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3 types of CFO Advisory: which one is right for you?

If you’re looking for a temporary, external or contract Chief Financial Officer you’ll probably Google one of three search terms:

  • CFO Advisory
  • Virtual CFO
  • Interim CFO
types of CFO Advisory
Google: Worldwide External CFO search terms

“Virtual CFO” dominates the searches – a cynic might conclude that people wanting CFO services would prefer not to actually see their CFO’s in person! Just kidding – CFO advice is no longer dependent on giving advice face to face all the time. We make use of technology to help clients anywhere, while still valuing face to face interactions.

You’ll quickly notice during your search that the actual titles used in the search terms aren’t really different. Others you may come across include Outsourced CFO, Consulting CFO, Contract CFO, Fractional CFO, and (our personal favourite) External CFO. They all simply mean being able to hire a high-level adviser on a consulting/contract basis to give guidance and advice to senior management.

How can I find the right CFO?

No two CFO’s are the same – their advice comes from their study, qualifications, industry experience, regional experience, professional networks, and more. This is why your choices of External CFO vary so much, and why it can be so difficult to find one that “fits” with you and your business.

3 types of CFO Advisory

To make the CFO advice market easier to understand we’ve split it into 3 categories. We’ve also made a few generalities, so if you know of some exceptions to the categories below, it’s ok. We’re writing this to make it easier for businesses to understand what CFO Advisory can offer them.

1. Accounting Firms (Business Advisory)

Medium to large accounting firms (and some small ones!) offer Business Advisory services to businesses. This advice goes beyond compliance, by helping business owners make better business decisions through data. Think of things like Key Performance Indicators, Cashflow Management, Management Reporting, Advisory Boards, Strategy and Structuring.

Pros:

  • Experience of many businesses in a range of industries
  • Knowledge of the local market

Potential Cons:

  • Risk of compliance focus more than commercial advice
  • cookie-cutter approach

Business Advisory is definitely a useful extension of the traditional accounting services offered by public accountants. Their exposure to many businesses in their geographic region means easy access to what works and what doesn’t locally, as well as up to date advice based on local trends and impacts.

2. The “Big Four” professional services firms (Corporate Advisory)

Everybody has heard of the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PWC). Most of us remember the Big Five (Arthur Anderson, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers). Some of us remember the Big Six (Arthur Anderson, Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG, Price Waterhouse). We won’t talk about the Big Eight because that would be giving away our age as they ruled the global professional services market until the late 1980’s. Their CFO Advisory is built on a large base of worldwide knowledge across a very wide range of professions.

Pros:

  • Access to knowledge and expertise
  • Ability to scale up quick for clients

Cons:

  • Consulting first and foremost
  • Cost

If you want access to (literally) world class data and experience on anything and everything that could affect your business, talk to one of the Big Four. They know their stuff and if they don’t, they’ll put together a team of people to find out. They have access to specialists in pretty much any field you could possibly need, and can scale up for big projects very fast.

3. Ex-CFO’s (CFO Advisory)

The difference with an ex-CFO is fairly obvious – they have done the job before! They are familiar with governance, strategy, and operations. They also are confident in working with all levels of a business.

Pros:

  • Actual experience as a CFO in business
  • Ability to plan strategy and execute operations

Cons:

  • Finding the right CFO for your organisation

Ex-CFO’s are generally able to more time with a business. This is useful when a business is going through change and requires ongoing guidance and support.

While experience is great, it needs to be the RIGHT experience for your business. No two CFO’s are the same – each has a unique set of training, experience, personality, and networks.

Which of the 3 types of CFO Advisory is best for my business?

You need to find a match to your requirements, taking into account aspects such as your business’:

  • Industry
  • Size
  • Resources
  • Capacity
  • Goals

With those factors in mind you can determine why you need a CFO, for example:

  • plan or execute strategy
  • seek and negotiate funding
  • implement or improve systems, policies and processes
  • train and coach staff
  • Sounding board / give advice to CEO and management

When you’ve searched and found an External CFO that seems like a good match for your business, meet them:

  • Explain your business, your goals, and your pain points
  • Let them explain how they’ve helped other businesses
  • Discuss how they would be able to add value to your business

You’ll generally quickly get a feeling for whether you’ll work well together based on this discussion. Don’t worry if it requires additional meetings, because your CFO should be one of your most trusted advisers, so take the time to make the right decision.

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