SVB Fallout: 5 Questions You Need to Ask Your CFO Right Now

People line up outside of the shuttered Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) headquarters in Santa Clara, California.
People line up outside of the shuttered Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) headquarters in Santa Clara, California. Photo: Getty Images.

The feds have rescued entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley Bank’s demise, but the collapse should have founders reexamining their financial posture.

Silicon Valley Bank’s sudden implosion throttled startups, as founders raced to secure their finances before the regulators moved in. Here’s the good news: thanks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s intervention, much of the original concern around accessing funds has been assuaged. Federal banking agencies pledged to backstop all SVB depositors, including both insured and uninsured funds.

The government swooping in to help clean up the SVB mess — tied to a classic asset-liability duration mismatch — is a Hail Mary for entrepreneurs, but founders are still a ways off from stable ground. While the threat of contagion appears to have diminished, it’s not zero: regional banks took a beating in Monday’s market, and three banks have now closed in the span of a week. (The others, Signature Bank and Silvergate Capital, were crypto-focused lenders.) And don’t forget about the debt ceiling crisis looming over Capitol Hill, with Republicans hardly in the mood to expand spending.

Given this uncertainty, it’s imperative that founders check in on the financial posture of their organization. Here are five questions you should be asking your chief financial officers right now.

1. Where do we keep our cash — and how do we diversify it?

There are a number of lessons founders are gleaning from SVB’s collapse, but foremost is the importance of diversifying funds. “Just parking all of your cash in one bank and just assuming that that’s the prudent thing to do is not necessarily the right decision,” explains Tyler Griffin, a managing partner at the San Francisco-based Restive Ventures. “I think we all woke up to the fact that being more thoughtful about treasury is really important.”

Know where your cash sits, and spread it out among multiple financial institutions. The more diversified your cash position, the stronger your hedge becomes, especially in times of crisis. Better yet, understand the kind of accounts your cash is being held in. As Amy Spurling, the CEO and founder of the employee stipend platform Compt points out, cash held in stock and sweep accounts is fully insured, “so any default in their bank still means they are covered.” Sweep accounts, for example, are often tied to an investment account, and can automatically transfer funds once hitting a certain balance threshold. For the most part, deposits of up to $250,000 are insured by the FDIC.

2. What’s our cash burn rate and our cash runway?

It’s essential to understand how liquid your company is so you know where to go if you need cash on the fly. After all, figuring out how much cash on hand you have, and how quickly you’re going through it, dictates your spending. Understanding how you need to be spending your cash both in the short-term and long-term will help inform your position — especially if cash is tied up and is not immediately accessible.

Your cash runway, or the amount of time until available cash runs out, also informs a company when it’s time to fundraise again. While startups were flush with investments in recent years, attracting new funding may now prove difficult. “In the last few years, low interest rates have distracted many founders from being efficient and effective with their treasury function as they could just raise additional capital,” says Justin Bayless, CEO of Ten Figures, a management consulting and private investment firm based in Phoenix.

“Now founders must focus on their existing treasury in order to lead through this difficult time without having easy access to capital,” Bayless says, adding that navigating all the turmoil may even turn out to be a competitive advantage.

3. How many of our customers are in tech?

If most of your clients are technology companies, Compt’s Spurling says you might take a revenue hit for whatever you’re selling them. This, in turn, will influence your cash burn. “This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Spurling adds. “It requires extreme crisis management. No day-to-day activities are getting done; it’s the agile movements for survival that are taking priority.”

4. Where do our vendors bank?

Even a sound, diversified banking strategy won’t shield your company completely from banking fallout. Such was the case when SVB’s collapse severely affected payroll providers and sent founders scrambling so they could pay their people on time. When you partner with a vendor and map out their financial picture, make sure you’re comfortable with the financial institutions your vendors bank with.

Also key? Founders need to examine a vendor’s safety management protocol, and take care to see how accessible these vendors might be in times of crisis. That’s according to William Hauser, the vice president of finance at the San Francisco-based Production Board, an investment management firm. This is especially important, Hauser says, for payroll and credit cards.

5. What is our relative risk level?

If your company wasn’t already doing stress tests with your financial institution, that will likely change, particularly as uncertainty around future bank runs remains. Now it will be essential for companies to understand the risk they take by holding deposits at whatever financial institution they decide to bank with, says Praful Saklani, the co-founder and CEO of the contract management system firm, Pramata. This should especially be the case for deposits in excess of $250,000.

“None of us were actually paying attention to what exactly is the balance sheet of your checking account,” Saklani says. “Because of this situation, people are now going to have to inspect the balance sheets and understand, how much risk am I really taking on, and how well-managed is this bank?”