What is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)?
A chief financial officer (CFO) is a company executive who is responsible for making financial decisions to advance the company’s financial situation.
A CFO is responsible for the short-term and long-term financial growth of a company. CFOs oversee the company’s day-to-day cash flow. They also make decisions regarding a company’s capital structure (which is the company’s combination of equity and debt) and making sure the company gets the best return. The CFO usually ranks third in the company’s organizational chart — though, the CFO is the highest financial executive in the company. CFOs typically report to the chief executive officer (CEO). CFOs often have advanced degrees and extensive career experience. In return, the CFO is often one of the highest-paid employees at a company.
Imagine a local tech startup is looking for a CFO to help with their finances. They need someone who can help manage the company’s revenue and expenses and help increase capital for the company. They’re probably looking for someone with a background in accounting and business administration, and possibly a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) — Over 60% of Fortune 100 CFOs have advanced level degrees.
A CFO is like a club treasurer…
They’re ultimately responsible for making sure money is coming in and going out in such a manner as to benefit the long-term financial health of the organization. If there’s a problem, they let the club president (the CEO) know, and a plan can be formulated to get back on track.
The CFO is one of the most important figures at any company. As the head of all financial aspects of the organization, the CFO has many responsibilities.
Reporting: One of the primary duties of the office of the CFO is to report on and present the financial situation of the company. They do this for the benefit of company leadership so that they can make decisions regarding the company’s future. They also prepare financial statements to report the company’s financial situation to shareholders and analysts.
Financial Management: The CFO is responsible for overseeing the management of the company’s finances. This job includes the day-to-day money management of analyzing the company’s revenue and expenses. It also includes bigger-picture decisions about investing and determining the best debt-to-equity ratio for their company. They’re also responsible for helping the company get the best return on that equity or debt.
Financial Strategy: In addition to managing the company’s current finances, the CFO is responsible for the long-term financial strategy of the company. They do this in coordination with the chief executive officer and board of directors.
Leadership: The CFO doesn’t do any of this alone. Instead, their focus is on the big-picture, and they typically delegate the lower-level tasks to those working under them. Being able to hire and lead well is a massive part of the CFO’s job because they can only achieve their goals for the company if the people working for them are able to carry out their vision accurately.
Some large nonprofit organizations also employ CFOs, and those executives have a unique set of responsibilities and challenges. Nonprofit organizations have different financial goals than corporations, and therefore their CFOs may have entirely different objectives in their roles.
Nonprofit organizations have different rules that govern their financial activities. These differences require that nonprofit CFOs have a firm grasp of nonprofit finance laws. Nonprofit organizations also have different goals for their money. In private companies, the primary goal is to increase profits. That’s what the board of directors expects of executives, and they often financially reward executives who can make that happen. In nonprofit organizations, the goal is to raise money to carry out their mission and to use that money efficiently. They’re often working with money from donors who likely want their donations going toward a cause near and dear to them, not to bonuses for executives.
Finally, nonprofit organizations often have constrained resources. Most nonprofit organizations aren’t large enough to necessitate a CFO, and those that can probably can’t compete with corporate CFO salaries.
With the extensive amount of responsibility CFOs have, there is also a very particular skill set they must have. First and foremost, a CFO needs to have a deep understanding of financial matters. Since they’re responsible for guiding the financial direction of the company, they need to have a firm grasp on everything that entails. Many have a background in accounting and business finance that has allowed them to gain the experience they need for the job.
CFOs also have to be influential leaders. In addition to planning the company’s financial goals, they also hire and manage the people who carry out that vision. The CFO’s ability to lead their team will make a difference in the company’s financial success.
As technology changes, companies often look to hire CFOs who can adapt to the new technology of the financial world. This skill will help them to lead their company to stay competitive with the financial advancements of other companies.
A CFO’s ability to create relationships is also an essential part of the job. They work closely with others within their company, such as the chief executive officer and chief operations officer, as well as others in the financial industry, such as investors and financial institutions.
For those in the financial industry, the role of CFO is one that is highly sought after, and for a good reason. It’s the highest-ranking financial job in any company. One of the definite perks of a CFO job is compensation. With the average CFO raking in well over $100,000, they’re one of the highest-paid employees in a company. CFOs also get a lot of non-salary perks like bonuses and other cash incentives.
The financial management industry, which encompasses CFOs, is a fast-growing industry. While most industries are growing at a rate of 5% over 10 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that financial management is growing at a pace of 16%. This outlook is good news for anyone working toward a job in that field.
For someone with a passion for finance, it can also be an incredibly fulfilling job. The CFO oversees the financial strategy of the company and can have a role in guiding the company’s long-term goals. They can be a considerable part of their firm’s success.
Despite the benefits of the CFO role, there are tradeoffs as well, as there are likely to be with any job. First, there is a significant amount of experience (10 or more years) required for getting a job as a CFO. Many CFOs also have costly degrees that got them to that role.
The industry is also highly competitive. Not every company has a CFO, which might limit the number of CFO jobs available. This limitation increases competition for those jobs and might require a candidate to relocate to find a job as a CFO. The compensation is also going to vary widely from one company to another. A CFO at a mid-sized regional company isn’t going to get the same salary and benefits as someone working at a Fortune 500. CFOs also often get a lot of their compensation from bonuses, which may shrink if the company’s performance goes down.
Finally, the job of a CFO brings with it a significant amount of responsibility. The CFO reports to the CEO who reports to the board of directors. There’s a lot of pressure on CFOs to make sure the company is excelling financially and that profits are increasing.
The CFO and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are two of the top executives in any company. And while the two work closely together, they have very different responsibilities. The CFO oversees the financial aspects of the company, whereas the CEO oversees everything in the entire company.
The CEO is the highest-ranking executive in the company. The CFO is typically the third highest-ranking executive, after the CEO and the Chief Operating Officer (COO), the person who is responsible for overseeing business operations. The CFO reports to the CEO, and the CEO reports to the board of directors.
Like the CFO, the CEO focuses primarily on big-picture goals. CEOs delegate most of the detail tasks and instead work with other company executives to craft the overall vision for the organization. One of the executives they work with is the CFO to help meet the long-term financial goals of the company.
The two executives also have very different public images. The CFO builds relationships with other people in the financial industry, such as banks, investors, and financial institutions. The CEO usually plays a much more public role in the company — They are essentially the face of the company.
C-Suite executives (aka those with the term “chief” in their title) tend to be some of the highest-paid in any company. Being the third-ranking executive, the CFO is generally the third highest-paid employee. The median CEO salary in the United States is just over $750,000. The second-highest-paid is the COO, with a median salary of just over $450,000. Finally, the median CFO salary is just over $360,000. C-Suite executives are unique in that a large portion of their annual pay typically comes in the form of bonuses and other cash incentives. Therefore, the salary doesn’t tell the whole story.
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