Investor Relations: Navigating the CFO’s RoleOct 27, 2023
For start-ups, establishing, growing, and nurturing investor relations is vital.
With stakeholders watching every financial move and decision, the role of a Finance Director, often synonymous with the CFO in the start-up world, becomes indispensable.
The dynamics between the CEO, CFO, and investors, sprinkled with diverse expectations and responsibilities, can be complex. So, who holds the baton for investor relations in a start-up?
Responsibility Lies Where? In most start-ups, the responsibility for investor relations typically rests with the CEO or the CFO.
It is not just about sharing numbers or financial strategies, but it’s also about trust, understanding, and timely communication.
However, the exact division of this responsibility often boils down to the preference of the start-up's founder or CEO. Some prefer to take charge and maintain direct communication with investors, while others might delegate this to their CFO, given the financial nature of many of these discussions.
So when starting in a new role as a CFO, either moving from another company or stepping up, it's vital for your relationship with the CEO to have this conversation up front so you don't step on anyone's toes.
Harmonising the CEO-CFO Dynamics If you're the CFO, not only is it important to find out if you are to be involved with investor relations or not, but it's also important to have a clear understanding with the CEO regarding the specific role each one will play in investor relations.
This doesn’t just set clear expectations but also ensures consistency in the message being conveyed to the investors. Discussing and deciding upon roles can avoid potential overlaps, contradictions, or even gaps in communication.
You want to ensure that you have a united front to the investors and the messages are the same. Otherwise, not only will this cause conflict, but the investors could question the Leadership team's abilities.
Navigating Investor Relations as a CFO If your CEO entrusts you with the lion’s share of investor interactions, you might wonder, "What does good look like?" Here are some suggestions:
- Transparent Communication: Being transparent about both achievements and challenges fosters trust. You can't just communicate good news all the time and hide the negative or challenges the business is facing. Investors will see this and will question you when the financial results at year end aren't as they should be.
- Regular Updates: Scheduled updates, even when there isn’t a pressing issue, keep the line of communication open. This is especially true if there is a huge set-back.
- Active Listening: Understand the concerns and feedback of investors. It offers invaluable insights and strengthens the bond. Taking an empathetic view of what they're trying to say. They have invested in the business with their own funds and want to ensure it was a worthwhile investment.
- Proactivity: Anticipate questions and have data and answers ready. This showcases your command over the financial landscape of the start-up.
Mind the Pitfalls While building a robust relationship with investors, there are certain areas a CFO should be mindful of:
- Overpromising: It's better to under-promise and over-deliver. This goes with reporting deadlines, the actual budget and other commercial aspects of the business. The stretch goals / targets aren't to be communicated to investors.
- Ambiguity: Clear, concise information is key. Avoid financial jargon unless necessary. Simple and high level is best.
- Delayed Responses: Prompt replies, even if it’s an acknowledgment, can make a huge difference. Try to get back to reasonable requests within 24 hours.
Challenges in Building Investor Relationships Relationship-building is never without its hiccups. Common challenges faced by CFOs include:
- Mismatched Expectations: Ensure all goals and targets are mutually understood and agreed upon. Best to do this upfront and update if there has been a pivot or dramatic market changes, which is often the case.
- Changing Market Dynamics: The start-up ecosystem is volatile. Navigating this while managing investor expectations can be challenging. Again, keep them updated if market conditions are a real issue with hitting communicated goals.
- Differing Visions: The CFO and investors might occasionally differ in their vision for the start-up. Balancing immediate investor expectations with long-term financial health can be a tightrope walk. On the one hand, investors have entrusted the executive team to build the business and manage the company's growth and risk levels. But on the other hand investors may have an opinion on the direction taken... This can be a real challenge.
Effective investor relations is a delicate balance between communication, expectation management, and performance showcasing. For a CFO, mastering this can significantly contribute to the start-up’s journey towards success and sustainability. It’s not just about numbers; it’s about trust, reliability, and shared visions for the future.
- Get your FREE Guide: Stepping into the role of Finance Director or CFO
- Register for the mini-course, Upgrade your Management Accounts and get noticed by the business
- Work with me in the Financial Leadership Foundations course that includes monthly Q&A sessions where we can discuss all of your questions and how to apply your learnings to your current role.
- Work with me as a Founder needing guidance and support from experienced Finance leaders. Take a look at our guide on Outsourced bookkeeping.