CFO Jobs Require Way More Than Just A Top-Notch Education

CFO jobs are the career goal of many new accountants.  As a member of the executive management team of most organizations, the Chief Financial Officer is responsible for planning, implementing, and managing the financial activities of an organization.  What is the reward for this responsibility?  The median salary for a typical CFO in the US according to is $332,000. 

You're unlikely to be surprised that an MBA may be a minimum educational requirement.  But that does depend on the size of the company. 

Regardless, these positions are highly competitive, however, and candidates who are Certified Public Accountants certainly have an advantage. 

Education alone is not enough to land this upper level job.  Success as a CFO requires a high level of business acumen and a strong financial background.  Let’s review the normal work responsibilities of a CFO and see what it takes to excel in this role.

Role and Responsibilities

When you think of a Chief Financial Officer, you probably think of financial leadership and higher accounting functions.  Today’s CFO jobs are all that and a lot more.  The role of a CFO involves business strategy at an operational level as well as a financial one.  Every decision made in an organization has a potential financial impact.  The CFO is often the chief advisor to the President, CEO or Board of Directors about that financial impact.

Of course, the role varies with the size and complexity of the organization.  Large corporations may have divisional or business unit CFOs who are work at the divisional level and report financial and operational results to the larger organization.  Smaller companies and non-profit organizations may use the CFO to monitor and direct daily transactions and supervise administrative and financial staff.

Planning and budgeting is a part of nearly every CFO role.  In this role, you will manage capital accounts, develop short and long term budgets, and set performance metrics to support your organization’s long term strategic direction.  Here are some other common functions of a CFO.

  • Strategic Planning – Not only will you assist in setting your organization’s direction, you will also develop financial and tax strategies that support that direction.
  • Operations – Even if you don’t directly supervise most of the administrative and accounting staff, as CFO you will oversee their efforts.  You will also make decisions regarding software used to record transactions and set guidelines for things like asset management, employee benefit packages and operational best practices.
  • Financial Information – The CFO oversees the reporting of financial information and is responsible for the accuracy of that information.  The CFO is required to personally review and verify required filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and reports financial results to the Board of Directors or owners of the organization.
  • Funding – Banks and investors want to work with the Chief Financial Officer before making investment decisions.  In this role, you will need to monitor cash balances and forecasts and maintain good banking and investment relationships.  You will also make investment decisions that impact employee pension funds and general organizational investment opportunities.

Interaction with More than Numbers

The popular media depicts Chief Financial Officers as intense people with dry, matter of fact personalities and limited social ability.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  CFO jobs demand strong management and interpersonal skills.

A great CFO is an excellent communicator who builds strong working relationships with management at all levels.  In order to be effective, you must be able to guide and direct staff as they implement strategic decisions.  The CFO is often the most analytical voice in senior management and is asked to solve problems and give opinions on all aspects of the business.  

Working under the supervision of the President or CEO requires tact and diplomacy.  Presidents and CEOs are not selected for that role based on financial insight.  The type of dynamic leadership many of them bring to their job presents a challenge for a dedicated CFO.  Not every idea is a sound financial idea, and it’s up to you as CFO to explain the risks to your boss in a way that is clear and persuasive without being viewed as negative or oppositional.  

Even when you agree wholeheartedly with the CEO’s vision for the organization, it can be a challenge to translate that vision into a plan and motivate lower level managers to action.  As CFO you will be asked to work with key management staff to transform the CEO’s vision into reality.  

CFO Jobs – Are You Up to the Challenge?

If you are considering one of the many CFO jobs consider your interpersonal skills.  Accounting requires a love of numbers and analysis.  As an accounting professional, it’s safe to assume you enjoy the order, analysis, and factual basis of accounting.  While you may excel as a CPA, a love of numbers is not enough to excel as a CFO.