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A CFO does not need to have a CPA, CFA, or MBA designation. But of the three, having a CPA designation does help dramatically .
I’ve passed the CPA, and I can say that it is the most important designation to have if you’re considering being a startup CFO. And having taken the CPA, CFA, GMAT, and MBA courses, I can attest that the CPA is the most exhaustive and comprehensive. We actively encourage our accountants to get the CPA, and I believe that we have the best CPAs for startups in Silicon Valley.
I got through Level II of the CFA before I discovered that it didn’t really matter if you want to be a CFO. The CFA designation is best suited for those that want to be involved in institutional finance (hedge fund manager, IR, etc). Our COO Scott passsed the CFA and was a VC; he reports that the CFA did little to nothing for his career. CFA dues tend to be a bit of a racket too. You can’t say that you’re a CFA unless you pay hefty dues to the Institute. Which is pretty ingenious… the CFA Institute created a test and designation but they make you pay to flash the letters. In other words, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.
As for the MBA, again it’s not necessary to be a CFO but it does add points if you don’t have a CPA. An MBA designation helps with only one aspect of your potential CFO duties: relationships to cohorts who will become VCs, angel investors, and bankers. A number of our fractional CFO’s have MBAs, and tech founders tend to like working with finance professionals with a top tier MBA. However, if you talk to our actual CFOs who have MBAs, they tend to downplay what they learned and talk more about the people they met during their masters programs.
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