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So you want to be a CFO

So you are thinking about adding CFO services to your firm, you’ve heard the constant push by the industry around advisory and the hype about the future of compliance and bookkeeping being dead, and while you aren’t 100 per cent buying into it, you do realise that the firm of the future will look considerably different to what it does now.

Insights Sarah Lawrance, Hot Toast 01 November 2019
— 5 minute read

So what does that look like? And really how do CFO services differ from what we are currently offering our clients at a bookkeeping or accounting level? How can you as the practitioner leverage these services successfully in your own firm?

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The CFO

Traditionally, the CFO has been responsible for the financial management of a company. With the role including oversight and management of risk, record keeping and reporting and while fundamentally none of this has changed, what has changed are the scope and the opportunity that now exist in the SME space with technology and access to data.

The ability to leverage our financial training and expertise in association with the operational and strategic parts of the business has been a real game changer for proactive CFOs.

Any good CFO understands that while their role is grounded in experience and technical knowledge the real magic happens when they are able to support the business in a holistic way to affect change and drive strategy.

In the SME space and from a practice standpoint, this is also where opportunity exists in your service offering. Offering CFO services is one thing, offering them well is another and one you should consider when looking at rounding out your firm’s services.

I’m a big believer in doing things well or not at all. While you can and should be introducing CFO services in a piecemeal way with some of your more proactive clients, I suggest you do it in a structured way ensuring that there is an honest and transparent feedback loop between client and practice that can capture any learnings in those early days. A process that I don’t believe most accountants and bookkeepers practice regularly enough.

The industry is littered with firms that add services to their roster based on the latest push that they have learnt from the latest conference, while there is opportunity if you don’t actually deliver in the end to your clients then it is barely more than a marketing stunt for your practice and one that can result in lost clients and damaging your brand.

So where is the opportunity? The opportunity starts in engagement; you should have a good understanding already around where the client sits in the industry and basic strategy.

Before the three-way forecast, before the cash management process and before the KPIs understand the strategy and company.

If they don’t have one, then start that process with them. You want to do advisory, you want to be a CFO? Well the journey starts here, be concerned, ask questions, frame and contribute to the company’s strategy and business plan. Sure, it may be from a financial lens initially but no consultant or training course can help you hone your skills like getting out there and talking to your clients.

Ensure you walk away from that planning session with a good understanding and overview as to the workings of the business and how that intersects with finance. The knowledge you build and rapport with management from these sessions will be of benefit throughout the entire engagement.

Because the CFO service offering sits in a slightly different space to the bookkeeper or traditional compliance accountant with more touchpoints required than your traditional accountant role, it also becomes important to factor this into your pricing and packaging.

Technology and data

So you nail your first planning session, what is next? 

We live in a time where we have more access to operational and financial data than ever before. We operate 100 per cent in the cloud as do our clients so to a certain extent our clients being familiar in the app space and having an appetite around data and understanding its value have worked in our favour and made the roll out of our services far easier. 

The key and opportunity here for CFOs are to understand not all data is equal – or more importantly that not all company data needs to be accessed and tracked to effect change and keep a company accountable in the SME space. Understand a company’s levers and its strategy; this becomes the starting point for you to craft a tech and data strategy for your client.

Make sure your solution is in real time and that you educate, educate, educate your clients on the cause and effect of one lever being pulled and how that has a flow-on effect to operations, marketing, sales and other departments. A company’s data becomes a CFO’s secret (or not so secret) weapon. Once you start to understand the ebbs and flows of a particular company then having a structured data-driven analysis methodology in place with clean data allows you to quickly identify the opportunities and the inefficiencies that exist in a company and how to leverage or close them down.

Collaboration

Don’t work in a silo, get out to industry and non-industry events, and flex your referral and networking muscles. Not only will this help your practice but also give you depth with your clients and in the CFO role. Opportunities tend to present themselves when you push yourself outside your comfort zone. Understand that any good CFO has a network behind them that they can quickly and easily tap into for advice on areas outside their expertise. Also having the ability to link up clients where there is an upside for all parties can prove a real winner for everyone concerned.

Chief executive storyteller

Become the company’s chief executive storyteller, you already have the skill set to understand the numbers, now become the company’s chief storyteller to communicate this and get company buy-in. You can be the smartest girl or guy in the room but if you can’t communicate this and get buy-in at the company/board or management level then it’s like losing the 100-metre sprint in the last few seconds. Traditionally our industry hasn’t focused on this area as much as the technical but when you are standing in front of a board talking about scaling, setting up operations internationally or merging with another company then your method of storytelling and delivery becomes critical. When you are talking to a business owner or department head about driving efficiency and the most effective way to do this to hit target, your method of storytelling and delivery becomes critical! Don’t underestimate this. Use a live dashboard system that helps you and enhances the story you are telling. Make sure that it includes financial and non-financial data that directly links back to KPIs. The modern CFO understands the need to be finance expert but also that this role touches all departments and stakeholders and that communication and delivery need to be on point to effectively deliver the message.     

Final thoughts

The proactive CFO of 2019 sits at the crossroads of accounting, tech and data. Understanding the numbers and what levers can be pulled to support and execute the business strategy from not just a financial lens but also an operational one presents a real opportunity for those bookkeepers and accountants out there considering broadening their service offering.    

Stay curious, stay hungry, and stay ahead of the curve! 

Sarah Lawrance, founder, Hot Toast

So you want to be a CFO
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