How to Become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)


Are you interested in a demanding, yet rewarding career? Are you looking for work that combines accounting and finance functions with overseeing business operations? If so, a career as a CFO is worth considering. Here's a quick summary of what working in this field can offer:


• A very high level of pay

• Opportunity to combine skills in various areas, such as accounting and business administration

• Local, regional, national and international travel

• Ability to be a business leader in your chosen industry


If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this career, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what these executives do, how much they can earn, and what education and experience you'll need. 



Educational Prerequisites for Becoming a CFO

Although CFOs come from various backgrounds, earning certain certifications and advanced degrees can make transitioning into the position a lot easier for you.


For example, as a CFO, you'll need a firm grasp of the fundamentals of budgeting, analysis, compliance, risk management and other accounting principals. Earning a degree in accounting, as well as a subsequent designation (such as CPA) will serve as a great foundation in these areas.


You’ll also need business and operational understanding to be effective as a CFO; a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) is helpful for increasing your knowledge in these vital areas.


Success Tip: Earning a CPA designation, as well as an MBA is powerful combination for this career.  





General Job Description of a Chief Financial Officer

As a chief financial officer, you would be responsible for the administrative, financial and risk management operations of your company. This includes the creation of a financial and operational strategy, metrics for those strategies, and the ongoing development, monitoring and evaluation of control measures which are designed to preserve the company’s assets.



Typical Job Duties

Although the specific job duties involved in this profession can vary, you would likely be responsible for the following:


• Monitoring and directing the execution of strategic business plans

• Developing financial and tax strategies

• Managing the capital request and budgeting processes

• Developing, implementing and evaluating performance measures that support the company’s strategic direction

• Reporting financial results to the board of directors

• Reporting risk related issues to the audit committee

• Creating and monitoring control systems

• Investigating the findings and recommendations of external auditors

• Overseeing the employee benefit and incentive plans, with emphasis on creating the most cost efficient packages

• Ensuring maximum individual and team performance through the acquiring, organizing, developing and motivating of personnel 



Will You Need Experience?

A career as a CFO is considered a senior-level position, and for good reason; much of a company’s success depends on the competence and effectiveness of its executive team, which includes the chief financial officer.


A good amount of relevant career experience is typically considered critical* to have if you want to be promoted into the role of CFO. You not only have to demonstrate that you’ve been effective in roles of lesser responsibility, you have to demonstrate that working in those roles has taught you the skills you’ll need to be effective as a top executive.


*Some employers may accept the equivalent of education in place of experience.



Relevant Areas of Experience

We’ve already established that you’ll need experience, but in what areas?


Financial Experience: One of your key responsibilities in this occupation would be to ensure that the CEO and board of directors are making sound financial decisions, both in terms of regulatory compliance and in terms of resource investment/expenditure. Having solid financial experience makes you more effective in making these judgments.


Business and Operational Experience: Having a deep understanding of the business operations of your organization (and of business operational practices in general) is critical, as a big part of your job will be to oversee the activities of certain departments, and collaborate with other executives and mangers. Gaining experience in the operations side of your business could prove to be invaluable for your future career. 



Skills Needed to Be Successful

Gained through a combination of education and experience, the following skills will help you qualify for a CFO job, as well as excel in it:


• Knowledge of investment, credit, and financial and management accounting principles

• Thorough understanding of corporate banking, tax and audit requirements

• Demonstrated ability to provide solutions to operational, accounting and financial business problems

• An understanding of systems, processes and internal controls over financial information

• A deep understanding of your market

• A deep understanding of your organization’s operational procedures

• Demonstrated facilitation, negotiation and mediation skills

• The ability to influence and persuade others across departmental boundaries

• The ability to effectively communicate the needs of internal and external stakeholders





Personal Traits You'll Need

In addition to a strong set of technical skills, you will need to build a reputation for being a dependable, capable, hard worker in order to be promoted to the role of CFO. Demonstrating the following traits will also help your cause:


• Self-discipline

• Fairness and consistency in your decision making

• Commitment to developing your technical and interpersonal skills

• The ability to deliver innovation and vision

• The ability to establish a climate of trust and respect

• The ability to encourage and promote exceptional levels of staff performance


Success Tip: Always try to show initiative in your work: understand the business needs that the projects you work on are born out of, and try to deliver a little bit more than what you have been asked for, and do it every time. 



Who Employs CFOs?

Chief financial officers are found in nearly every industry. They work with medium or large business that have anywhere from a few dozen employees, to thousands of employees.



Salary Level Typical to This Field

The salary you could earn in this profession can vary widely, and typically depends on the following factors:


• Your level of related education

• Your level of relevant work experience

• The size and type of your employer

• The industry in which you work

• The region in which you work

• Many other factors


CFO Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Senior Managers - financial, communications and other business services occupational group earn an average salary of $166,586 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada at the time of writing (July 4, 2019)


United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working as part of the Top Executives occupational group is $173,320 per year.



Current Job Opportunities

Although job opportunities in this field are rarely posted online, from time to time they will be. Have a look below to see if there’s anything listed in your area:




Working Conditions Typical to This Career

Hours: As a CFO, you'd likely work regular, weekday working hours. It wouldn't be rare to find yourself going into work early, staying late, or going in on weekends in order to complete tasks and projects.


Setting: One of your future perks, you can expect to have one of the largest offices in the building, and numerous support staff helping you complete routine tasks. You would often travel to attend meetings and conferences, or to visit your company’s local, regional, national, and international offices, or branches.


Work Environment: One of the downsides, your work would be very stressful because of the intense pressure to succeed. If you find yourself working for a poorly performing organization, or overseeing a poorly performing department, you may find your job in jeopardy.



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are occupations in our database that are similar in nature to 'CFO':


• Administrative Officer

• Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

• Chief Operating Officer (COO)

• Controller






Please consult the following resources to learn more about the various aspects of a career in this field.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Senior Managers - Financial, Communications and Other Business Services.” (December 5, 2012). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 4, 2019.

Management:Top Executives.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 4, 2019.

Salaries & Skills:How to Become a CFO: 7 Steps to Guide Your Career Path.” Fred Decker (May 5, 2017). Robert Half website. Retrieved October 9, 2015.

Professional Skills:The Skills Needed to Become a CFO.” (n.d.). ACCA Global website. Retrieved November 4, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a CFO

Listed below in the 'Relevant Fields of Study' section are academic fields that are relevant to this career. Scholarships in our database are that are matched to those fields of study, and are therefore relevant to becoming a CFO, can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for a career as a CFO. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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