Helping a Client Hire a CFO
by Colleen Cullari, Cullari Carrico LLC –
April 4, 2018
Helping a client with hiring a chief financial officer (CFO) can be a daunting task. You could read 100 articles describing what a CFO is and get 100 different descriptions, because they are all relevant to what each individual company is looking for in a CFO. In the past, a CFO was charged with having insight to the overall financial direction of the company — performing cash flow analysis, financial planning and notifying the board of directors about how the company is doing financially based on management’s strategic business plan. More frequently, the board and other members of management now expect CFOs to assist in developing the strategic business plan and contributing to how it is carried out based on the company’s finances. However, in smaller entities, the CFO’s job responsibilities could carry over into other areas as well. As with any hiring decision, the expectation lies in the job description, not the title. Helping a client hire a CFO is the easy part, but understanding your client’s needs, working with them to develop a well-thought-out job description and offering opinions regarding the type of CFO they hire and how to ultimately evaluate that individual’s work product is the challenging part.
Defining the Role
Helping a client hire a CFO has more to do with helping the client determine their true financial needs than actually assisting them with finding someone — that can be left up to the recruiting team. Typically, identifying the problem in current financial operations will assist in developing the solution or, in this case, the job description. Is the client struggling with transparency in financial reporting whereas the board is looking for a clearer picture of how the company is doing? Or, is the CEO a great forward thinker for the company but lacks the financial knowledge to negotiate pertinent contracts, which is where the new CFO would step in? Consequently, the applicant who may flourish in financial reporting may flounder at negotiating contracts and vice versa, but both identified issues could be construed as a CFO type of job responsibility. Assisting your client with developing an appropriate job description based on their business needs is crucial to having success in this process.
Evaluating the Candidates
After weeding through resumes and having numerous initial interviews, there comes a point when upper management and the board will have to make a decision regarding who to hire. Helping the client determine the type of person best suited for the job can be a challenge in itself. The client may ask if they should hire an applicant who has developed organically within the company or hire someone from an outside independent search. They may ponder whether to seek an individual with many years of experience to handle complex matters or a younger candidate who is eager to learn and change with the company’s goals and objectives. All types of applicants have their pros and cons, but the CPA can help to further understand the client’s needs and give consultative advice as to the type of applicant who would best transition into the role smoothly and perform well.
Outsourcing is an Option
Sometimes, when the search becomes a long process, the client’s best option may be sitting across the table from them. External CFO services have become a fast-growing alternative for many CPA firms.
Many times, a CPA helps a client find a CFO, but fails to carry through to ensure the relationship is one that is positive. It is important to educate clients on how to appropriately evaluate the CFO’s position annually to ensure success. Within the first year, the CFO should be assessed on how well they carried out the board’s and management’s plan for them, based on the job description for which they were hired. However, going forward, it is the CFO’s job, together with other members of upper management and ultimately the board, to make decisions about the future financial position of the company. It is the CFO’s responsibility to plan future outlooks and have them approved by the board. Annually, this individual should be evaluated by how well they performed the job responsibilities they set out for themselves. This will ensure that the client’s needs are met for the long term and demonstrate that your consultation was truly a value-added service.
This article appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.