Sign In Book a demo
Return Back

3 areas to focus on as a SaaS finance leader

What are the three key areas of focus for a SaaS CFO’s success? Let’s dive in.

person
Valerio Siviero

December 16, 2021 1 min read

3 areas to focus on as a SaaS finance leader

We’ve worked closely with numerous startup SaaS teams, and a fair share of them don’t have a CFO or even a dedicated finance team. Their main focus tends to be the product, go-to-market, and building a team that can sustain revenue delivery. But at several million in ARR, finance becomes a critical enabler — or disabler — of success. 

Because the nature of SaaS is all about recurring revenue, positive business decisions (like accelerating deal cycles and pricing increases) can compound on top of one another to drive incredible growth, but negative business decisions like high churn or excessive CAC can also compound to crush the business. That’s why the role of the finance leader in understanding the financial impact of operational choices—before they’re made—is absolutely essential.

So what are the three key areas of focus for a SaaS CFO’s success? Let’s dive in.

1. Back to the basics: overseeing accounting is one of the basic tasks of every SaaS finance leader

Meticulous accounting sets the foundation for making good decisions. In the early days of a company, accounting tends to be ignored but can quickly turn into chaos if you achieve $1 million in ARR and don’t really have an accounting roadmap. 

Bookkeepers or outsourced accounting typically handle the accounting of a SaaS business for the first few months. And since SaaS accounting is a different animal, it’s the CFO’s responsibility to find firms that know what they’re doing. Switching between dozens of options can get tiring and frustrating and isn’t uncommon in the SaaS space. With that in mind, here are some of the most important functions of an accounting team a CFO needs to keep an eye on:

  • Creating financial statements 
  • Financial reporting
  • Payroll 
  • Customer Invoicing 
  • Vendor/employee payments 
  • Entity taxes
  • Compliance

And here’s a high-level overview of what a good accounting team at a SaaS company needs to be able to accomplish:

  • Pass a financial statement audit
  • Have experience with working with state and tax authorities
  • Be able to communicate with departments across the company
  • Avoid waiting until the year ends to reconcile accounts
  • Have close discipline, meaning reconciling and documenting major balance sheet accounts, with subledgers for more relevant accounts
saas finance leaders face many complex challenges

2. Serving as a strategic advisor by connecting cross-company insights 

The CFO’s biggest value to a SaaS company is their ability to provide strategic advice. They must understand different department perspectives and align their priorities and goals for the best results.

This means facilitating—as well as challenging—the work of various department leaders.

A good SaaS CFO builds good relationships with key stakeholders at a company. Strong relationships open the door to department leaders collaborating with the CFO to help them weigh their options, and ensure that when the CFO challenges operational choices, they don’t get the door slammed in their face. Trust is the foundation of a healthy back and forth.

The work a great CFO does to tie this all together is financial planning and analysis.

The FP&A function is responsible for many vital, big picture tasks that can help a company make the right decision, including:

  • Financial statement forecasting
  • Analyzing churn, retention, and bookings
  • Pointing out risks, opportunities, and key business drivers to influence decision-making
  • Cash forecasts
  • Guiding the annual budgeting process
  • Developing long-range strategic plans that align with annual financial objectives
  • Variance reporting and analysis
  • Guiding strategic long-term planning
  • Working with internal departments to understand their goals and objectives
  • Board reporting 
  • Creating rolling forecasts with the right level of granularity

The strategic CFO who can connect different business drivers across departments to financial implications, and advise accordingly is an extremely valuable executive.

FP&A lies at the complex confluence of the past, present, and future. To contribute strategic insights to their company, a finance leader must possess a contextual awareness that’s difficult to define precisely but includes skills like:

  • Being a great storyteller who can adapt based on the audience
  • Seeing the forest and the trees (seeing the bigger picture, and how operational activities combine to create the whole)
  • Long-term thinking
  • Proactive communication
  • Understanding and aligning departmental priorities

3. Knowing how to use technology as an advantage for any SaaS finance leader

Nowadays, you can’t have a high-functioning finance department without a good understanding of technology. While software to automate accounting is nothing new, many CFOs are recognizing there’s much more they can do to deliver rapid value to the business proactively, if they can use technology to solve some of the challenges of data management and spreadsheet sprawl that slow them down. How can a CFO offer strategic advice to the business when modeling a pricing change takes a week or longer? Not being able to connect the dots in real-time will consign the finance function to a supporting, accounting role—and worse, deprive the business of the proper insight to make important operational decisions.

Just like CTOs have product roadmaps, great CFOs are able to create finance technology roadmaps. (If you’re a CEOs, make sure you’re vetting finance leader candidates on their technology savvy!)

Embracing technology allows your finance function to avoid tasks like manual data entry, as well as checking, and copy/pasting data from multiple sources that’s out of date as soon as you put it in a spreadsheet.

With the right tools, on the other hand, these time-consuming tasks are automated. Results are more accurate and are nearly immediate. A SaaS finance leader should be spearheading initiatives that empower everyone to focus on activities that truly make a difference. 

Conclusion

We’ve touched on three areas a finance leader of a SaaS company must excel in to make a difference for your company.

Maybe you’re not yet prepared to hire a full-time SaaS CFO, but when you are, keep these three skills in mind and you’ll be well on your way to creating a solid foundation for the future.

 ***

Ed note: Want to dive deeper into essential FP&A topics? Check out OnPlan’s most popular posts of all time here:

Want to give your spreadsheets superpowers?

Then connect with the OnPlan team by clicking on the button below.

Book a demo
bg
person

7

Publications
About Author
Valerio Siviero

Valerio Siviero, Chief of Staff at OnPlan, is responsible for Finance, Operations & HR. Over the last ten years, Valerio held roles as management consultant, VP Operations, COO and Co-founder & CEO. Whether in global organisations or high-growth startups, he always maintained an analytical, disciplined and structured approach. He relishes the process of creating clarity and alignment around visions, priorities and objectives in order to elevate a company’s performance.

Show more