Riding the interim finance wave

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Interim finance professionals are hot-ticket items in the UK, and not just for the usual reasons, such as maternity leave and illness cover, end-of-year and filling unexpectedly empty shoes.

Businesses need help with some very zeitgeisty challenges, from a backlog of projects built up during the pandemic and fast-growing SMEs looking to professionalise their finance functions, to public sector expenditure constraints and start-ups seeking funding-round expertise.

Scott Braybrook FCCA, currently on an FD contract, has noted an increase in businesses seeking specific skillsets, particularly in relation to mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and fundraising, and managing relationships with private equity or venture capital investors.

Public sector specialist Stephen Fitzgerald FCCA, meanwhile, finds that his expertise is in high demand because maintaining consistent senior-level staffing is increasingly challenging due to retirements and exits, and long-term expenditure constraints.

Tony Mason FCCA – currently an interim FD for a fast-growth biotech business – notes an increase in speculative enquiries from recruiters wanting to know when his position will end and even if he’d consider cutting it short for a new opportunity. ‘Demand is not coming from specific sectors or sizes of organisation,’ he says. ‘It’s from everywhere; given my background, many have been larger international entities, but also smaller ones looking to bring the accounting function in-house as they have grown.’

Given this backdrop, rates for interim finance professionals have unsurprisingly shot up, with Braybrook noting a 30% rise.

Top tips

Interim veteran Stephen Fitzgerald FCCA recommends the following:

  • Versatility: ‘People expect me to know about everything, and I don’t – but I can find out quickly.’
  • Personal resilience: ‘I had to go to an audit committee only two days into a job. I was trashed for all past wrongs for an hour, then welcomed to the job. It can be stressful and not for the faint-hearted.’
  • Personal marketing: ‘Find a way that works. You need a strategy, a good LinkedIn profile, and to ensure you’re immediate and current.’
  • Curry favour with recruiters: ‘Always pick up a call or phone back quickly. Be nice to them; they’re not all going to be your best friends but make the effort.’
  • Life in the spotlight: ‘All eyes are on you and on the way you behave. People will know you’re well paid, so they won’t forgive an interim for underperformance.’

The downsides

Despite its financial attractiveness, it’s worth noting that interim finance is not for everyone. Firstly, the lifestyle can be tough. ‘I travel all over the country, often working long hours, evenings and weekends,’ says Fitzgerald.

Then there are often very high, sometimes unrealistic, expectations given your expertise and significant day rate. ‘The requirements are rigorous, and commitment needs to be 120%,’ continues Fitzgerald.

You also need to be comfortable with the level of employment security – or lack thereof. Contracts are often short: three to six months, possibly a year for longer projects. They might be extended for several more months or even years, especially if you’ve built good relationships and delivered value. You might gain return clients or work on an ongoing, ad hoc basis.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ in the interim game, so you need to be not only resilient to insecurity but proactive in building and maintaining relationships, and keeping a pot of prospective positions bubbling on the backburner.

Solid experience

If this hasn’t put you off, there are a few rules of thumb about becoming interim. The first is that you will need solid and often extensive experience.

‘Interim staff are expected to hit the ground running, to join in with strategy, analysis and modelling, and to provide value quickly. They’re not there to input data,’ says Gemma Smith, director and head of interim at specialist accountancy recruiters Trace.

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You can also target specific areas. For example, Braybrook has positioned himself as an expert in software as a service (SaaS) and fintech, M&A and fundraising. ‘There’s so much money being thrown at SaaS and fintech, and everyone wants to grow, so M&A is big,’ he says.

‘When private equity and venture capital start getting behind often relatively small enterprises, the first thing they want to do is professionalise the finance function. If you can show such experience on your CV and LinkedIn, you should get lots of calls. And if you have experience in series A and B fundraising, you should get even more.’

Fools rush in

Be selective when starting out, recommends Braybrook. ‘You need to be cautious as an interim. Look at who you’ll be working for and with. What can they give you in terms of experience? Are they looking for somebody just to fill a gap or for somebody to do a particular thing? Can you gain a skill that’s going be valuable to you?’

Equally, you don’t want to hitch your wagon to a business that’s flatlining. ‘If you want experience in M&A, for instance, find a company that’s going through the process, with a leader who’s done it, so that you can chalk that experience up for yourself; it’ll add masses to your value,’ says Braybrook.

‘It’ll be interesting, dynamic and good fun. It’ll also be high pressure, but that comes with the territory. You never learn as much as you do when you’re in that type of environment.’

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