Whether you call them hourly, part-time, or fractional, in today’s startup economy, many CEOs, investors and lenders recognize that outsourced CFOs can provide big value to small and growing companies. At the same time, because the CFO title implies a certain degree of control over a company’s finances, contracting a part-time CFO raises questions about standards.
Outsourced CFOs can charge in the ballpark of $150-$200+ per hour, depending on region. Deciding whether to hire one is like deciding whether your budget can handle making a call to your lawyer. That is, for a small company it’s not a small decision.
However, a high-quality CFO, no matter what the payment arrangement, aims to see the future and take proactive measures to keep things running smoothly and, ultimately, pay for themselves. She or he may analyze risks, strategize, investigate cost and process improvements, study the industry, answer questions, and stand ready to be accountable for the financials and other key issues. They know that managing and tracking data now can build value for the company’s future exit.
Do CEOs who hire outsourced CFOs on a part-time basis have a right to expect they will get someone who will handle those sorts of things?
If an outsourced CFO’s smiling face is shown in the client company’s marketing materials and website, and presented to investors — and yet the client wants the CFO’s services for only five hours per month despite being busy with many customers, 20 employees and several investors, is that person really the CFO?
I believe that those are gray-area questions that don’t lend themselves “yes” or “no” answers. But they do warrant conversation.
For me, it comes down to a matter of quality. Months after forming the VenturePack team and transitioning from the middle-market world to the startup environment, I’m starting to lean toward not accepting a client if I feel its hourly budget won’t allow us to have full accountability and representation of the client company’s finances. When we do accept a client, we integrate CFO management of the entire accounting function using our own team or a custom combination of our team and the client’s. We also consider providing limited services per the client’s request, but without accepting the official “CFO” position.
As an executive of a startup company, what do you think? If you’re going to outsource the CFO role, what do you have in mind as the scope of that role? And, does it make sense to pay the CFO on an hourly basis versus having a flat-rate contract? Do you feel you get the value add when part of your rate goes toward the overhead of an outsourced CFO firm versus an individual part-time CFO who is working solo?
The outsourced CFO industry grown out of infancy in the last decade. Now, though, investors and lenders are starting to ask more details about the scope of these contracts. I know many whip-smart outsourced CFOs, and I’m hopeful that together, as the industry grows, we’ll continue to support its value proposition to the entrepreneurs we service.