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Does the idea of generating cash flow plans and making financial predictions interest you? Do your eyes widen at the thought of doing this for an entire company? If so, a career as a chief financial officer (CFO) may be for you.
The CFO holds the lead financial position within their company. Responsibilities include tracking cash flow, financial planning, and proposing strategic solutions. They are C-suite employees, as are chief executive officers (CEOs) and chief information officers (CIOs). CFOs answer to CEOs and regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
CFOs often hold advanced degrees in finance, economics, and business. Some may have the designation of chartered financial analyst (CFA). They may also have backgrounds in accounting, investment banking, or analysis.
Read on to learn about CFOs' key skills, how to become one, and where they work.
CFO Role and Responsibilities
CFOs are vital to their organizations' success. These professionals provide insight on company investments, capital structure, and income and expenses. CFOs work with CEOs to perform financial forecasting and cost-benefit analyses.
CFOs keep track of their companies' liquidity, returns on investments (ROI), and reporting. Liquidity refers to a company's ability to pay off short-term liabilities, including all expenses, purchase orders, and other fees. Before a company can launch a new venture, product, or service, its CFO must ensure all liabilities are secured.
CFOs are also responsible for managing their companies' ROI. If the company expects a profit or a loss, this needs to be made clear and reported accordingly. ROI is also used to evaluate whether organizations should invest in the first place.
Forecasting is one of the most critical assets for CFOs. While it is important to keep everything running from day to day, the company should make progress year over year. Forecasting is a great way to anticipate gains or potential losses.
Reporting is another important task. In this role, accuracy is vital. A CFO not only reports to the organization but maintains standards in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) as stipulated by the SEC and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
CFOs juggle many responsibilities, including cash flow. They are also responsible for forecasting, time management, and using finance technology.
A Day in the Life of a CFO
A CFO's daily responsibilities may include meeting with various department leaders (e.g., accounting, HR, operations, and/or customer service) and the CEO. They may spend the rest of their day building financial models, taking care of income and expenses, and preparing financial statements and reports.
Key Soft Skills for a Chief Financial Officer
- Communication: While working with numbers day in and day out may seem ideal for some, eventually CFOs have to communicate their results and findings. They are also responsible for talking with people that report to them and resolving any issues. Lack of communication can result in inaccuracies that could be detrimental to the company’s progress.
- Precision: A CFO must maintain consistent accuracy. A simple miscalculation could result in bad reporting or even a misinformed forecast. Inaccurate reporting could lead to consequences from regulatory entities or bad investments.
- Multitasking: CFOs must juggle many tasks. They are often met with problems to solve on a daily basis. CFOs need to know how to prioritize and move in an efficient manner.
- Leadership: Managing the finances of a company is stressful. A CFO can be met with emergencies at any moment. They must respond in a confident manner and ensure the issue will be handled.
Key Hard Skills for a Chief Financial Officer
- Accounting: A CFO should understand finances and accounting. Many CFOs have experience in investment banking, accounting, and financial analytics. A CFO's major roles include developing financial models and statements.
- Analytical Skills: In addition to reporting, a CFO is responsible for financial forecasting. These projections result from analytical methods based on financial and economic trends.
- Knowledge of GAAP: GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. These along with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act are vital when it comes to how the finances within a company are maintained and reported. These stipulations are enforced by regulatory agencies such as the SEC.
- Education and Licenses: Most CFO's have at least an advanced degree (master’s or above) in finance, economics, and/or analysis. After obtaining that degree, the next step is to sit for the CFA exam. After that, the next step is to build experience.
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CFO Salary and Career Path
A CFO is a C-suite or an executive position within a company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for top executives was $107,680 as of May 2020. Salaries vary depending on many factors, including part-time or full-time work, company size, and prior experience.
How to Become a CFO
Becoming a CFO requires at least a bachelor's degree. Many aspiring CFOs earn degrees in the business field (e.g., accounting, economics, or business administration).
However, if you want to work in a particular industry, certain fields have complimentary bachelor’s degrees. For example, if you want to work within the agricultural industry, an agribusiness or agricultural economics degree could be beneficial.
After completing a bachelor's degree, some aspiring CFOs pursue master’s degrees. This could include an MBA, a master of science in accounting, economics, or analytics. An optional next step is to obtain a CFA designation.
Most CFOs have extensive experience in investment banking, accounting, and analysis. Some start in an entry-level role and work their way up to managerial roles.
Where Can I Work as a Chief Financial Officer?
As companies navigate market fluctuations, the need for chief financial officers becomes more apparent. Forecasting can help companies of all sizes avoid potential pitfalls. Even smaller companies may benefit from hiring CFOs for their day-to-day needs.
More industrial locations may have a higher demand and higher salaries for CFOs. Companies in these states may be highly competitive when hiring CFOs.
Top Locations for CFOs
The top-paying states for all chief executives including CFOs are South Dakota, New Jersey, District of Columbia (D.C.), Connecticut, and Washington. However, If you aren't fully committed to moving, there are also possibilities for remote work.
Chief Financial Officer Resources
High-level financial workers can access several resources for professional development and industry standards. As you progress in your career path, the following organizations may become essential to you.
Professional Organizations for CFOs
The ACCFO is committed to providing educational resources to aspiring CFOs while providing an environment for success. The organization is a great resource for best practices within the profession.
The CFO Leadership Council provides support for those in senior financial positions. This includes keeping its members up to date on new developments within the industry and providing opportunities for professional development.
The AFP is a certifying body within the treasury and finance profession. It provides certifications such as the CTP (certified treasury professional) and the certified corporate financial planning and analysis professionals (FPAC) credentials.
The FEI enhances professional development opportunities for senior level finance officers, including CFOs, finance controllers, treasurers, and tax executives. The organization offers conferences, peer networking, research, and publications.
Frequently Asked Questions about CFOs
Which jobs lead to a CFO career?
Aspiring CFOs may start in entry-level analyst positions within a company's finance or accounting department. From there they gain experience and advance into managerial roles, which builds relevant experience and leadership skills. The next step includes promotion into more managerial roles such as financial controller or other departmental head.
How long does it take to become a CFO?
With the increased demand for CFOs in every type of business, it can be difficult to determine how long it may take to enter this role. Becoming a CFO of a smaller company may require less experience than a larger more established company. Typically, CFO candidates may need five or more years of relevant supervisory and managerial experience.
What is the salary for a CFO?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for chief executives is $107,680 as of May 2020. CFOs can also pursue opportunities for part-time or consultant positions, which may affect salary.
What qualifications does a CFO need?
To become CFOs, people need a bachelor's degree in finance, economics, or accounting. Some may pursue master's degrees and CFA designations. Many CFOs also have extensive experience in investment banking, accounting, or analytics.
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