Moving from CPA to Controller to CFO: Similarities and Differences
How do I decide what my business needs?
Having the right financial information is crucial to running a successful business in today’s economy. We will explore the roles, the similarities, and the differences between a CPA, Controller, and CFO so that an informed decision can be made as to which one or ones your business needs at this point in its life cycle.
What is important about Financial Information?
Financial information is either the basis or input for almost all business decisions. The key attributes that are required are:
- Thought-provoking and relevant
Do I need to invest in a professional for financial help?
- Self-execution is always an option, but not recommended as you will understand as we explore what a true financial professional does
- Decisions are limited by information available to you and your skill sets
- Running your own accounting is tedious and time-consuming
- Self-execution of your accounting may detract from day-to-day operations and sales, reducing value that your business can generate
- Accurate valuation of the business will be impossible
What is the role of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?
The CPA is an independent resource who generally provides the following services:
- Audit and Assurance — Independent auditor’s report to assure interested third parties as to the integrity of the financial statements
- Merger and Acquisition Consulting — Independent business valuations, tax planning and agreed-upon procedures
- Tax Planning, Consulting and Compliance — Business and individual tax preparation, cost segregation studies, retirement and estate planning
- Business Consulting — Customized engagement, varies based on staff/partner involvement, work paper documentation, engagement requirements
The CPA typically must not be a member of management and must be independent of the company unless providing only basic services, such as a compilation of the company’s financial statements.
What is the role of a Controller?
The Controller handles all of the accounting needs of the organization, ensuring a continuous flow of information to management for making effective decisions.
- Analysis — Monthly reconciliations and account analysis schedules
- Scheduling — Payroll, accounts payable, invoicing and reporting
- Systems and staff management
- Historical reporting
- Development and compliance with policies and procedures
How does a CFO differ from the CPA and the Controller?
The major function of the CFO is to safeguard the company’s assets with oversight of four main activities:
Let’s discuss at a more detailed level what each of these major areas encompasses.
- Assures the strategic plan is financially relevant and achievable based on past, present and future internal and external environmental factors
- Determines if the company has or can develop the resources to meet the capital requirements of the strategic plan by measuring the impact on debt, capital structure and cash flow
- Coordinates and analyzes operational plan and budget — assuring that:
- the sales goals are realistic
- the production plan supports sales goals and is based on past performance, within the capabilities of existing or planned capacity
- the business expenses of all departments are reasonable, and the company is able to reach its profit projections
- Coordinates, advises and facilitates during the planning process
- Creates, implements and operates the systems necessary to track financial activities of the organization
- Evaluates the internal control environment and provides adequate protection to ensure financial information is accurate, the potential for fraud is minimized, and adequate checks and balances are established
- Ensures that the system provides the tools necessary to maintain financial control and accurately reflects standards established by management, measures actual performance, determines variances, provides relevant trend analysis, meaningful and timely information
- Continually evaluates and upgrades accounting systems for relevant technological changes
- Factual — the information being reported is accurate
- Understandable — to the audience that is using the reports
- Relevant — importance to recipients
- Timely — provided hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, based on company requirements
- Stakeholders — includes shareholders, creditors, customers, and regulatory agencies
- Manages the organization’s cash, liquidity and overall financial resources
- Ensures effectiveness of the controls and systems necessary to process cash receipts and disbursements while maintaining cash balances at appropriate levels
- Accurately forecasts short and long-term cash requirements for working capital requirements
- Invests excess cash or seeks sources of additional financing if needed
- Assures that the financial statements accurately represent the operations of the business — enhances value
- Assures effective deployment of company assets — asset utilization and profit maximization
- Ensures that internal controls are effective
- Communicates forecasting and financial guidance
- Provides strategic guidance for the future of the company — financial modeling, market analysis, due diligence
- Acts as the liaison for audit, legal, insurance and tax aspects of the business
- Raises debt financing and equity funding
Similarities between the three functions:
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
The CPA prepares financial statements for its clients if the client lacks this skill set and provides strategic direction and advice to management on an occasional basis.
The Controller is focused on analysis, scheduling, compliance with policies & procedures, and historical reporting.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
The CFO is responsible for four major functions for the company — planning, accounting, reporting and treasury. In addition, the CFO is responsible for managing the financial resources of the company, putting these resources to work to maximize returns, and providing strategic direction/advice to management.
What should you consider when making the decision to hire an experienced financial executive?
- Will it increase the value of your time?
- Will it increase the value of information received and your overall business?
- Will you gain a better understanding of the financial aspects of your business?
- Will you gain a better understanding of the operational aspects of your business?
- Will you establish a better and more valid and achievable business plan and financial model?
- Will this help to secure your future?
Nperspective was founded with the belief that many companies need the expertise of seasoned financial executives but are often unable to afford to “buy” that expertise on a full-time basis. In addition, many highly profitable companies can afford a full-time chief financial officer but don’t really need one every day.