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Key Differences Among a Bookkeeper, CFO, & CPA

Three office workers lined up holding up pieces of paper in front of their faces with a question mark on them

Bookkeeper vs CPA vs CFO , which one to choose? As a small business owner, it’s wise to engage a team of professionals who will help you manage your finances. However, who should be on your team? And how do their roles differ? 

Before we dive into the details, here’s the big picture:

  • bookkeeper processes and records financial transactions in accounting software.
  • CFO is a highly experienced finance professional who’s responsible for your business’s overall financial strategy and management. Momentum CFO specializes in providing outsourced CFO services
  • CPA is a licensed accounting professional who generally focuses more narrowly on accounting and tax matters.

1 | Bookkeeper

A bookkeeper is usually the first professional that a small business owner will engage with to assist with their finances. Generally, bookkeepers process and record financial transactions in accounting software such as QuickBooks OnlineTypical bookkeeping tasks include:

  • Recording sales, expenses, accounts receivable and accounts payable
  • Reconciling bank statements to records in your accounting system
  • Paying bills
  • Sending invoices
  • Tracking inventory
  • Organizing and maintaining documents such as purchase receipts

A good bookkeeper will provide a few basic monthly financial reports. At a minimum, you should receive a profit and loss statement (P&L), balance sheet, and statement of cash flows. Keep in mind that bookkeepers often will not: 

  • Analyze your financial results
  • Provide guidance on how to improve your numbers
  • Create financial projections of profit or cash
  • Make decisions about the financial direction of a business. 

Making these decisions is where a CFO comes in.

 2 | CFO

A CFO is the Chief Financial Officer of a business. Therefore, a CFO will focus on your financial strategy and overall financial management.  A CFO’s role typically includes:

  • Developing a strategy and detailed plans for achieving your business’s financial objectives
  • Providing comprehensive guidance to help you make important financial decisions
  • Preparing annual budgets and financial forecasts (projections)
  • Measuring and improving financial performance
  • Maximizing profit 
  • Assessing and minimizing financial risks
  • Managing cash
  • Establishing policies and procedures to ensure smooth financial operations
  • Raising capital
  • Handling mergers and acquisitions
  • Managing relationships with shareholders, investors, and lenders
  • Overseeing all other accounting and finance staff and coordinating activities among them

At Momentum CFO, we offer outsourced CFO services for small business owners. In addition, the term ‘outsourced CFO services’ may also be referred to as fractional CFO services, part-time CFO services, or CFO consulting services.

How can your business benefit from a CFO? 

Most small businesses will benefit from having a CFO on their team. However, not all small businesses need a CFO on a full-time basis. Furthermore, hiring a CFO full-time can be expensive! 

Therefore, fractional CFO services are a more affordable option for small businesses that need strategic financial guidance on a part-time basis. As a result, you can avoid the hefty salary, bonuses, cost of benefits, and employer payroll taxes that come with hiring a full-time CFO by outsourcing the CFO function. 

What should you look for in a CFO? 

Skilled CFOs have many years of corporate finance experience. They are trustworthy and analytical. Additionally, CFOs are collaborative and can explain complex financial concepts in straightforward language to anyone on your team. Finally, CFOs have excellent decision-making abilities.

Momentum CFO’s leadership has over 20 years of experience. We’ve led finance organizations at various size businesses. From small startups to Fortune 500 enterprises. As a result, we bring the benefits of large company expertise to smaller businesses like yours.   

Ready to learn more?  Schedule a free consultation! Together we’ll explore how Momentum CFO’s part-time CFO services can help you achieve your financial objectives.

3 | CPA

A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is an experienced accountant who is licensed by the state. In other words, all CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. 

As an example, obtaining a CPA license requires years of accounting study, experience, and passing a comprehensive exam. But, before you hire a CPA, always confirm that they are licensed and in good standing with your state’s board of accountancy. Californians can check their CPA’s license here.

A CPA is a valuable member of your financial team. However, don’t confuse the roles of a CPA and CFOA CPA typically focuses on accounting and tax matters. A CFO focuses on broader financial strategy and management.

Common responsibilities of a CPA include: 
  • Keeping and auditing financial records
  • Preparing financial statements in accordance with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles)
  • Ensuring compliance with tax laws
  • Preparing and filing taxes
  • Developing strategies to minimize taxes
  • Representing you in the event of an audit
  • Interfacing with IRS representatives (the least appealing part of the job!)

More differences between a CPA and CFO

Some CPAs offer CFO services. However, a CPA doesn’t usually have the same depth of strategic finance experience as a CFO. Just as a CFO doesn’t have the same depth of tax experience as a CPA. 

CFOs are focused on:
  • Setting forward-looking financial strategy
  • Developing budgets
  • Creating long-term financial projections
  • Managing all aspects of a business’s finances 

In short, the two roles are complementary but different. Therefore, it’s a good idea to engage financial professionals who specialize in various domains of accounting and finance. This will help you successfully manage your business finances with more precision.

Need a CPA? We’re happy to recommend a few great ones here in San Diego. Drop us an email.

The Bottom Line

In summary, all three – a bookkeeper vs CFO vs CPA have important roles to play in your small business. Now that you understand the key differences, you’ll know who to turn to for help with various aspects of your business finances.

Still have questions? Need help forming a superstar accounting and finance team? No problem! At Momentum CFO, we coordinate activities among your financial professionals and will recommend trusted professionals to add to your team if needed. 

Ready to get started? Book your free consultation today and let’s work together to grow your business profitably!