Being the CFO Your Client Needs


Being the CFO
Your Client Needs

In a recent webinar, Panalitix CEO Mark Ferris discussed how accountants can offer more strategic (CFO-type) services. Accountants raised great points before and during the event. Here’s a summary below. If you would like to watch the webinar, please get in touch.


What do we really mean by strategic (CFO-type) services? (From an accountant in Minneapolis, USA)

Let’s use a broad definition: A business relies on a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to influence business strategy based on their knowledge of finance. A CFO is a leader with intimate understanding of the corporate vision, goals and plans. They support decision-making to enable the achievement of business goals. (This is in addition to their oversight of matters of compliance, accounting and tax).


Is there a market for [CFO-type services]? (From an accountant in Oregon, USA)

Absolutely! We know this because many accountants successfully provide short and long-term strategic services. We’re also seeing growth in the ‘virtual CFO’ sector (where the CFO doesn’t necessarily work at the client site).

Unfortunately, many clients don’t initially look to their accountant for strategic help. Many prefer to go to ‘placement companies’ that make available skilled finance professionals. Others go to consultants or coaches. Still, others try to hire these skills on a part or full-time basis.


What [should accountants] charge for this work? (From an accountant in Auckland, New Zealand)

The market can guide us here. Search the internet for: “How much do CFO’s make”? I just read an article which refers to a range (in the USA) of $200,000 per year to $500,000. This will vary by size of the company and other factors but the point is that the work of a CFO is HIGHLY VALUED. I’m not saying accountants can charge these numbers… but we should aim for fees which reflect the value provided AND the scope of work, length of the engagement, time spent, state of the business and so on.   


How do we justify our prices when most clients are looking for a cheap price? (From an accountant in Perth, Australia)

Clients are looking for VALUE. Can you help me grow my business? Can you help me pay myself more? Can you help me sell my business? Can you help me raise capital to fund our expansion? Can you help me cut costs by 20% without destroying the business? Some clients will perceive this contribution as HIGHLY VALUABLE and be willing to pay. (Some won’t… and that’s fine too. No product is suited to EVERY customer).

It’s up to the accountant to make the case for the value they bring. Clients will not do this for you.


Are all CFO-type services the same? (From an accountant in Vancouver, Canada)

Definitely not. The term of the engagement varies greatly as does the scope of work. Starting with a small assignment, demonstrating value and then growing the mandate is usually the best way for accountants to make real progress in this area. The below diagram summarizes just a few of the possible approaches.


How do you avoid scope creep? (From an accountant in Orange County, USA)

Here are three ideas:

  • Properly define the scope upfront. Have detailed discussions about what the client needs and what you will / won’t do. Then document it.
  • Take on assignments in small bite-size pieces. A 30-day scoping exercise may be a good start. Follow that with a 90-day assignment with more specific deliverables. Then define what is needed over the next year and contract on that basis. Each time you go through this process, you get smarter and more specific on the scope.
  • Have a “Scope Change Process”. That means scope changes are identified early and the client can elect to change the contractual terms… or not. This is documented and you proceed based on the revised agreement.


How do we find medium-sized business clients who want these services? (From an accountant in New Jersey, USA)

This is a question of lead generation, which is challenging. First of all, do clients know what they want? Some do and some don’t. Is what they WANT what they need? For some, ‘yes’ and for others, ‘no’.

Accountants need to ask the right questions to identify a specific need and demonstrate that you can meet that need. In our experience, accountants with a specialization (industry or skill-set) have a better success rate. Clients link your skills to their needs more quickly. A ‘generalist’ will find this harder.

Success in lead generation is much easier when third parties (clients) provide glowing testimonials.


How to show clients the value of strategic advice so that there is no argument regarding fees? (From an accountant in Rhode Island, USA)

There are two parts to this question. One is ensuring that the Scope of Work and value proposition is properly defined upfront. You don’t want to have to make this case when you’re sending your invoice because your client (rightly or wrongly) may have a different interpretation to you.

The other part is making sure your advice is, in fact, valuable. That means understanding the goals of the client and offering something that helps them accomplish those goals. Sounds simple… but we often see accountants focusing on what THEY are good at, not what the CLIENT needs. Clients have little interest in how you do things… but they care greatly about getting results.


Engagements still seem to be person-specific, not product-specific? (From an accountant in London, UK)

This can definitely be the case. Sometimes the client trusts YOU and wants YOU to provide ongoing advice. Overcoming this takes time but some accountants successfully delegate some of their work. You may be offering CFO-type advice, but creating a report or analyzing certain data could be done by a subordinate. This helps clients recognize this is less about you… and more about your firm.

Try to think about your CFO service as a process; a series of actions taken to advise the client. That might include accessing the latest financial statements, identifying variances from the business plan, reporting on these variances, sharing the report, presenting the report, etc. It is likely that SOME OF these steps can be delegated, which reduces the dependence on one individual. Remember, having multiple people understand the client’s business is advantageous to the client also.


How do you sell it without sounding like a greedy salesman? (From an accountant in Maryland, USA)

We need to believe we can genuinely help the client. In that case, we are not selling, just helping… and getting paid for the value we bring.



Mark Ferris

Mark Ferris is an entrepreneur who has founded, built and 'exited' numerous businesses realizing success for shareholders, employees, customers and acquirers. He has a particular interest in software, solutions and service businesses and frequently writes on related topics.

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