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What to do when your CFO has one foot out the door

When leaders conduct succession planning, they arrange their own replacement and who is going to take charge of the organization. Rarely is there a plan in place for the CFO until it comes up when they have already announced the decision to retire and you will need to resolve it in short order.

There are three short-term options we will consider with a short pro/con list:

  1. Outsourced CFO
  2. Hire a replacement CFO
  3. Transitionary CFO


Outsourced CFO

An outsourced CFO is, in most cases, the best option for companies that have less than 5 million EBITDA and are still growing. This is because they are not restrained by the candidates that want to work with your organization, the contracted company will typically have multiple experienced CFOs available and can assign the best person for your organization. Furthermore, typically you don’t need a full-time employee in the role and could save money by outsourcing for specific services such as performance measurement.


  1. Can start right away with low ramp up time.
  2. Charges on a per-service basis.
  3. Able to define and refine scope for you if you are not sure what you are looking for.


  1. Cost on an hourly basis will be higher than an equivalent level of experience.
  2. Less depth of experience in your industry but a wider breadth of experience.


Hiring a replacement CFO

This should occur with an intermediate organization with a team of four to six full-time accounting staff. Once you are at this size, it makes the most sense to hire internally as it will be the cheapest option as well as have the most longevity.  It also makes sense to move directly into the hiring process as soon as possible and include the existing CFO to hire their own replacement.


  1. Cheaper than a long-term consultancy arrangement.
  2. Additional uncommitted hours to spend on ‘ad hoc’ analysis.
  3. Consistent real-time availability.


  1. Candidate selection can be an issue depending on the local economy, location, and other factors beyond your control.
  2. If the existing CFO isn’t available to assist with the hiring, then it can be a mixed bag whether you will end up with a suitable replacement.


Transitionary CFO

This should occur with huge organizations with multiple locations, over 10 million EBITDA and multiple full teams of accountants with a total head count of over ten accountants. When an organization is this large, the number of CFOs who can be successful in the role is limited and it makes sense to have a long drawn out recruiting and hiring effort. During that period, it is usually best that an existing member of the internal accounting team is brought up to fulfill the duties of the CFO until a suitable replacement can be found. Occasionally the acting CFO will become permanent, but most often, a more experienced CFO from outside will need to be brought in.



  1. Consistent operation while allowing for considerably more time to find the perfect candidate.
  2. Promoting internal staff will require modest if any additional cost than hiring externally as it is a temporary position.
  3. Provides realistic skills assessment that could encourage internal staff to train up on vulnerable areas of knowledge to ensure that they can fulfill the acting CFO role.


  1. Beyond the reach of most companies due to a smaller ‘feeder pool’ of eligible skilled candidates within the organization.



Succession planning & management process

Regardless of which of these short-term options is appropriate, there needs to be a systematic approach for the succession process. In the infographic below, we have outlined a five-step process for conducting a successful succession plan.

One important caveat to consider for deviation from the process:

If the predecessor isn’t available through the process, it is better to bring in a third-party expert rather than ‘go it alone’ in defining the skills, competencies, and knowledge required in the position. This is due to the complexity of the role at this level of leadership could require knowledge and analysis that isn’t transparent to the rest of management.

Click this link for the infographic:

Succession planning

succession planning

Succession planning for CFOs

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Avisar Everyday

Avisar Everyday is a trusted provider of accounting solutions, giving our clients insight and financial clarity that empowers them to make enlightened business decisions every day.