What is the role of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
After the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Managing Director (MD), the CFO is seen as one of the most critical people to a business and its success. The role of a CFO goes beyond responsibility for the finance function as it is a key C-suite appointment that will have an impact and influence on the entire business.
Over last few years, the role of a CFO has changed – no longer purely a reporting role, the CFO role is much more dynamic and key to the success of a business. The CFO is the ‘right hand’ person to the CEO – the person they turn to for an accurate representation of the company’s position as well as providing sound advice and feedback around strategic decision-making. The CFO will often have the best informed overall position of a business.
As well as providing financial stewardship – ensuring the assets of a business are protected, the finances are reported accurately and risk is minimised, a CFO will provide input to strategic direction, ensuring that finance is key to all decision-making throughout the business. As the overall leader of the finance team, the CFO role can, depending on the size of a business, also include management responsibility for HR, Procurement and IT.
Fundamental skills that are required in order to be a successful Chief Financial Officer (CFO), include:
Leadership – to be the business partner to the CEO, the CFO must have strong leadership and communication skills. They must be able to provide informed advice and direction and be willing to voice their opinion as well as listen to that of others;
Strategic vision – this needs to be combined with and supported by strong analytical and problem solving skills;
Attention to detail – the ability to interpret and explain numbers to the wider business;
Gravitas – the experience and maturity to gain buy-in from a variety of internal and external stakeholders; and
An ability to assess risk – not be afraid to challenge and be challenged and a willingness to take acceptable risks to build on the success of the business.
How do I become a Chief Finance Officer?
Having a strong academic record leading to a Bachelor’s degree or Masters, ideally in a finance, business or economics degree is a good starting point. This is then followed by studying towards a professional accounting qualification – ACA, CIMA or ACCA.
Over two thirds of CFOs in FTSE 100 businesses have come from a big-4 background (Deloitte’s, PWC, EY or KPMG) having studied for the ACA qualification, however, this is not the only way to succeed as the CFO.
The route to a CFO appointment is no longer rigid and set in stone. The right attitude, drive and ambition can lead any talented accountant all the way to the top. As your career progresses, sector preferences, passions and experiences will all play a part in the type of organisation you are attracted to and wish to lead. Understanding what drives you as an individual, the type of people who inspire you and you want to work with will all influence and shape where you land your first CFO role. Getting a wide range of exposure and breadth of experience will define the calibre of CFO you go onto become.