Steps to becoming a CFO

The chief financial officer (CFO) is often the ultimate position for a finance career. 

As a CFO, you’re as high as you can go in a company. The only person above you operationally is the chief executive officer (CEO), then there are the owners – entrepreneur, shareholders, chairman – who you have to report to and keep happy.

For many CFOs the next challenge is CEO, company ownership or retirement – so you see, it’s very nearly the final and most senior role for many finance professionals.

What does a CFO do?

The CFO has complete oversight of an organisation’s financial operations and has a significant amount of responsibility for the overall business strategy and performance. ‘The CFO role comes with wide-ranging responsibility and accountability, as well as a high level of job satisfaction,’ says Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director. ‘Today's financial executives influence all areas of their organisations, from operations to information technology to human resources.’

The CFO is responsible for ensuring and developing revenue streams and driving business strategy. They do this by determining risk controls and developing innovative funding and capital-raising strategies to drive expansion, modernisation or product development. They need to be technologically competent and able to integrate technology strategy into the business. A CFO works closely with the CEO to influence and drive business strategy and will often be a board member responsible for corporate investment.

Excellent managers

Depending on the size of the company, a CFO may not have any actual finance or accounting tasks to perform, so they need a team of managers and professionals they can trust to deliver the numbers and perform in the company’s best interests. The CFO relies on company divisions to provide the necessary financial and operational intelligence to then report to the board or influence other executives.

Almost as important as being an extremely good finance professional, a CFO needs to be an experienced and capable manager. They need many years experience building and leading teams before becoming a CFO.


The majority of CFOs will understandably have an educational background in finance, business, economics or management. A typical path would be a bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting or other finance-related studies, alongside the ACCA qualification.

According to a survey of Fortune 100 CFOs by Russell Reynolds, 54% had an MBA, but only 12% acquired their undergraduate degree from a top-tier university. So while education and the relevant qualifications are very important, the quality of your working experience and professional track record is the strongest indicator for potential CFOs.

What does it take to be a great CFO?

  • Flawlessly execute strategy
  • Be strategic and tactical
  • Ensure revenue flow by having the vision to avoid or adapt to disruptions to revenue streams and know when to invest in something new to grow profitability

What does a CFO know?

  • The operations
  • The product
  • The customers
  • The vendors and suppliers
  • All the employees
  • The shareholders
Person walking with suitcase in empty airport

What qualities make a great CFO?

  • Fearlessness
  • Self-assuredness
  • Delivering bad news without placing blame
  • Delivering good news and attributing credit
  • Viewing themselves as a team member
  • Leadership

Source: The CFO Alliance Blog

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