Opinion

In PE-VC funded firms, the CFO needs to be a value creator

Pankaj Raina | Updated on November 27, 2020 Published on November 27, 2020

To create value, the finance function needs to provide meaningful insights into the decision-making process. It means getting the right information to the right people on time

Over the last decade, a chief financial officer’s (CFO’s) role has evolved from mere bookkeeping and compliance to include elements of strategy and business operations. Growth in PE-VC investments has enabled many founders to establish businesses and secure money to scale up operations.

PE-VC money is used to hire stronger execution teams, lever up by raising debt, launch new products, invest in marketing, grow geographically, spend on technology and necessary infrastructure, etc. A vital member of all execution teams is the CFO. Starting with angel investing, as the company continues to raise more money, the finance function undergoes many changes. These changes and the accompanying set of responsibilities as the company grows, make the CFO critical.

Data analytics

PE-VC firms have a huge appetite for financial and operational data analytics, particularly data about what drives a business. This data is mostly used to derive meaningful insights for shareholder value creation. Institutional investors require that the CFO create value by combining financial expertise with operational facts to help the CEO and the founding teams make more informed decisions.

A traditional CFO is consumed by the myriad of compliance processes and monthly reporting, most of which can be now implemented through robust ERP systems available. While institutional investors recognise the importance of monthly reporting and compliance, it is now a house view that publishing reports by itself is not value accretive, but rather a report card of a company's financial position.

Many of the financial data points are not directly usable by many departments, including sales, technology, etc. For most enterprises, a way forward is to recruit and train finance officers to wear multiple hats — steward of compliance and reporting — accounting and finance, value creator — strategy and operations, and treasury management.

While all three areas are essential, the value creator’s role is the most important for CFOs in well-funded private firms, given the need to support decisions across a range of operational and strategic matters. Value creation in India is not based on financial engineering and leverage but driving performance improvement across functions.

Meaningful insights

To create value, the finance function needs to provide meaningful insights into the decision-making process. It means getting the right information to the right people on time. Importantly, it implies that the CFO works in partnership with the CEO as a strategic thought partner, aligned around a shared long-term vision for the company and shaping the finance function to meet the business goals.

Despite the role of capital markets in PE exits and debt plays in organisation scale-up, treasury management skill is usually a “good to have” rather than “necessary” skill set. In most cases, good value creators tend to learn this skill over time — however, one notable exception is a company that is raising a pre-IPO round. In that case, capital markets and external investor relations and communications are an essential skill. Financial reporting and accounting continue to be the bare minimum that any CFO would have to do, it is their primary responsibility.

Another important but often overlooked facet in the Indian corporate setting is “governance,” both in the private and listed space. Due to an increase in the number of scams, and misreporting of numbers and facts, the expectation of all stakeholders has increased and demand greater transparency. Companies are now expected to meet the standards of social, environmental, and financial performance — triple bottomline.

Integrity and accountability are the key elements of good corporate governance. A company operates in a society that has a complex web of stakeholder relationships (such as government, policymakers, suppliers, employees, lenders, shareholders, auditors, customers) whose interests must be acknowledged, interpreted, and managed. Different stakeholders look for corporate reporting based on their requirements, and the role of the CFO demands that these stakeholder priorities are fulfilled genuinely and information is communicated reliably.

The CFO acts as the communication bridge between various stakeholders — communicating financial and operating results meaningfully, ensuring thorough compliance to laws, and transparency in reporting.

Start-ups can benefit

Start-ups and fast-growing small enterprises can benefit too by hiring a CFO sooner than later because they need to get their processes in place, manage cashflows — a major challenge for most start-ups. The short-term pressures are so intense that most founding teams often forget other issues such as compliance, taxes, paying the bills, etc. CFOs can help develop cash flow plans to deal with rough periods.

A start-up is only a start-up for a limited time, one of two things can happen, either the company fails, or the company continues to grow and raise large rounds of capital to become a pioneering leader. The value creator role that the CFO plays is to prepare the management teams for these eventualities.

Good financial officers are more than just number crunchers or bookkeepers. They think like an owner, bringing entrepreneurial resourcefulness, a hands-on approach, and a concise and timely communication style. They are eloquent leaders and counsel to the CEO and the board and help guide the company into its next phase of growth and make sure all financial loose ends are tied. They serve as thought partners across various functional aspects of the business and have a forward-looking opinion on matters beyond just accounts and finance.

The writer is Managing Director at Zephyr Peacock India

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Published on November 27, 2020
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