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CFO vs. VP of Finance - Which Do You Need? Explained

Difference between CFO and VP of Finance

When it comes to the financial leadership of your growing business, understanding the distinction between a CFO and a VP of Finance is crucial. To aid in your decision-making, this article will examine the responsibilities and skill sets required for each role as well as present alternatives such as part-time or outsourced CFOs and VPs of Finance that may be more suitable for smaller businesses.


CFO vs. VP of Finance: What's the Difference?

When it comes to managing your company's finances, there are two key roles that can help you achieve success: the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Vice President (VP) of Finance. When making a decision, one should bear in mind the distinctions between these two positions; while they both have comparable duties, there are some important variations.

Role and Responsibilities

The CFO, as a member of the executive team, is responsible for overseeing all aspects of a company's financial health. This includes financial reporting, cash flow management, budgeting and forecasting, risk management, investor relations, and more. The CFO works closely with other members of the executive team, such as the company's chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), and vice president(s). A strong CFO will ensure accurate financial reports are produced on time while also providing strategic guidance on how to improve profitability and grow sustainably.

The VP of Finance, on the other hand, typically focuses more on day-to-day operations within an organization's finance department. They manage accounting staff who handle tasks like bookkeeping or accounts payable/receivable processing. Additionally, they may oversee payroll functions or work with external auditors during annual reviews.

Skillset & Expertise

A successful CFO usually has extensive experience in business administration along with expertise in areas such as mergers & acquisitions or capital raising efforts for growth initiatives, whereas VPs often possess strong backgrounds working directly within finance teams at various levels before being promoted into their current role.

Chief Financial Officer:

  • Strategic financial planning
  • Financial reporting and analysis
  • Risk management and compliance
  • Investor relations and capital raising efforts
  • Mergers & acquisitions expertise

Vice President of Finance:

  • Managing finance team members, including accountants, financial analysts, and other support staff.
  • Budgeting, forecasting, and variance analysis.

Related reading: What does a CFO do?

CFO vs. VP of Finance - Which Do You Need?

As a growing business, it's important to have the right financial leader in place to help guide your company toward success. However, it can be challenging to determine whether you need a CFO or a VP of Finance. Both roles are critical to the financial health of your organization, but they have different responsibilities and skill sets.

Chief Financial Officer

A CFO is responsible for managing the overall financial strategy of your company. They oversee financial planning and analysis, accounting, and financial reporting. A CFO is also responsible for managing risk and ensuring compliance with financial regulations.

Vice President of Finance

A VP of Finance is responsible for managing the day-to-day financial operations of your company. They oversee accounts payable and receivable, cash management, and financial reporting. A VP of Finance also works closely with other departments to ensure that financial goals are aligned with overall business objectives.

So, which one do you need?

If your company is large enough to require a dedicated financial leader, you may need both a CFO and a VP of Finance. In this case, the CFO would focus on the big-picture financial strategy, while the VP of Finance would handle the day-to-day financial operations.

However, if your company is smaller, you may only need one of these roles. In general, if you need someone to manage your financial strategy and risk, you need a CFO. If you need someone to manage your day-to-day financial operations, you need a VP of Finance.

Can you hire Part Time or Outsourced CFOs and VPs of Finance?

Outsourcing your CFO or VP of Finance role offers several benefits:

  • Cost savings: Hiring a fractional finance person allows you to access high-level expertise without the expense associated with employing someone on a full-time basis.
  • Flexibility: A part-time executive team member can adapt their workload according to your changing needs as they arise, ensuring that you only pay for the services you require at any given time.
  • Breadth of experience: An outsourced financial leader often has exposure across various industries and companies, which enables them to bring valuable insights into best practices and innovative strategies tailored specifically for your business.

To determine whether outsourcing is right for your organization, consider these key questions:

  1. "Does my current finance team have the necessary skills and experience?" If your accounting staff lacks specific knowledge needed for strategic decision-making (such as cash flow management), then bringing in an expert could prove beneficial.
  2. "Is my company experiencing rapid growth?" A rapidly expanding business requires more sophisticated financial reporting systems; engaging external support can help you stay ahead of the curve and maintain your financial health.
  3. "Am I planning a significant business transaction?" Whether it's raising capital, acquiring another company, or preparing for an exit strategy, having a seasoned finance professional on board can be invaluable in navigating complex transactions.

For a successful business outcome, seek out an external provider that shares your objectives and works in harmony with other top executives. Look for companies with proven track records in helping businesses like yours succeed. Additionally, ensure they have experience working alongside other key executives, such as the company's chief executive officer (CEO) and chief operating officer (COO).

In summary, part-time or outsourced CFOs and VPs of Finance offer many advantages to small- and medium-sized businesses seeking expert guidance without committing to full-time hires. By carefully considering your needs and selecting the right partner for your organization, you can enjoy access to high-level expertise while maintaining flexibility within your budget.

Hiring a limited-term or contracted CFO and VP of Finance can be an efficient approach to managing finances, as long as the ideal individual is identified for your company. Moving on, let's take a look at the salary differences between these two roles.

Key Takeaway: 

As a growing business, it can be challenging to determine whether you need a CFO or VP of Finance. A CFO is responsible for managing the overall financial strategy of your company, while a VP of Finance is responsible for managing the day-to-day financial operations. Outsourcing these roles offers cost savings, flexibility, and breadth of experience to small- and medium-sized businesses seeking expert guidance without committing to full-time hires.

Salary Differences between CFOs and VPs of Finance

When assessing the option of appointing a CFO or VP of Finance, it is essential to recognize the salary disparity between these two executive positions. Both positions play crucial roles in maintaining your company's financial health, but their compensation packages can vary significantly.

CFO Salary

The average annual salary for a CFO in the United States is around $135,000, with additional bonuses and profit-sharing opportunities that can push total compensation well over $200,000. Factors such as company size, industry sector, and years of experience will impact this figure. For instance:

  • A seasoned CFO at a large corporation may command an annual salary upwards of $300,000.
  • In contrast, smaller businesses might offer salaries closer to the national average or even lower if they're just starting out.

VP of Finance Salary

Vice Presidents of Finance typically earn less than their CFO counterparts due to differences in responsibilities and scope within the organization. The average VP finance salary is approximately $125,000 per year, although this number can also fluctuate based on factors similar to those affecting CFO salaries.

Fractional Services: A Cost-Effective Alternative?

If you're not ready for a full-time commitment from either role or need more flexibility in your budgeting process while still benefiting from expert financial leadership, you may want to consider hiring a fractional CFO or VP of Finance. These professionals provide the same high-quality financial reporting and strategic guidance as their full-time counterparts but work on a part-time basis.

Fractional services can be an excellent solution for small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that need experienced financial leadership without breaking the bank. The cost of hiring fractional executives is typically lower than employing full-time staff, making it more accessible for SMBs with limited resources.

Making the Right Decision

In deciding between a CFO and a VP of Finance, keep in mind your company's specific needs and budget constraints. If your organization requires extensive experience managing complex finances or working closely with other members of the executive team, such as the chief operating officer or company's chief executive officer, then investing in a higher-paid CFO might be worth it.

If your organization needs someone to handle the everyday financial operations and provide guidance on administrative matters, then a VP of Finance could be the better option - especially if they come at an economical cost.

The remuneration gap between CFOs and VPs of Finance is considerable, yet before settling on a decision, it's essential to think about the necessities of your organization. Moving on, let's look at whether an SMB is ready for a CFO or not.

Key Takeaway: 

When deciding between hiring a CFO or VP of Finance, it's important to consider the salary differences. The average annual salary for a CFO is around $135,000 while a VP of Finance earns approximately $125,000 per year. However, fractional services can be an affordable alternative for small-to-medium-sized businesses that need expert financial leadership without breaking the bank.

When is an SMB Ready for a CFO?

As your SMB advances, having the right financial head is crucial. This often leads to the question of whether your company is ready for a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or if another role like a Vice President of Finance would be more appropriate. One solution that many businesses are turning to is hiring fractional CFOs and VPs of Finance.

The Benefits of Fractional Leadership

Fractional leadership offers several benefits over hiring full-time executives, especially for growing SMBs:

  • Cost-effective: Hiring a full-time CFO can be expensive, with salaries ranging from $150k-$300k per year, depending on experience and location. A fractional executive provides the same level of expertise at a fraction (pun intended) of the cost since they work part-time or on an as-needed basis.
  • Focused expertise: Fractional leaders typically have extensive experience working with multiple companies across various industries. They bring this wealth of knowledge and best practices to help you navigate complex financial challenges unique to your business.
  • Flexibility: A fractional executive can scale their involvement up or down based on your company's needs - perfect for businesses experiencing rapid growth or facing temporary cash flow issues.

Determining If Your Business Is Ready For A CFO Or VP Of Finance

To determine which type of financial leader is best suited for your organization, consider these factors:

  1. Financial complexity: If your company's financing and financial reporting needs are becoming increasingly complex, it may be time to bring in a CFO or VP of Finance. These professionals can help you navigate the intricacies of business administration, cash flow management, and regulatory compliance.
  2. Growth stage: As your business grows, so does the need for more sophisticated financial leadership. A CFO or VP of Finance can work closely with the company's chief executive officer (CEO) and other members of the executive team to develop strategies that drive sustainable growth.
  3. Internal resources: Assess your current finance team - do you have accounting staff capable of handling day-to-day tasks but lack strategic guidance? A fractional CFO or VP of Finance can provide this high-level oversight while allowing existing employees to focus on their core responsibilities.

In summary, if your SMB is experiencing rapid growth or facing increased financial complexity, it might be time to consider hiring a fractional CFO or VP of Finance. This cost-effective solution provides access to experienced executives who can guide your organization through its unique challenges while helping ensure long-term success.

Finding The Right Financial Leader For Your Business

To find the right fit for your organization's needs, look for candidates with experience in similar industries and stages as yours. Consider working with professional services firms like Focused Energy that offer recurring fractional finance services tailored specifically for growing businesses like yours. Learn more about our offerings here.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between a CFO and a VP of Finance is crucial in determining which one your business needs. While both roles are responsible for financial management, their scope and level of involvement differ. It's important to consider factors such as company size, budget, and growth goals when deciding whether to hire a full-time CFO or outsource the role.

At Focused Energy, we understand that every business has unique financial needs. Our team of experienced finance professionals can help you determine which option is best for your company. Let us help you identify the most suitable financing option for your business and take control of your finances today.

Ready to gain mastery of your financial situation? Chat with Focused Energy, a team of expert CFOs, COOs, Controllers, and Accountants.

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6024 Youngfield Street, Arvada, CO 80004

(844) 413-6287


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