8 Signs Your Startup Needs a CFO

Written by Cameron McCool    |    Published: April 25, 2024

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Signs Your Startup Needs a CFO

For startups, surging growth can be as risky as stagnation, especially when your financial strategies can’t keep up. Knowing when to leverage the skills of a CFO is essential to your startup’s long-term success.

In this guide, we’ll share 8 common signs that signal it’s time to invest in a CFO. If it looks like your startup could benefit from a CFO, connect with a Hiline advisor to learn how our CFO Services can help.

1. Rapid Growth is Causing Financial Complexity

As your startup experiences rapid growth, the financial landscape becomes more intricate. Initially, financial management might seem manageable, but as expansion accelerates, complexity increases—and that’s when a CFO’s specialized skills come in handy.

Here’s how a CFO can be instrumental during rapid growth:

  • Scalable Financial Systems: A CFO is critical in establishing best practices and selecting robust systems that will grow with your business, ensuring the company’s finances are well-organized and consistent.
  • Cash Flow Management: Startups often struggle with managing working capital and funding as they scale. A CFO can create a holistic investment strategy that aligns with a company’s financial growth objectives.
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis Tools: During periods of rapid expansion, it’s imperative to have accurate, reliable reporting mechanisms. A CFO can suggest, recommend, implement and manage these tools to provide precise monitoring of the company’s financial health.

2. Founding Team has Limited Financial Expertise

If your startup’s team has limited financial expertise, it may be time to consider bringing a CFO or fractional CFO on board. This financial leader plays a critical role in guiding strategic planning and ensuring that business finances align with long-term objectives.

Without someone who has a deep understanding of financial statements, cash flow management, and financial reporting, your startup could face unnecessary risks and miss out on opportunities for growth.

A CFO provides expert advice in several key areas:

  • Developing Financial Plans. Tailoring strategies that match your business goals.
  • Enhancing Financial Performance. Recommending improvements based on insightful financial analysis.
  • Managing Cash Flow. Building accurate cash flow projections to maintain financial health.

A startup lacking in financial prowess risks stumbling in areas like risk management and making sound financial decisions. A fractional CFO can bridge this gap, supporting your team in achieving financial goals, engaging with potential investors, and liaising with financial institutions. Ultimately, this will help solidify your startup’s financial foundation and position it on a path toward sustainable success.

3. Cash Flow Challenges Are Common

Cash flow challenges are a red flag; they typically indicate that your startup might need the expertise of a CFO. Startups often experience cash flow issues due to reasons like irregular cash inflows, unexpected expenses, or customer payment delays. Analyzing cash flow patterns can be complex, especially for business owners who might be preoccupied with other priorities.

A key indicator of cash flow problems is difficulty in understanding the average time it takes customers to settle invoices. This metric is critical, as it directly affects your startup’s operational liquidity. Moreover, uncertainty in accounts receivable turnover could further complicate your financial landscape.

To mitigate these cash flow hurdles, startups must focus on streamlining their billing strategy. Essential steps include establishing explicit payment terms and dialing-in the efficiency of the invoicing process. However, optimization of best practices often requires a level of financial savviness that may be out of reach for many business founders.

That’s where a CFO becomes a natural extension to a scaling organization.  A full-time CFO or a fractional, outsourced CFO, can provide the necessary financial leadership to navigate these complexities. They can fine-tune cash flow projections, implement robust cash flow management practices, ensuring your startup maintains a healthy financial backbone to support growth and satisfy stakeholders.

4. Financial Reporting is Inaccurate or Incomplete

Startups need to keep accurate financial records. Discrepancies or delays in financial reporting often point to deeper underlying issues. These may include problems with your cost structure, client base, or even the soundness of your business plan and accounting practices. A CFO not only brings financial expertise to address these challenges but also provides vital insights that streamline processes, optimizes cash flow, and bolster profits.

Moreover, at the heart of business growth is the need to comply with legal and financial regulations. Outdated accounting practices can derail this, leading to potential fines or back taxes, and potentially spur issues with investors or auditors. A CFO ensures that financial statements are not only accurate but timely and presentable, instilling confidence among stakeholders and financial institutions alike.

Key Benefits a CFO Brings to financial reporting:

  • Minimizes reporting errors and delays
  • Reduces the risk of non-compliance penalties
  • Delivers actionable insights for cost management
  • Facilitates strategic decisions driven by robust data

If your startup is facing challenges in maintaining accurate financial records, it may be time to consider the critical role a CFO plays in ensuring your financial house is consistently in order.

5. Lack of Strategic Financial Planning

Strategic financial planning is crucial for startups to achieve long-term success and sustainability. A CFO plays a key role in developing and executing a comprehensive financial strategy that aligns with the business’s goals and objectives.

These tell-tale signs typically occur in startups that lack a strategic approach to financial planning.

  • Strategic Financial Roadmap is Missing. When your startup begins to falter in aligning financial strategies with company growth objectives, it’s a telltale sign that you need a CFO. Without a roadmap, your company could miss out on crucial growth opportunities simply due to strategic oversight.
  • Informed Decisions Seem Unattainable. As your organization reaches pivotal growth stages, the complexity of financial decision-making intensifies. A CFO brings the expertise necessary to navigate these critical phases, ensuring that each decision is data-driven.
  • Risk Management Takes a Backseat. Risk management cannot be an afterthought for a burgeoning business. A CFO’s role includes foreseeing and mitigating risks tailored to your company’s growth trajectory.
  • Navigating Growth Complexities. A startup expanding its horizons needs to handle financial complexities with finesse. If your team is overwhelmed by this aspect, it’s a strong indicator that the stewardship of a CFO is required.

Here’s how a CFO can contribute to strategic financial planning.

Aspect of the Business

Contribution of CFO

Financial Roadmap Alignment

Crafting a clear plan aligned with growth goals

Informed Decision-Making

Providing comprehensive financial data analysis

Risk Management

Proactive identification and mitigation of risks

Managing Complexities & Growth

Steering through financial intricacies effectively


If these signs resonate with your current situation, it might be time to invest in a CFO to keep your startup’s finances sharply focused and its future secure.

6. Difficulty in Attracting Potential Investors

If your startup is struggling to attract potential investors, this may signal that it’s time to consider onboarding a CFO. A Chief Financial Officer brings invaluable expertise not only in preparing meticulous financial projections but also in executing valuation analysis, both of which are pivotal in capturing investor attention. Their ability to craft a compelling financial narrative can significantly boost a startup’s appeal, showcasing profitability potential and a trajectory of growth.

Inclusion of a CFO not only aids in securing funds but also reinforces your startup’s commitment to robust financial management—a reassuring signal for investors contemplating where to allocate their capital. Moreover, maintaining open communication channels with investors post-funding is crucial, promoting trust and transparency. The CFO can handle this responsibility, ensuring stakeholders are well-informed and aligned with the company’s financial health.

Potential investors prioritize clarity and strategic insight when deciding on investments. A lack of financial visibility can be a deterrent. A CFO’s strategic direction is fundamental in overcoming this obstacle, leading to a more attractive and investor-ready business.

Challenges in Investor Attraction

CFO Solutions

Inadequate financial projections

Prepare detailed forecasting and valuation

Questionable commitment to finance management

Demonstrate a structured approach to finance consistency

Communication gaps post-funding

Foster trust through transparent investor relations

Limited strategic financial insight

Guide strategy with financial expertise

7. Board of Directors Requires Financial Leadership

When your startup’s Board of Directors is seeking professional guidance on complex financial matters, they’ll benefit from a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The board’s strategic decisions hinge on accurate financial reporting and informed analysis, areas where a CFO’s skills are invaluable.

A fractional CFO, working on a part-time or consultancy basis, brings the required expertise without the commitment of a full-time executive hire.

A Fractional or Outsourced CFO can handle things like:

  • Strategic Financial Advice. Offering seasoned perspectives on financial strategies and assisting with high-level decision-making.
  • Investor Relations. Presenting a credible financial picture and strategy to potential investors or during funding rounds.
  • Navigating Complexities. Deftly handling operational or regulatory challenges that demand specialized financial knowledge.

This financial leader can play a pivotal role, especially during periods of substantial growth or change, ensuring that the startup not only meets its immediate monetary obligations but also aligns with long-term business goals. Their contributions can drastically improve your company’s financial health and prepare it for future success, making a fractional CFO an asset to both the startup and the Board of Directors.

8. Financial Challenges Are Impacting Business Goals

When financial obstacles begin derailing your startup’s objectives, it’s a clear indicator that enlisting a CFO could be pivotal. A fractional CFO, with their financial acumen, can become an asset in these turbulent times.

Challenges like cash flow bottlenecks may impede day-to-day operations and long-term growth. This is where a CFO steps in with their advanced understanding of cash flow management. With precise cash flow projections and strategic expense oversight, they ensure that monetary hurdles don’t compromise your business milestones.

Risk management is another domain where a CFO’s expertise becomes indispensable. Startups must navigate various risks—financial, operational, and strategic. A fractional CFO’s seasoned perspective on risk assessment and mitigation strategies fortifies the startup against potential financial pitfalls.

If your startup’s trajectory towards its business goals is being compromised by such financial challenges, it may be the right moment to consider adding the critical role of a CFO. Their strategic guidance and fiscal discipline can realign efforts with your startup’s vision, propelling it toward success.

Financial Challenges

Role of a CFO

Cash Flow Issues

Analyze and forecast cash inflows, manage expense and structure timing of outflows

Risk Management

Develop and implement strategies to mitigate risks

Get Expert CFO Services and Strategic Financial Guidance with Hiline

A CFO is more than a financial overseer—they are strategic partners who ensure financial decisions strengthen the very foundations of your startup’s ambitions. Hiline’s experienced team of CFO’s can deliver the strategic financial guidance needed to elevate your business to the next level.

We also provide your startup with a dedicated team of financial experts to handle all of the financial tasks your business needs to thrive—tax planning and filing, bookkeeping, spend management, AP management, payroll, HR compliance, and more.

If your startup is running into any of the issues we’ve outlined in this guide, connect with a Hiline advisor and learn how our accounting and CFO services can help.


Further Reading

CFO Resources for Small Business Owners
CFO Resources for Startups


Outsourced vs Fractional vs CFO: Understanding the Difference

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