- The Global Virtual CFO market was anticipated to rise at a considerable rate between 2022 and 2030.
- Toptal and Upwork are witnessing a surge in demand for Finance Experts to serve SMEs and even large businesses in the US, Canada, and Australia.
- Gyanesh Changlani, Fractional CFO for North American businesses discusses why he tapped into this avenue, its growth potential, and how to become one.
Engineer turned Finance Professional
Even though I was studying Computer Engineering for my undergraduate degree, I had a keen interest in the stock market. Thus, after graduating, I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in equity research.
I started out at a stock brokerage, for a monthly stipend of INR 7,000.
Over the next five years, I gained valuable experience and found myself observing businesses from an external standpoint, writing equity research reports, and performing valuations.
I yearned to gain an insider’s perspective and truly understand how these businesses functioned.
An MBA in Finance seemed perfect. In 2011, I opted to enroll in a Business School which gave me an opportunity to study in Dubai.
After completing my MBA, I was hired by Toyota, Dubai, as a Financial Analyst. This was a big break for me.
I dedicated five years to the company, steadily progressing to the position of Finance Manager.
In 2017, I joined the Landmark Group, in Dubai, which again presented an amazing opportunity to grow in my career.
Life seemed great!
Working in the UAE allowed me to collaborate with individuals from various nationalities, exposing me to the diverse international environment.
Realizing that there was no long-term future for me in the UAE, in 2018 I relocated to Mumbai, India.
It wasn’t a great experience either.
Many Indian employers did not value my UAE work experience, and going from being paid in Dirhams to Indian Rupees was not satisfactory.
It took me about six months of job hunting before I found a position with an American transportation company. I joined their outsourcing division in Mumbai, where I primarily focused on FP&A.
I dealt with various large-scale platforms such as Oracle and other ERPs, as well as Power BI for analytics. This experience provided valuable insights into the inner workings of large companies and the working culture of the US.
But the salary was meager compared to what I was getting in the UAE.
Discovering Toptal and becoming a full-time Freelancer
Interestingly, when I returned to India and was searching for job opportunities, I simultaneously registered myself on Toptal, a freelancing platform.
Applying to Toptal is very easy but getting selected is a lengthy process.
Here is the drill,
- Go to the website, create your profile, and submit the application.
- Once you submit your application, the HR team will promptly start the interview process, which is the hardest part of this procedure.
- I had to go through almost 10 rounds of interviews and present a case study before being onboarded to the platform.
The onboarding process is stringent and time-consuming, as they only hire the top 3% of professionals.
I never expected to hear back from Toptal, but fast forward to 2019, I came across an assignment on the platform. It was for a US company in the HR industry that needed assistance in creating dashboards. I took it up.
It was a fantastic experience and I was ready to explore the numerous opportunities Toptal had to offer.
Following this assignment, I accepted another project with a Canadian firm that was in search of a CFO. It was here that I got introduced to the concept of “Fractional CFO”.
I discovered that numerous entrepreneurs in North America require the expertise of seasoned finance professionals. They may not have enough work to justify hiring a full-time CFO, but they do need a Finance Expert who can provide the same value while working on a part-time basis.
Seeing the magnanimous potential, the decision was made. I wanted to fully commit to providing outsourced CFO services.
In 2021, I took the leap and embarked on a new journey as a full-time Fractional CFO working exclusively for clients on Toptal.
This paid off in a big way… Today, I have 6 clients and earn almost 5 times of what I was getting in the UAE or 10 times the salary I would’ve earned in India.
Of course, my 15 years of experience is also a factor to consider when it comes to earnings.
The payment rate is initially set by me.
If I have a good rapport with the client and provide substantial value, I can discuss a payment rate increase directly with them. However, it is generally discouraged for ongoing engagements.
All I have to do is inform Toptal and they would create a new contract with the client to accommodate the change. This kind of flexibility is one of the many advantages of being a Fractional CFO or a freelancer.
While attending various conferences and workshops organized by Toptal, I have learned that some consultants earn as much as USD $250 or even USD $500 per hour for their services.
The US being a capitalist country, value your services and compensate you really well.
Advice on taking up a Fractional CFO role
If you aspire to work as a freelancer or Fractional CFO/Virtual CFO, it’s important to take it seriously and make a commitment.
This often involves resigning from your current job and dedicating yourself to this new endeavor.
To keep my personal and professional life separate, I have rented an office space, five minutes away from my house.
Here are other factors to keep in mind when starting out in this role.
- As a freelancer, the government allows you to file taxes based on your business status rather than as a salaried professional.
- Understanding these benefits can help you optimize your tax situation.
Fast internet connection:
- Invest in a good internet service provider.
- Without a good internet connection, you won’t be able to connect to your work network or access the files and applications you need to efficiently do your job.
- Pay attention to your presentation, dress appropriately, and ensure effective communication with clients.
- Some people may assume that I have given up my daytime and regular schedule. But the truth is, I actually enjoy working at night.
- Initially, it was tough for my family to adjust to my new working schedule, but over time, they have become accustomed to it.
Qualification and skills:
- Personally, I believe that having an MBA in Finance and at least 10 years of prior finance experience are essential.
- It’s crucial to have experience in business finance.
- Having an analytical mindset is also important. Being able to create reports, analyze key performance indicators (KPIs), and provide clients with ideas on how to grow their business revenue are valuable skills.
Most important of all, integrity and ethics are key when you take up such roles. Being honest with your client and doing the work with utmost diligence is imperative.
The demand for Fractional CFOs has grown significantly, particularly in the post-pandemic era.
Many companies, especially those in Silicon Valley, began to realize that they could outsource positions such as CEO, CMO, and CFO.
UAE, Australia, and the UK are emerging markets for fractional CFOs. These regions offer opportunities for individuals who prefer not to work night shifts, and the compensation structure is similar to that of the United States.
Toptal, the platform I work with, has also seen some UAE companies seeking Fractional CFOs. While their compensation may be slightly lower compared to US companies, it is still a considerable rate.
Toptal is better in my opinion for a few reasons;
- It interviews both freelancers and clients. This ensures a better understanding of the client’s requirements.
- Toptal facilitates the matching process through the platform’s matchmaker feature.
- The platform organizes meetups where freelancers can network and share ideas.
As you can already tell, my career has not been straightforward; from studying to be an engineer to entering a completely new realm, which is finance.
I even attempted CFA but could not pass the third level, due to my slow handwriting.
What has helped me through all these years, is perspective, the ability to take calculated risks, and being hungry to learn.