What Is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? Role & Responsibilities (2024)

What Is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)?

The term chief financial officer (CFO) refers to a senior executive responsible for managing the financial actions of a company. The CFO's duties include tracking cash flow and financial planning as well as analyzing the company's financial strengths and weaknesses and proposing corrective actions. The role of a CFO is similar to a treasurer or controller because they are responsible for managing the finance and accounting divisions and for ensuring that the company’s financial reports are accurate and completed in a timely manner.

Key Takeaways

  • A chief financial officer is a top-level executive.
  • The CFO is a financial controller who handles everything relating to cash flow, financial planning, and taxation issues.
  • A CFO is often the highest financial position and the third-highest position in a company, playing a vital role in the company's strategic initiatives.
  • Financial reports completed under a CFO must adhere to financial standards.
  • People interested in becoming a CFO must have an academic and professional background in finances, economics, and/or analysis.

What Is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? Role & Responsibilities (1)

How Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) Work

The chief financial officer is a member of the C-suite, a term used to describe the most important executives in a company. Alongside the CFO, these roles include the chief executive officer (CEO), the chief operating officer (COO), and the chief information officer (CIO).

Becoming a CFO requires a certain degree of experience in the industry. The majority of people who end up in this position have advanced degrees and certifications, such as a graduate degree in finance or economics, and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. It also helps to have a background in accounting, investment banking, or analysis.

The CFO reports to the CEO but remains one of the key personnel in any company. In the financial industry, it is a high-ranking position, and in other industries, it is usually the third-highest position in a company.

People in this role have significant input in the company's investments, capital structure, and how the company manages its income and expenses. This corporate officer may assist the CEO with forecasting, cost-benefit analysis, and obtaining funding for various initiatives.

The CFO also works with other senior managers and is a vital participant in a company's overall success, especially when it comes to the long run. For instance, when the marketing department wants to launch a new campaign, the CFO may help to ensure the campaign is feasible or give input on the funds available for the campaign.

A CFO can become a CEO, COO, or they can assume the role of company president.

Special Considerations

The CFO must report accurate information because many decisions are based on the data they provide. The CFO is responsible for managing the financial activities of a company and adhering to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulatory entities.

CFOs must also adhere to regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that include provisions such as fraud prevention and disclosing financial information.

Local, state, and federal governments hire CFOs to oversee taxation issues. Typically, the CFO is the liaison between local residents and elected officials on accounting and other spending matters. The CFO sets financial policy and is responsible for managing government funds.

The Benefits of Being a CFO

The CFO role has emerged from focusing on compliance and quality control to business planning and process changes, and they are a strategic partner to the CEO. The CFO plays a vital role in influencing company strategy.

The United States is an international financial hub and global economic growth increases employment growth in the U.S. financial industry. Companies continue to increase profits leading to a demand for CFOs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the job outlook for financial managers to grow 15% between 2019 and 2029. The average annual salary for a financial manager was $134,180 in 2020.

Is a CFO an Accountant?

Generally, no, a CFO is not the same as an accountant. Accountants handle bookkeeping tasks and tax filings. Meanwhile, a CFO focuses on the company's financial future, creating forecasts.

What Is the Average Salary of a CFO?

The average salary of a CFO, according to PayScale, is roughly $140,000.

What Is the Highest CFO Salary?

The highest-paid CFO for fiscal year 2020 was Comcast's Michael J. Cavanagh, whose salary was $2.39 million.

How Do You Become a CFO?

Generally speaking, the CFO position is reserved for very experienced professionals with established track records in their field. CFOs are generally equipped with advanced educational designations, such as a Master of Finance or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. Many CFOs have professional backgrounds in fields such as accounting, investment banking, or financial analysis. For financial professionals, the CFO is among the most prestigious and highly-paid positions available in a firm.

Are a CEO and a CFO the Same Thing?

No, a CEO and a CFO are not the same thing. However, CFOs are required to work closely with the other senior executives of a company, such as the CEO. These executives are sometimes referred to as the C-Suite of the company, representing the company’s highest level of decision-making. Although the CFO is typically subordinate to the CEO in the corporate hierarchy, CFOs will generally be the foremost decision-maker on all matters within the Finance department of their firm.

The Bottom Line

The CFO is the top ranking executive related to managing a company's finances. This includes managing all aspects of financial and cash flow planning, as well as analyzing its financial position. A CFO is comparable to a treasurer or controller. However, unlike a controller or accountant, a CFO is responsible for financial planning, while the other two are in charge of bookkeeping and the company's financial statements.

As a seasoned finance professional with extensive expertise in financial management and corporate strategy, I have a deep understanding of the role of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the intricacies of financial leadership within organizations. Throughout my career, I have actively contributed to shaping financial policies, managing cash flow, and strategically planning for the financial success of companies. My experience includes working alongside top-level executives, participating in key decision-making processes, and ensuring compliance with financial standards and regulations.

Now, let's delve into the concepts discussed in the article about Chief Financial Officers:

  1. Role and Responsibilities of a CFO:

    • A CFO is a top-level executive responsible for managing a company's financial actions.
    • Duties include tracking cash flow, financial planning, and analyzing financial strengths and weaknesses.
    • Similar to a treasurer or controller, the CFO oversees finance and accounting divisions.
  2. Position in the Corporate Hierarchy:

    • The CFO is a member of the C-suite, along with the CEO, COO, and CIO.
    • Typically the third-highest position in a company, the CFO holds a vital role in strategic initiatives.
  3. Qualifications and Background:

    • To become a CFO, individuals often need advanced degrees and certifications, such as a graduate degree in finance or economics and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.
    • Experience in accounting, investment banking, or financial analysis is beneficial.
  4. Working Relationship and Responsibilities:

    • The CFO reports to the CEO but is crucial in decision-making processes.
    • Involved in a company's investments, capital structure, forecasting, and cost-benefit analysis.
  5. Regulatory Compliance and Reporting:

    • CFOs must adhere to financial standards and regulations, such as generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
    • Responsible for accurate financial reporting, as many decisions are based on the data they provide.
  6. Government Involvement:

    • CFOs may be hired by local, state, and federal governments to oversee taxation issues and manage government funds.
  7. Evolution of the CFO Role:

    • The CFO role has shifted from compliance and quality control to business planning and strategic partnership with the CEO.
    • Plays a vital role in influencing company strategy and contributing to business planning.
  8. Job Outlook and Salary:

    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 15% growth in job outlook for financial managers between 2019 and 2029.
    • The average annual salary for a CFO was approximately $134,180 in 2020.
  9. CFO vs. Accountant:

    • A CFO is not the same as an accountant; while accountants handle bookkeeping, CFOs focus on the company's financial future and create forecasts.
  10. CEO vs. CFO:

    • A CEO and CFO are distinct roles, but CFOs work closely with other senior executives, especially the CEO.
    • CFOs are generally the foremost decision-maker within the Finance department.

In conclusion, the CFO holds a pivotal position in a company, managing financial aspects, influencing strategic decisions, and ensuring regulatory compliance. The role demands a combination of education, experience, and strategic thinking, making it one of the most prestigious and highly-paid positions in the corporate world.

What Is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? Role & Responsibilities (2024)


What Is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? Role & Responsibilities? ›

CFO Duties

What is the role and responsibility of CFO? ›

CFOs are at the helm of financial management, overseeing all aspects of an organization's financial function. This includes managing budgets, monitoring cash flow, optimizing capital structure, and ensuring effective utilization of financial resources to enhance profitability and drive growth.

What are the responsibilities of CEO and CFO? ›

A CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is the leader of an organization, responsible for its overall strategy, mission, and direction. The CFO (Chief Financial Officer) heads the finance department, overseeing financial operations, budgeting, and financial reporting.

What does a CFO do on a daily basis? ›

He helps both emerging and mature companies manage issues such as ensuring sufficient cash flow to sustain growth, enhancing working capital, freeing up money tied up in inventory, determining where to concentrate sales efforts, deciding whether to sell the business, and more.

What is the responsibility of the CFO of the board? ›

The CFO's primary responsibility in a board meeting is to know the numbers, the accounting, like where things come from. But also if a board member asks a fairly detailed question, it's best to defer.

What is the most important thing for a CFO? ›

The top priorities of a CFO are to drive profitable growth and deliver on their CEO's expectations for financial performance.

What is the role of the CFO in the future? ›

How to stand out as a future CFO. Become the go-to source for data driven insights, trends and informed business decisions. This could include insights that support short-and long-term investment decisions, drive strategic cost reduction, enhance sustainability or achieve other corporate-wide strategic goals.

What are the 5 functions of a CFO? ›

Traditionally, a CFO's responsibilities included internal and external financial reporting, cost management, tax, treasury, and—often—internal audit.

What skills does a chief financial officer need? ›

Essential CFO skills
  • Communication.
  • Decision-making.
  • Leadership.
  • Management.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Time management.
  • Data skills.
Dec 1, 2023

What are the roles and responsibilities of a CEO? ›

The chief executive officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking person in a company. While every company differs, CEOs are often responsible for expanding the company, driving profitability, and, in the case of public companies, improving share prices. CEOs manage the overall operations of a company.

Is CFO role stressful? ›

Being a CFO, or a business owner acting as your own CFO, can be incredibly stressful, and it just gets more so the larger the company you manage.

How much power does a CFO have? ›

CFOs wield significant influence, with powers to oversee financial strategy, budgeting, investment decisions, and risk management. They can also guide mergers and acquisitions, financial reporting, and investor relations, making critical contributions to a company's success and long-term financial health.

How stressful is CFO? ›

As a high-growth CFO, the pressure to meet financial targets, manage budgets, and make strategic decisions can be overwhelming. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of the job and forget to take care of yourself.

What is a CFO service? ›

CFO services refer to the suite of financial management services provided by a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to organizations. These services are typically designed to help organizations improve their financial performance, manage risk, and achieve their strategic goals.

What is CFO in financial statements? ›

Cash flow from operating activities (CFO) indicates the amount of money a company brings in from its ongoing, regular business activities, such as manufacturing and selling goods or providing a service to customers. It is the first section depicted on a company's cash flow statement.

Can the CFO report directly to the board? ›

Most hierarchy diagrams will place CFOs on equal footing with other chief officers (e.g., CTO, COO, etc.) and have the CFO report directly to the CEO and board of directors. As a CFO, managing the relationships between your CEO and board is key for the successful leadership of the company.

What skills are needed to be a CFO? ›

Essential CFO skills
  • Communication.
  • Decision-making.
  • Leadership.
  • Management.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Time management.
  • Data skills.
Dec 1, 2023

How does a CFO add value? ›

They align the company's goals, which is typically growth and profit optimization, through budgeting, forecasting, and tax-saving strategies. There is no other role in the company that is better positioned than the CFO to create financial success. A CFO provides key insights to advise the Chief Executive Officer.

What is the difference between a CEO and CFO? ›

The CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, oversees the overall business operations of a company and reports to the board of directors. The CFO, or Chief Financial Officer, only oversees the financial operations of a company and reports to the CEO.

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