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General Introduction

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) manage a range of financial services for their companies, from risk management to financial planning, reporting, and record-keeping. With laws and statutes that govern the financial responsibilities of private companies and public organizations in a constant state of flux, today’s CFO needs to have a keen sense of their need to adapt to an ever-changing profession. This is especially true when economic and financial reform are being discussed at the highest levels of governance. In times like these, Chief Financial Officers will be in high demand, because they are some of the most qualified professionals to not only ensure that their companies are meeting financial goals despite changes to the old system, but also that the movers, shakers, and decision-makers of the world’s largest financial institutions are developing a new system that takes companies (and their employees) into consideration.

So the future is bright for anyone who aspires to become a Chief Financial Officer, a career path for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% job growth between 2014-2024. Jobs await them in literally every industry, because every industry has companies and organizations, and every organization or company has financial health that a CFO can work to improve. And because the work of a CFO is never finished—that is, because a Chief Financial Officer’s work is highly specialized and personalized, not to mention dependant upon human variables such as client needs and financial laws that change regularly—it is unlikely the profession will be hurt badly by automation, something which is an unfortunate possibility for financial jobs that don’t require as much specialization or human interaction as the CFO.

Salary Information

According to a lead authority on finance, the median salary for individuals who work as Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) is very lucrative, as they make around 600% more than the average worker. Other leading authorities, such as PayScale stake the median salary of their CFOs at $128,129, a number based on 5,813 individuals reporting throughout the United States. Still others, like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, report a median salary of $121,750, but specifically for CFOs with the role of being their institutions Financial Manager. As with all professions, the amount an individual with the requisite qualifications will make depends upon a number of variables, including geographic location, job title, and years of experience. However, it should be noted that on the high end of all CFO salary reports (i.e., the top 25%), most salaries reported are well-above the $200,000 mark.

Skillset

In order to perform their jobs on a day-to-day basis, Chief Financial Officers need to have mastered basic skillsets in mathematics, organization, planning, and personal and public finance. Because CFOs work within the service industry known as “assurance services,” they generally have the goal of providing specialized financial information to key decision-makers in order to assure they make the most informed decisions regarding their company’s finances. That also means CFOs should have good people skills, since they will very likely be interacting with and directing company personnel whose finances they manage on a regular basis.

On a more technical level, CFOs should also be comfortable with some of the more common software used for financial management in their industry, as well as be aware of new paperless trends in the profession, such as using cloud-based financial management software, providing online forms to clients, and asking for e-signatures. In other words, rather than worrying about being replaced by technology, today’s CFO should be working to master it.

And now for the intangibles. There are certain character traits a CFO should have that are difficult to find and replace, such as the intuitive ability to lead their company to make financial decisions whose risks are worth their rewards, as well as the ability to coach and motivate a team of individuals to accomplish company goals. CFOs should also have exemplary financial and risk managements skills, as well as the charisma and credentials to get their company’s foot in the door for new business development opportunities.

Job Description

The job description of a Chief Financial Officer will vary depending on the industry in which they work. Some of the most common industries for CFOs to work are the financial industry, the tech industry, and the service industry. If a CFO can gain experience over the course of his or her financial career in one or more of these industries, they open themselves up to earning some of the top-paying private sector jobs in both the United States and the world, whether they be at the big banks or any number of established or up and coming tech companies across the globe. Many CFOs also work for smaller industries as the most highly qualified and experienced financial professional in the company.

But speaking in the broadest possible terms, every CFO will be expected to carry out the responsibility of ensuring that the organization for which they work is taking steps to avoid bankruptcy, protect its investments, comply with the laws that govern its finances, and maximize revenue from all its sources of income, all at the same time as they work to establish their company as a leader in their industry.

Necessary Education and Experience

In order to become a CFO, prospective financial leaders should strive to accomplish the following three goals:

  • Earn at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, and perhaps a Master of Business Administration or Doctor of Business Administration with a specialization in Accounting or Finance.
  • Sit for and pass either the CPA Uniform Exam or the CFP Board Certification Examination.
  • Gain work experience as a Financial Manager and Financial Leader

The Chief Financial Officer role has evolved in recent years from a more passive executive role to a more active executive role. Prospective CFOs should expect to play a role in helping their CEOs decide not only the financial strategy of their organization, but also the direction of the business as a whole.

Helpful Resources

You can start your journey to become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) through a number of accounting bachelor’s degree programs, all of which can prepare students to become financial leaders. There are also a number of associate’s degree programs, which can often help prospective CFOs reach the early stages of their educational goals at less cost.

For an overall perspective of financial leadership via accounting, as well as your educational path to success in this field, see our Accounting FAQ Section. On our homepage, you’ll also find features and infographics on fraud and tax scams, tax loopholes, and other topics relevant to CFOs and the financial leadership profession.

If you want to go all the way to ensure you get the best education possible and become a CFO, see our ranking of the best master’s degrees in accounting to maximize your likelihood of becoming a financial leader.

Below, you’ll find a list of the most important professional organizations for CFOs to become familiar with, as well as a directory to find the degree program that best suits your accounting career goals:

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