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 Date: 03-01-2014   Platform/Print Media: The Economic Times   Source

Indian companies, small and big, can now have a chief financial officer on call to do anything from accounts to company law, strategy to fund raising, report Arijit Barman & Biswarup Gooptu

In April 2013, Deepak Narayanan received an urgent call from Amit Dalmia, an operating partner in marquee private-equity firm Blackstone. A massive churn in the finance department of Gokaldas Exports, a Blackstone portfolio company, had seen many key exits. Critically, this included the financial controller, just before Gokaldas was to finalise its quarterly numbers.

A stranded Dalmia wanted Narayanan and his colleagues from MyCFO—which provides chief financial officers for temporary assignments— to help in the audit closure. Over the next five months, MyCFO did that, and more, in Gokaldas: it also cleaned its management information system (MIS) reporting, data entry and inventory handling.

MyCFO had also prepped up another Blackstone investee company, speciality fragrance maker SH Kelkar, prior to the fund investing Rs 243 crore in 2012. The Kelkar assignment stretched for four years predating the investment—one of the longest for the six-year-old firm that Narayanan, a chartered accountant by training, had formed along with his first cousin S Venkat, another finance specialist and a former CFO himself.

Again, the engagement was deep and varied, spanning business cycles. "Till 2009, they were involved like a full-time CFO till the first round of external funding and even played an active role in due diligence at the time of getting our first PE investor," recalls Kedar Vaze, managing director of SH Kelkar. "Thereafter, for two years, they did several projects, including implementation of Oracle ERP for our chemical business and assisted our professional CFO, who had come from HUL, in building budgets and designing MIS. In the run up to Blackstone's investment, they also helped prepare the data room for KPMG to do an audit and diligence."

A virtual CFO is, today, a reassuring reality for all kinds of companies. For bite-sized entrepreneurial endeavours, such outsourcing is about addressing a function that is, given their state of business, neither a priority nor a prudent full-time spend. For familyrun businesses, it's a route to test the waters of professionalism. Even mid-tolarger sized firms are tapping external brain trusts to execute focussed assignments, a case in point being Hindustan Unilever using their services to rank its distributors on various parameters."

What's In It For Companies

About a dozen such on-call counsellors have sprung up in the last few years, offering a host of C-suite services. There is MyCFO and CFO4U in Mumbai, Amplus Consulting and Alamak Capital in New Delhi, and Inspace Consulting in Chennai. Even some traditional accounting firms have diversified into this space. "While demand is still less compared to the west, it's been picking up here as well," says MK Tyagi, partner at Bangalore-based MK Tyagi & Co.

Outsourcing is at least 30% cheaper than hiring an experienced full-timer. MyCFO's retainer fees ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh-7 lakh a month, with 20-25% of it linked to milestones. Typically, such engagements are for time-bound projects. While the sweet spot remains six months to a year, occasionally, they continue for longer, stretching to up to four years.

The initial drills of doubling up as the in-house finance controller with traditional accounting, MIS reporting, compliance and tax advisory have also evolved. Increasingly, CFO consultants are playing a change management role, plugging into issues CEOs grapple with: fund raising, strategy, treasury, business process improvement and supervising corporate governance standards.

For PE or VCs, they are must-haves in their Rolodex to scale up and streamline portfolio companies, especially in the first 100 days. For example, after investing in Sahyadri Hospitals, IDFC PE and the chain sought assistance to benchmark finance and accounts with best practices and to redeploy resources for better output.

Often, freshly acquired Indian JVs or multinational subsidiaries seek interim CFOs for post-merger integrations or a one-time rebooting of the finance function. "From playing a role in restructuring an organisation to preparing it for an IPO, or even steering it through mergers and acquisitions, we become the conduit between finance and accounting and the promoters," says Rajesh Mittal, founder and MD of Alamak Capital, a two-year-old boutique investment bank that also provides CFOs to companies while paraphrasing strategic responsibilities. Alamak's roster ranges from fledgling firms to midtier businesses with a Rs 1,500 crore turnover.