What Does a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Do?

Learn about the salary, required skills, and more

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Chief financial officers (CFOs) create the financial strategy for an organization and manage its fiscal priorities. They are high on the organizational chart and work closely with the other C-level executives to set and achieve the company’s goals.

Typically, a person attains the CFO title after logging at least 10 years of experience in progressively more managerial accounting or finance positions. CFOs often have advanced degrees such as an MBA. They might have professional licensure or certification, making them certified public accountants (CPAs) or certified management accountants (CMAs). 

Learn more about what CFOs do, the skills they use to succeed, and the steps you can take to get started on this high-paying, high-responsibility career. 

Chief Financial Officer Duties and Responsibilities

CFOs must be able to perform the following duties:

  • Direct the accounting and financial departments and functions
  • Analyze operations and find opportunities for increased efficiency
  • Manage budget proposals, preparation, and reporting 
  • Identify opportunities for new business 
  • Coordinate with CTO (chief technology officer) and IT (information technology) staff to monitor and manage financial IT systems
  • Hire and manage financial staff 
  • Ensure compliance with legal and insurance requirements

A CFO is responsible for creating and directing the financial strategy of the organization. Together with other C-suite executives, including the chief executive officer (CEO), they establish the company’s fiscal priorities and ensure that the organization achieves its goals. 

CFOs are also responsible for ensuring the accuracy of all reporting and auditing functions, and they make certain that the company complies with local, state, and federal laws. If they work for a public company, this means staying on top of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting requirements. 

Chief Financial Officer Salary

A CFO’s pay varies by location, experience level, and the size of the company they work for. Fortune 500 CFOs, for example, will earn higher salaries than those who work for smaller companies and startups. However, regardless of these criteria, people in CFO roles tend to earn well into the six figures, as shown below:

  • Median Annual Salary: $395,004
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $599,535
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $214,795

CFO positions require a significant investment in education. Earning an MBA at a top business school can cost over $100,000 in tuition alone.

Education, Training, and Certification

Many employers want their CFO to have a graduate degree and extensive experience in finance, accounting, and management. CFOs typically land the job after holding previous roles as a controller, director of accounting, or vice president of finance.

  • Graduate degree preferred: Employers often give preference to candidates with an MBA or a master’s degree in accounting, finance, or similar degrees. Many may even require an advanced degree
  • CPAs and CMAs welcome: Certifications and accreditations can help you get hired. According to business management staffing firm Robert Half, employers who are looking to fill a CFO position often look for candidates with specialized credentials. A CPA or CMA may attract more job offers. 
  • Extensive experience required: CFOs often have at least 10 years of work experience in their field before they join the C-suite. Recruiters and hiring teams will be looking for a history of increasingly responsible roles in accounting and finance in their ideal candidate. 

Skills and Competencies

CFOs are ultimately responsible for coordinating the company’s financial goals. They may be called upon to manage a wide variety of tasks and teams related to budgeting, reporting, and forecasting financial data. You will find these CFO skills mentioned in job descriptions, resumes, and cover letters.

  • Accounting skills and experience: There’s a reason many employers prefer candidates with advanced degrees in accounting. CFOs are called upon to manage the strategy and direction of the accounting and finance teams. They must have extensive knowledge of procedures, policies, and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
  • Reporting and financial statements: CFOs are responsible for a wide variety of reports and statements, including shareholder reports, income statements, and tax returns.
  • Regulatory and compliance knowledge: Legal, insurance, and regulatory requirements vary depending on the company and the industry. CFOs must make sure that their organization remains in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. 
  • Leadership and management: At most companies, the CFO is the head of the accounting and finance team. They must have strong leadership and supervisory skills.
  • Communication skills: The CFO is responsible for communicating with the rest of the executive team as well as their own department. They must be able to explain complex financial issues and goals to executives, investors, and colleagues in other departments. 
  • Technology skills: Depending on the needs of their department and company, CFOs may need to know a variety of different accounting, finance, and enterprise resource planning software packages.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for top executives including CFOs will grow 4% between 2019 and 2029. However, the occupational outlook is stronger for some specific job titles than others. For example, jobs for CEOs are expected to decline 10% during the next few years, while jobs for general and operations managers are expected to increase by 6%.

Work Environment

CFOs usually work in an office environment and may spend long hours sitting at a computer, reviewing reports, financial data, and industry trends. They may also be called upon to travel in order to meet with investors and business partners. CFOs should be prepared to give presentations to the board, partners, and colleagues. 

Work Schedule

Like other top executives, CFOs tend to work more than the average 40 hours a week. The role comes with a lot of responsibility, which can be stressful and make work-life balance a challenge. 

How To Get the Job

Build your experience: Remember, most CFOs have extensive experience in accounting, finance, and operations before they land the job. If you’re still building toward the top job, look for ways to gain experience in these areas.

Write a targeted resume: Emphasize your operations and finance experience as well as credentials like an MBA, CPA, or CMA. Match your qualifications to the specific requirements in the job description.

Apply: While general job search boards like Indeed and staffing firms like Robert Half list job openings for CFO positions, your best bet may be to make connections with executive search firms that can recommend you for specific positions.

Comparing Similar Jobs

CFOs often hold related positions before leading a company’s finance team. Here’s a list of similar jobs, along with their median salaries.

  • Accountant: $73,560 per year
  • Budget Analyst: $78,970 per year
  • Financial Manager: $134,180 per year