I own a small manufacturer, around $5M in sales. We do all accounting functions in-house on our accounting system except payroll which I have a service for. Our accountants are used only to do our tax returns at year end. The nagging question is: is there something else they could be doing for me? Apparently they have plenty of work to keep themselves busy year-round. But what are they doing that I should be tapping into?
Obviously, I could just ask but I want to go in with some prior knowledge before I do that.
1) What is your accountant doing for you besides taxes?
2) How often are you meeting with them?
3) Do they have direct access to your accounting system?
Whatever insights you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
John, this is a great question. I find that many small/mid businesses use very little financial help in ways the can cause their business to grow successfully. I also find that CPAs see the world through tax glasses, which limits their perspective. Every day companies get great value from broader financial expertise. The part-time, contract CFO model is affordable for any size company. I have several $1M – $5M revenue businesses I work with regularly.
Most companies do not rely on their CPA to be proactive in providing strategic, senior level executive experience in management accounting, business, leadership and financial matters. Here’s why: Most CPAs in CPA firms have never been a senior executive CFO or divisional controller at any company. That’s quite different than having a CPA license with tax experience and an accounting degree.
I have seen hundreds of times where companies from $500K to $10M have used their CPA as their only trusted financial advisor for years. The company’s books are mostly setup with tax basis accounting methods, which is useful mostly for the tax people and not very useful to provide the CEO with management level information and decision-making.
I have to spend weeks and months working with the CPA and accountant to clean up the books and move them away from tax basis accounting to methods useful for tracking and running the business. When was the last time your CPA asked you to sit in your office and walk through the monthly financial reports with you, looking for problem areas and problem solving together? How often do you see your actual CPA, especially between the months of January and April? How many times have you been turned down for loans or lines of credit, and you weren’t really sure why? If the lender sees tax basis financial reports, what they can see is limited to, well, tax information. It requires extra work to glean business information from that.
The word “accountant” is so very general because there are so many different functions in accounting and financial management. Many people call these functions their “accountant”: CPA, Controller, Tax Preparer, Accounting Director, Staff Accountant, Bookkeeper, Data Entry Clerk, etc. Some even call their CFO their accountant.
Independent CPAs and CPA firms need to maintain a certain distance from the day-to-day operations of their clients (thank Enron, MCI, etc.). There is a small percentage of CPAs and CPA firms that engage at a peer level with the CEO on a regular weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis to perform financial management activities. But a true CFO offers these valuable activities including:
• Producing timely and accurate financial reports
• Cash flow analysis and planning
• Profit improvement
• Strategic planning
• Increasing Sales
• Funding and compliance
• Exit strategies
• Working capital and treasury management
• Overseeing the accounting staff, CPA relationship, business lawyer relationship and
• Financial modeling and what-if scenarios to make good business decisions
Most small businesses are not exposed to these things, or don’t know how to address problems in these areas. How can you tell if you need help? Call me. 303.995.4523
I hope this helps you get an idea of how the role of an affordable, part-time, contract CFO helps a company like yours grow and succeed.
Best wishes for a successful 2009!