The accounting industry is facing significant changes. Common, routine services like bookkeeping and tax preparation are flooding the market. Business owners have so many options in providers of ordinary accounting services, that the prices for them are steadily decreasing. There’s no denying the need for these services will continue to exist. But, with the lack of diversity in the market, the value of these services is expected to decline.
Artificial intelligence and technology are also why the market for ordinary accounting services are overcrowded. Individuals and business owners are taking advantage of cheaper, DIY options to do their bookkeeping and tax preparation. These technologies make it easy for a non-accountants to perform basic, yet necessary accounting tasks on their own.
In response to these market changes, many accounting professionals have considered or are already offering higher-level services to their clients, such as tax planning, advisory, audits, controller and virtual CFO services. These services require more expert-level knowledge and a consultative edge that common accounting services may lack.
In particular, virtual CFO services are becoming popular. The demand for CFOs is increasing, and business owners are turning to their accountant. They don't just want a bookkeeper or tax preparer. They're seeking a financial consultant they can rely on to help grow their business.
But what exactly is a virtual CFO?
A virtual CFO makes it possible for small and mid-size businesses to receive CFO-level support without the cost of internally hiring one. Virtual CFOs typically work on a part-time basis, which is why it is more affordable. Yet, still, they provide similar financial expertise and competence of a full-time professional.
The specific duties of a virtual CFO are unique to the company providing them but can include:
- Managing all financial activities of the business.
- Providing financial insights on business decisions.
- Generating company-specific reports.
- Monitoring the financial health and growth of the business.
As you can see, many of the duties performed by a CFO are virtual in nature. With the help of technology, offering virtual CFO services haven’t been more feasible. This creates an opportunity for accountants to stay ahead of the market and deliver high-level value to business owners everywhere.
If you’re already a virtual CFO or interested in offering this service, remember the five virtues every virtual CFO should live by:
Due to its complexity, accountants tend to explain finances in a vague way to non-accountants. Remember accounting is the language of business and most of your clients don’t understand it.
Instead, when servicing your virtual CFO client, be more practical. How can they apply what you’re recommending and what does it actually mean for their business? They’ll see more value in what you’re doing for them if they can mentally process it. They’ll also feel more empowered to take action, which is ultimately what you want.
What differentiates between ordinary accounting services and virtual CFO services is the advisory component. As a virtual CFO, you’ll need to be an advisor to your clients by providing recommendations, financial insights and business solutions to the problems they’re experiencing.
In order to be an advisor to clients, a virtual CFO will need to keep a high-level perspective on the business. Asking questions like, “What are the company’s financial objectives? Are they headed in that direction? What financial weaknesses are slowing them from reaching their goals?”
Remember the reason why they sought CFO services in the first place. Clients want expertise and advice on how to take their business to the next level.
Every successful engagement needs good communication on both sides. Without it, you’re left unable to complete certain tasks and the client is not getting the help they need to move forward.
It’s critical to set clear expectations and align on regular forms of communication with your virtual CFO client. Phone/video conferencing, email, chat, or even text are all acceptable forms of communication. Many virtual CFOs build in the frequency of communication into their monthly fee. For example, a weekly call might spur a different fee than a monthly call.
Whatever your communication methodologies, make sure to be transparent and consistent about them.
As a virtual CFO, a large part of your value is holding your clients accountable. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or follow up after a meeting. Your clients will be appreciative of your care and attention to their business’s success. Think of a personal trainer. Their role is to not only train you but to hold you accountable for your exercise and diet choices. A virtual CFO should hold their clients accountable. Confirm they’re putting action behind your strategies and recommendations.
To be clear, an accountability partner is not responsible for getting the actions done. They are, however, responsible for outlining the actions in the first place.
Technology should create more efficiency for a virtual CFO. Whether by means of software, tools, or subscriptions, these elements are necessary for providing CFO-level reports and service. So, it is important for virtual CFOs to be abreast on the latest accounting technology that could be used to better serve clients. You may have to advise clients on new technologies to implement to make their lives easier. But, that is apart of your role and value that you bring to the table.
Keep in mind, your suite of technology should be secure. Consider the types of firewall and network protection features.
It’s important to remember the value of an actual, internal CFO. Their role is to report on and manage the financial actions of an organization. You’ll need to think high level, while also being efficient and practical while being a virtual CFO. This creates the opportunity to serve your client in an invaluable, sustainable way.
About Krystal Standberry
Krystal Standberry, CPA is a registered investment advisor and founding partner at LYFE Accounting which offers full-service accounting and tax to businesses nationally. Krystal loves consulting small business owners about their financial goals and working with them as they grow. Her background brings experience from public accounting, international tax, and industry accounting.