Deepak Narayanan, Co-founder, MyCFO is Qualified Chartered Accountant with close to 12 years of work experience in the finance domain. Deepak worked with Deloitte and Ernst & Young in Bangalore and Mumbai. During his stint with these firms, He has worked with companies like Unilever, ITC, Sanofi Aventis, Western Union, Titan Industries, Schreiber group, Syngenta, Solvay Pharma amongst others. Deepak leads the MyCFO practice and specializes in assisting companies to implement their business strategies including drawing up business plans, developing budgets, benchmarking studies, implementing business process improvements, developing SOP's designing performance metrics, managing the IT/ERP/BI tool implementation, development of MIS tools and in improving the finance function of MyCFO clients.
MyCFO is a Special Situations Finance and IT Solution, helping Promoters, CEOs and Investors maximise wealth in their Business Ventures. MyCFO can be either one individual or may be a team of Finance and IT professionals, who work closely with your Senior Management teams to deliver Business Results. All resources are available on an 'on tap‘, on a retainer or project specific basis. MyCFO is a highly implementation focused service, with tangible results delivered through a strong project management system and real time visibility to clients on assignment progress.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Deepak Narayanan says, “We work with companies in an ‘Interim/Ongoing CFO/Controller role’ (companies outsource the Controller/CFO role to us) or in a project based role to address specific pain areas (in cases where there is a good quality CFO already in place).”
How did you come up with an idea of MyCFO? Explain to us your business model.
Venkat [my co-founder] and I started our entrepreneurial journey in late 2006 when we set up WealthTree Advisors. The idea of setting up WealthTree was to be able to assist overseas companies looking at a smooth ‘India landing’. Venkat was the CFO of two large Fortune 250 American companies and he was the 2nd and the 1st employee respectively in these companies in India. He found the setting up process to be extremely complicated and cumbersome and the germ of WealthTree was born. I joined him from Ernst & Young, where I was working at that point in time. The India FDI story was strong, Mid – sized overseas companies (US$50mn - US$1bn) needed support to help them in the initial phase including market feasibility, identifying and tie ups with local Indian partners, appointing distributors, setting up sales channels and managing their India sales teams etc. We met a number of mid–sized Indian companies on behalf of the overseas companies that we represented particularly on tie ups or distributor appointments and we realized that while Indian companies had grown over a period of time largely on the energy of its founders/promoters, there were significant gaps when it came to them having built mid/senior management teams and Finance and IT systems invariably never kept pace with the growth. This was the opportunity that we decided to grab. This gave birth to MyCFO.
We work with companies in an ‘Interim/Ongoing CFO/Controller role’ (companies outsource the Controller/CFO role to us) or in a project based role to address specific pain areas (in cases where there is a good quality CFO already in place).
Our model gives CEO’s/Promoters the confidence that we have our ‘skin’ in the game. Moreover, the model is implementation focused (we are not an advisory company) – no fancy reports are issued; in most cases where we get involved we get involved in implementing the suggestions put down in these reports. Most companies today need us to ‘roll up our sleeves’ and fix issues rather than only advising them. The milestones or KPI’s that we chart are pretty extensive and granular – these are measured every quarter and our variable fee payouts are dependent on the success of the implementation of the KPI’s agreed upon. Remember, the variable fee is not on top of the fixed fee that we charge – this is a part of an all inclusive fee which means, in case we do not meet the client expectations, the clients can dock all/ portion of our fee which is our profit margins. We like to keep it that way as it keeps us on our toes and it is a great barometer to measure client satisfaction.
Is this practice prevalent in other countries? Any lessons?
CFO on demand, Interim CFO, Interim Management, Virtual CFO services are prevalent in the US and UK. The models in these countries as well as what you see in India is that of ‘aligning’/ loose affiliations with senior CFO’s and working with them on a revenue share model. We have built a team of over 100 people, which is contrary to the current models, which we see. These are people on our rolls. This ensures that MyCFO is able to control the quality, bring in best practices which are implemented across clients and gets clients the comfort that they are dealing with an organization and not with a set of individuals. In a sense, the buck stops with MyCFO and not the individual.
We are trying to address this massive skill and experience gap in the Finance domain at all levels in India and the gap is not likely to go away very quickly. The outsourcing model is here to not take away jobs and make CFO’s redundant (which is anyways not possible), it is here to add options to companies/ promoters/ CEO’s/ Funds and lastly the CFO’s themselves since they themselves could use the outsourcing model to get the Finance agenda of the companies that they work for accomplished at cost which are probably 30% cheaper.
Give us some anecdotes of how firms would have made a distress call to you.
One of our clients, which is into the healthcare diagnostics space, appointed us as their CFO. The diagnostic chain was doing well but wanted us to partner the CEO to support the execution of Diagnostic Center’s Business Plan, implementing a high quality MIS on both the Finance and the operating side which involves defining, designing and tracking of KPIs, providing visibility into financial and operating performance through visual dashboards to the CEO. MyCFO has also assisted the Center to implement best practices and process improvements through development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), implement performance measurement systems for the Finance team, streamlining working capital flows including setting credit controls, improve collection mechanisms from hospitals and monitoring cash flows through preparation of rolling cash flow forecasts.
MyCFO also plays a commercial decision making role by being involved in equipment purchase decisions, opening of new centers and front ending discussions with existing and potential franchisees. MyCFO’s involvement helped Improve collections from 90 days to 30 days, resulted in cost savings of 20% in costs relating to re-agents and consumables, closure of non – profitable units based on unit level P&L and Break even point analysis, increased stickiness of clients through introduction of loyalty schemes based on our analysis on repeatability of clients, improved prices for certain tests buy up to 30% based on accurate test level costing and improvement in sales efficiency by 10% through regular sales person performance tracking.
What is a virtual CFO? Do you see this more of an interim arrangement for companies?
We do not offer the Virtual CFO model at this point in time. Virtual CFO is to be able to provide remote CFO support. We have seen that companies want their CFO to be onsite and more importantly to be able to interact with the CEO, senior management team and guide the F&A function. A virtual model though convenient from our business model standpoint as it allows us to spread our teams across projects does not help the client company. Secondly, though Virtual CFO models are doing well in the west, it will take time for this to become acceptable in India. We have some time to go.
How useful is MyCFO for family-run businesses? Any interesting clients here?
Family Managed Businesses are the largest segments. Most Indian businesses are family owned whether they are self-funded, PE/VC backed, run by a family member or by a professional CEO. The truth is one cannot shy away from not working with this segment. Most growing companies today need a CFO. Most family businesses are seeing the reins of their companies being handed over to the next generation or even to a professional CEO (who is not a family member) and this sometimes triggers the need to have a CFO in place. The CFO could either be a recruit/individual or could be managed by someone like MyCFO. As I mentioned, there are a large number of companies out there which has this requirement while the demand supply gap both in terms of numbers and the skill sets are just not there.
We find every client and every situation to be interesting and sometimes even unique. We have worked across the board from Manufacturing (Chemicals, Engineering, Pharma) to Services (Healthcare, Infrastructure ancillary) to E –Commerce Ventures which are family run.
To what extent are companies willing to trust an outsider?
An individual CFO is also an outsider until he/she is accepted as an Insider. What makes him an Insider? Signing a contract? Being there full time? Gaining the trust of the Promoters/CEO? If these are the criteria, we are no different. Our model is an onsite model, we sign a contract with all the clauses that an employee CFO has and we work closely with the Promoters and the Management team. We even carry the company’s business card and use their email ids.
What are the main opportunities and challenges in this business?
The opportunity is clearly the existing number of companies which currently do not have a Controller/CFO or someone who has one but feels the need to change given the growth or complexities or change in business dynamics. The need could come through either an individual or through firms/companies like us. The supply gap is not going to go away. Existing companies are getting bigger, new companies are being set up, more professionals are starting up – the need is not going to go away. Moreover, there are opportunities to work on projects, which are in addition to the Controller/CFO mandates. This could be preparing companies for an IPO, project managing an ERP implementation, Recover dues from debtors etc.
There are 3 challenges that I can see. Getting a constant flow of good quality people to join us. Secondly, training and cross leveraging the learnings across multiple projects and being able to institutionalize those and thirdly to be able to manage quality levels across the clients that we handle
Typically, what are the retainer fees for your service? What is the usual time-range?
Our retainer fees ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh-9 lakhs a month, with 15-25% of it linked to milestones or KPIs. The tenure could be anywhere between 6 months to 4-5 years. Projects are shorter while Controller/CFO mandates are between 1-5 years.
Does this cover all the aspects a regular CFO undertakes like fund-raising for the organization or corporate governance issues?
Yes it does.
How many clients do you have? Do they take up only one assignment at a time or do they work on multiple companies?
Our client’s family owned and managed, PE invested, run by technocrat entrepreneurs and Indian subsidiaries of Multinational companies. The smallest company we do is a start up and the largest is a 2,500 Cr company. We have done work for over 160 companies in the last 3 years. We have a team of over 100 people working with us full time and we currently work in 6 cities in India.
What happens when the books of accounts has to be signed? Are they willing to take that commitment?
We could nominate the team leader to sign the books of accounts. As an organization, we are also careful about the types of companies and promoters that we want to engage with. If we find the intent to be honest and the practices to be ethical, we do not see an issue.
What services and facilities do you offer to CFOs who register with you? Tell us about your Advisory Board.
They are full time team members. They get all the benefits that a team member who works for a company gets. Our variable incentive plan is quarterly and bonus is typically paid at the end of every quarter and not at the end of the year, which is the norm with most companies. The advisory board members come from legal, private equity, Business Consulting, and public relations backgrounds. These are people who have run and successfully scaled up their businesses.
Which are the main verticals you cater to?
We are sector agnostic. We do brick and mortar to E–commerce. However, sectors, which are regulated or which involves lobbying with the Government is something we have stayed away from.
You mentioned MyCFO could be a person or a team. Do the charges vary to a large extent when a team is hired?
The fee is always fixed. The risk on the number of people and the time required to do this is on MyCFO.
Do you have cases where there is a competent CFO in place, but he/ she needs support in project specific initiatives?
Several cases. We could be assisting the CFO where there is a bandwidth or a skill gap. These could be IPO preparatory work, Data room preparation, ERP implementation, Business Intelligence tool deployment, reconciliations, debtor recovery etc.
What changes are you seeing in CFOs?
The demands and expectations from a CFO are growing every single day. Enough has been said and written about how a CFO is now a business partner and not just a bean counter. As businesses become larger, business models evolve and the regulatory environment gets tighter – CFO’s will find that they have to quickly adapt to what is going around them. We can already see these signs with a number of CFO’s.
Any plans to get listed?
We are a private limited company. The legal entity is WealthTree Advisors. MyCFO is a service brand. Listing is sometime away. In case there are good offers, we do not mind evaluating dilution.