CFO's Scope of Responsibilities
Updated: Oct 25
I started drafting this post on the CFO’s Scope of Responsibilities about six years ago when I was interviewing for my first Interim CFO position with Sellas. I was coming into this role from a private equity and investment banking background.
While some things were self-evident because I coached and mentored dozens of CFOs for portfolio companies, some responsibilities were new to me. After serving in multiple CFO roles for private and public companies, I am finalizing this post from the practical knowledge of being the finance chief. These are the financial operations (FinOps) of the company,
One of the primary responsibilities of a CFO is to diligently maintain and accurately communicate the company’s financial information. Ensuring that the financial reporting process adheres to relevant accounting principles, standards, and regulatory requirements is critical. Depending on the organization’s jurisdiction, this may be generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP in the United States) or international financial reporting standards (IFRS in Europe or other countries).
Financial reporting often targets external stakeholders such as lenders, investors, regulatory officials, or the general public. As a CFO, I found that internal reporting is essential and involves developing, tracking, and communicating salient KPIs (key performance indicators) for the organization and sharing them internally. Such KPIs include cash on hand, monthly burn, or operating cash flows.
The audit is a significant part of the reporting responsibilities. The finance team provides the financial data, responds to auditor inquiries, and addresses any findings or issues identified during the audit. I intend to dedicate a separate post to the audit as it is an essential deliverable for the CFO and the entire organization.
CFOs are responsible for establishing and maintaining robust internal financial controls. While some controls ensure the accuracy and integrity of financial information, others are meant to safeguard company assets and prevent unauthorized activities. These financial controls range from establishing policies on how much which employee may spend within the organization, which agreements an officer may sign, or how much cash one can transfer. Financial controls also involve periodic checks on whether the organization complies with the policies and procedures. Among other things, periodic book closings, reconciliations, and internal financial reports review are a part of the process.
Financial Planning & Analysis
CFOs often play a vital role in the budgeting and forecasting processes. They collaborate with department heads to develop budgets, track performance against these budgets, and provide variance analysis to understand the reasons for deviations. One product of the work is a long-term financial model that projects the company’s financial performance over several years. These models help evaluate investment opportunities, capital allocation decisions, and fundraising needs. Depending on the size of the finance and accounting team, the CFO may need to create and run the model herself; often, several professionals run the model and support the CFO in making decisions.
Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable
Financial leads play an active part in the collection and disbursement of cash. In the context of a startup, where liquidity is critical to survival, the discipline with which bills are being paid, and invoices collected, may impact the company’s valuation and long-term success. The procedures for processing incoming invoices and routing them for payment, as well as getting the invoices out of the door and collecting cash, may be less glamorous aspects of the CFO work. Still, it is essential for organizational health.
Not all CFOs spend a lot of time managing treasury functions. Many startups may not have this treasury function involving cash, liquidity, working capital, short-term borrowings, and foreign exchange – these domains are more standard for larger and well-established organizations. That being said, if the company has raised some capital, it must allocate funds to adequate interest-bearing accounts to protect them against inflation. Similarly, an international investment may require allocating resources in foreign currencies and repatriating revenues home, which will involve planning and, perhaps, hedging to minimize risks. These functions become CFO’s responsibilities.
Capitalization and Investor Relations
This bucket of responsibilities is one of the most time- and energy-consuming for CFOs. This responsibility is also virtually impossible to outsource to anyone within the finance team because it requires a strategic long-term view of the entire organization. When working with startups, I spend most of my time engaging with investors, raising capital, and strengthening the balance sheet.
Per Benjamin Franklin, nothing is certain except death and taxes. And CFOs have unique capabilities to ensure their organization stays compliant with the latter. Many startups lose money and therefore don’t have to pay income taxes. However, in the absence of profits, a company still has to keep up with many other taxation mechanisms, including state franchise taxes (e.g., dues for operating in the state), sales taxes, and employment (and unemployment) taxes. One must be mindful of VAT (or value-added tax) if the organization operates internationally. And when it comes to repatriating the capital from foreign jurisdictions, Uncle Sam may impost GILTI tax. Knowing these taxes and adequately budgeting for them is a major part of the CFO’s responsibilities. Compliance with filing and reporting requirements can easily be outsourced to external professionals.
Managing risk is a critical element of the CFO’s job. One has to identify risks, monitor exposure, establish policies for managing the exposure systemically, and have recovery and contingency planning procedures. For some startups, the CFO addresses risk management through adequate insurance policies (e.g., director and officer, general liability, or fixed asset coverage). With other organizations, risk management may not only be critical to long-term survival, but it may also be mandated by regulators (e.g., banks and FDIC), and the CFO has to drive this effort.
This list of CFO’s responsibilities is not exhaustive. Diligent CFOs take on many more responsibilities as the organization requires them. In my post Startup Smart: Do I Hire A Chief Financial or Chief Operating Officer First? I discuss how CFOs can create a lot of value for startups by driving Chief Operating Officer tasks. I am planning another post in the near future on some unusual tasks such as M&A and strategic transactions CFOs encounter.