CFO as a service: This company matches startups with remote C-suite talent

March 6, 2023, 7:00 PM UTC
Many startups are opting for the CFO-as-a-service model, in which they’re paired with veteran talent who parachute into a company and serve as CFO for a period of time.
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With more than three decades of experience in finance and accounting, including serving as the CFO of several companies, Christopher Culp today enjoys a new way to work. Culp is one of millions of Americans who are now freelancing.

While freelance work has become widespread in nearly every industry, including food delivery, transportation, journalism, and design, it’s now transforming the office of the CFO.

Culp is one of thousands of experts on Paro, a highly vetted network of remote finance and accounting experts. (The company declined to disclose the exact number of experts on its platform.) Paro serves as an intermediary between startups and its talent pool, connecting companies with the best person for a project. Experts on Paro help with everything a CFO might do, such as fundraising, raising debt, and handling complex tax issues.

“Paro is, in my mind, McKinsey for the market that doesn’t have the budget for McKinsey, but aspires to achieve growth to join that bracket,” says Culp, who is based in Brooklyn.

The Chicago-based platform, which was founded in 2016, has always specialized in building a remote talent pool. The company’s model was designed this way so firms could hire the best possible talent for a project, regardless of where in the United States an expert is based, Michael Burdick, cofounder, chief strategy officer, and interim CFO at Paro, tells Fortune.

Paro’s expertise in remote work meant the company was perfectly positioned to handle the surge of demand it experienced when the pandemic forced firms to shift to a work-from-home model. 

“Pre-pandemic, if you were the type that said, ‘Hey, I need someone, but in a seat sitting next to me,’ you’re probably limited to a 25-mile radius around you in terms of the talent at your disposal. Now, there are no boundaries, and so that’s really opened up a world of possibilities for everybody,” Burdick says.

Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter, tracks hiring trends. She says she’s seeing more jobs in the CFO’s office that offer flexibility, particularly at startups where the finance department may be smaller.

“When you look at the entire C-suite, the share of contractor or part-time CFO positions right now is much higher than for the other positions,” she says. “By definition, there’s no part-time CEO. You don’t want your chief strategy officer working somewhere else. But the CFO function is a little more liberal than the other ones in the C-suite.”

Disrupting an ‘old-school industry’

Burdick and his cofounder, Dan Wywrot, both got their start in the industry working at Big Four accounting firms. They connected over their desire to transform an “old-school industry.”

“I was working on many different engagements [at my first job], but the rigidity of the model didn’t really jibe with what I wanted. It felt like a square peg being in a round hole,” Burdick says. 

The cofounders decided to build a company that would enable them to work the way they wanted to, with flexibility and autonomy. While Burdick says that persuading talent to leave lucrative jobs and the steady, guaranteed paychecks that come with them can be a nerve-racking proposal, Paro is showing them that the CFO-as-a-service model is also lucrative. 

Contractors like Culp can be selective about the projects they choose, taking total control of their time spent and earning potential. Nearly 30% of the financial experts on Paro billed more than $100,000 in 2022, while several experts earned more than $1 million, according to the company.

The average expert on Paro has more than 15 years of career experience. Many come from Big Four accounting firms, banks, and Fortune 500 companies, or have blue-chip backgrounds, according to Burdick. Paro has seen applications accelerate, particularly from people who liked working remotely during the pandemic and don’t want to return to the office.

In an effort to avoid oversaturating the Paro community, people aren’t brought into the talent pool until there is a specific demand for their expertise. To do this, the company uses a combination of A.I. and human evaluators to review candidates’ résumés and ensure it’s making the best choices. 

Once candidates are accepted, the company uses its proprietary A.I. data sets to help match contractors to projects and set their rates using a formula that takes into account their skills, experience, and the type of work needed on a project. 

While each project includes a Paro representative who helps ensure the engagement is successful, Burdick says using A.I. to help match experts takes some of the friction out of the process.

“Bidding on engagements is a pain for this type of worker demographic who doesn’t like to sell,” he says.

As for the next year, Paro is forecasting even more growth, as more companies are looking to hire experts on a remote and contract basis. 

“We’ve built essentially what I wanted going into [my first job], which was to have the flexibility, choice, freedom, and autonomy to work on my own terms and sort of choose what I want to work on, when I want to work on it, and how I want to work on it,” Burdick says. “That’s really our purpose. We empower business professionals to pursue meaningful work on their own terms.”

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