFO takes their financial expertise and channels it into a strategic leadership role to create financial success for the company and its stakeholders.

A CFO has a deep understanding of your business model and your banking relationships, works with your board of directors, prepares detailed financial and management reports, works with auditors, oversees tax planning, and sets policies around controls and payroll. Their responsibilities include: budgeting and forecasting, managing mergers or acquisitions, and compliance issues.

The CFO is forward-thinking as they consider economic, industry, tax, government regulation and social issues. A CFO is especially valuable for a company that is growing quickly, has a large number of employees, and complex product lines. Finance officers also bring tremendous value to a company when it is considering making an acquisition or preparing itself to be acquired.

A CFO can provide leadership when forecasting performance is particularly important as a company sets its sights on obtaining funding.

Determining the type of CFO or what level of skill is needed is dependent on the state of the company, and where it expects to be in the near term. For companies experiencing more rapid growth, a common trigger for hiring a CFO may be related to a decision to acquire investment capital. In this case, the finance chief often becomes the liaison charged with keeping investors updated on how the company is performing. The type of organization, whether it is in the public or private sector, and its history and culture will also influence the type of CFO required.

The shifting markets, advancements in technology, and globalization have stretched the definition of the CFO role. It is not productive to stretch the role of a CFO too far, as it is obvious not to expect a CFO will be good at everything.

CFOs perform a number of essential tasks. These can include:

  • Act as a right hand and sounding board for the CEO to grow the business.
  • Ensure timely collection of revenue. CFOs play a key role in keeping a business funded.
  • Nurture relationships with sources of capital and help relieve the CEO of the burden of managing relationships with investors, lenders, and key partners.
  • Business is more data-driven than ever. CFOs provide analysis into that data and offer key insights.

A CFO may be needed:

  • During rapid growth

Rapid growth is an important indicator that a CFO is needed. Growth requires an expansion of automated systems, and additional capital and financing. A CFO is well suited to handle rapid revenue growth due to potentially increased complexity. They will interpret the investment and technology, and the terms of acquiring capital. 

For a company to grow more quickly, a CFO will analyze the company’s current financial position, market trends to implement the best strategies, and improve cash flow and profits.

For industries with frequent disruptions that require dramatic changes in the allocation of resources, and companies that have a rapid growth or aggressive M&A plan, external CFOs have become an important resource. External hires are especially valued for their experience in M&A, their external networks, independent thinking, and strategic insight. Many CFOs with growth expertise have served in professional services firms such as investment banking, consulting, or private equity for a large portion of their career.

  • To develop new products, markets, or offerings

The future is more unpredictable than ever. Disruptive technology, shifting market dynamics, and new leadership models require change, an ability to adapt. As a result, the CFO looked to as a change specialist.

The CFO helps to identify new opportunities and transform the company’s products and markets, capitalize and plan for future growth, create and effectively communicate the corporate growth story. 

CFOs will consider a number of important issues to ensure there is a business case for expansion which may also include the global marketplace. Data indicates there is a steady move toward globalization. According to S&P Dow Jones Indices, S&P 500 companies attributed just 52.2 percent of their revenue to U.S. sales in 2014, reflecting a trend for companies adopting an international approach to business growth. Many U.S.-based companies are exploring opportunities to sell their goods and services beyond their immediate market. Reasons include slow domestic growth and an increase in international demand. A CFO will ask the essential questions that revolve around the best market and timing of the expansion.

  • For M&A, outside investors or debt facilitation

When a business is preparing for a merger or acquisition, a team is needed to evaluate a potential acquisition. In many cases, this will be outsourced, and the firm will also perform the financial and regulatory due diligence.

The CFO will interpret the reports from the due diligence team to tailor the terms according to the findings.  A CFO should have the ability to communicate these finding to a potential investor or lender. A CFO will be well prepared and anticipate questions to shorten the process.

  • When profitability is not at a desirable level, and you don’t know why

Controlling costs, improving productivity, and analyzing pricing strategies are three ways the CFO can improve profitability.  By improving visibility into profitability, better decisions can be made across the company. Through oversight and management of the financial departments, the CFO can keep the CEO, board, and investors informed with past and current financial reports. 

A CFO will drill deep to evaluate the productivity of employees to determine if bottlenecks or slowdowns in operations exist. Financial reports from the CFO allow the CEO to get a better overview and analyze net income from sales revenues and operational expenses.

  • As tax planning has become complex

A business’s integrity is based on its ability to prepare and disclose accurate financial results and uphold its tax obligations. It may be time to hire a CFO when a company is unable to do so.

High net worth companies often face complex tax rules and regulations. A CFO acts as an advisor and helps to:

      • Interpret changes in the law and which decisions can provide benefits.
      • Analyze the tax benefits of investment, capitalization, and M&A opportunities.
      • Provide guidance for any financial overlap between owners, shareholders and the businesses they own.
      • Improve current tax positions.
      • Build and preserve assets.

Tim Wach, managing director at Taxand, the global tax adviser, says: “The last decade has seen the political and public perception of [tax] planning change dramatically, with people seeing any form of planning as damaging to the reputation and a corresponding increase in tax audits by authorities globally. 

“Our recent survey found that 77%  of CFOs and tax directors said they had seen an increase in the number of audits undertaken by tax authorities in the past year – up from 60%t who said this in 2015.” 

While the pressure for chief financial officers to reduce taxes can be intense, he notes that companies are becoming increasingly aware of a “negative view of tax avoidance.”

Taxand’s survey found that 91%t of chief financial officers and tax directors believe that exposure to a company’s tax policy has a detrimental impact on a company’s reputation, up from and 51% in 2011.   - Source: Raconteur

If strategic planning is a priority, a company needs to invest financially in its people and technology to support business processes such as budgeting, forecasting, and long-term planning. An effective CFO understand this and will balance their role of strategist across the business.

  • Need for a business partner to develop and execute strategy; provide leadership and oversight

Ultimately, the CEO is at the center of developing a strategy process. However, the CFO is a key participant in the planning process by expanding on the CEO’s strategies. The CFO can ensure that the financial constraints surrounding the strategy are not unrealistic or too risky.

A good CFO will be the right hand of a CEO, ready to support and challenge him or her in leading the business. The CFO will communicate business performance and issues to the board. They will share key information and concepts to their peers to facilitate discussion and decision making, and to subordinates to ensure efficiency and keep them motivated.

CEOs and boards would like CFOs to not only deliver timely and accurate financial information but also partner with them in shaping the company’s strategy.

The CFO is more knowledgeable about the finances, processes, and risk mitigation needed to achieve the strategic vision of the CEO. The CFO can outline the details of a strategic plan, test it, review its viability, and advise on potential changes to the plan to achieve the desired result.

CFOs are an invaluable ally to the CEO and often occupy a seat on the board, bridging the gap between day-to-day operations and the company’s strategic direction. 

A CFO may take over the strategic planning direction if the execution is complex.

  • Need for visibility of future cash flows

If there is a need for someone to take charge of your business capital because your money is not growing, it is an indication that you need a CFO. This includes determining the specific investment strategy and the asset classes to be considered.

The CFO will perform an accurate forecast, evaluate your terms, set up and enforce a payment discipline and segment your customers, suppliers, and inventory.

  • A desire to better understand your margins

One example of how margins can be impacted is pricing strategy. Your company leaders may be unaware of the cumulative impact of the potentially thousands of pricing decisions made on a daily basis. A lack of discipline in price execution can, over time, be more damaging than a poorly-defined pricing strategy. Pricing strategy can be a significant lever for expanding profit margins and monitoring execution more so.

  • You lack detailed financial data that is critical to making sound business decisions

Without detailed financial data, decision-making relies on intuition and gut. It can also lead to conflicts within an organization where everyone has their personal version of ‘the truth.'  The lack of information might be key data about cash flow, working capital, or a forecast of liquidity. You may lack awareness of economic, industry, and regulatory changes that could drastically affect your business. Or you are unable to generate financial reports required by bankers, suppliers, shareholders, investors, and partners. Any of these examples can be reasons you need a CFO.

CEOs are empowered with a financial executive in place who knows how to solve problems and run the business financially.  CFOs are perfectly positioned to help create a company that is financially strong, and creates wealth for its owners.

You don’t necessarily have to invest in a full-time CFO right away. At first, someone who comes in one or two days a week might suffice.  If you believe there is a need for a CFO in your organization, please contact us here.  At your convenience, we will be happy to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your needs and business challenges. 

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Topics: CFO

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