Skip to main content

How to become a CFO

Published on: 5 Aug 2019

How to become a CFO

As the pinnacle position in finance attainable only after many years of hard work and dedication, many accounting professionals have the ambition of one day becoming a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). If you have set yourself the lofty goal of joining the C-suite, read on to find out what you need to do to successfully rise to the top.

  • What does a CFO do?

    With the significant duty of overseeing all financial operations and decisions for an organisation, the role of a CFO is one of vast responsibility and influence. Alongside CEOs, CFOs share accountability for overall business performance, devising strategies to implement modernisation and encourage growth. CFOs report directly to the owners and shareholders of a company.

  • How long does it take to become a CFO?

    Do not expect to become a CFO overnight: the high level of responsibility bestowed upon these professionals means that the career path is a long one, with many CFO jobs on TotallyExec requesting at least 10 years of experience. You should expect to hold several positions with increasing levels of responsibility before reaching this peak.

  • How to become a CFO

    These are the 7 key things that you will need to become a successful CFO:

    1. A broad background in finance and accountancy.

    With such broad ranging responsibilities, CFOs need understanding and experience spanning all the key accounting roles and principles. A wealth of commercial exposure and in-house experience is also crucial for success as a CFO, so make sure to get into industry as soon as possible following completion of your qualification.

    Due to the management and business development obligations of CFOs, many do not have any practical finance duties at all. Therefore, you should ensure that you are exposed to as many different finance roles as possible as your career unfolds, resulting in an informed overview of your department once you become CFO.

    1. Fully developed management skills.

    Just as important to your success as a financial background is a fully developed set of management and leaderships skills. As CFO you will hold overall accountability for the finance department, so it is important that you are an esteemed leader with several years of experience in the management and development of finance teams.

    Due to their unique combination of technical accounting skills and people management experience, Finance Directors, Financial Controllers and Finance Managers often make for successful CFO candidates.

    1. Desire to keep learning.

    CFOs are usually highly qualified individuals. Alongside a professional accounting qualification such as ACCA, ACA or CIMA, CFO candidates often have a degree in finance, business, economics or a similar discipline and sometimes a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. The MBA is particularly attractive to individuals aiming for the C-suite due to the leadership, management and business-oriented decision-making skills that the qualification develops. Online courses in operations, risk, business and similar fields will help your CV to stand out from the crowd.

    1. A knack for building relationships.

    With key duties including managing the finance function, influencing senior executives and liaising with investors, successful CFOs use their exceptional communication, interpersonal and relationship skills every single day. Additionally, it is imperative that a clear line of communication exists between yourself, the CEO and other key senior figures.

    In your current role, make sure to build and maintain professional relationships with key figures across the business. Not only will this assist in the development of core CFO skills – you will also become a known and trusted individual, putting you in good stead to move up internally towards your goal.

    1. Understanding of the latest tech.

    If you want to become a successful CFO, it is essential to stay up to date with the latest technological programmes and developments within finance, as well as understanding the risks and rewards associates with different platforms and processes. Staying abreast of developments as they occur puts you in the envious position of building an innovative, streamlined and tech-savvy finance department.

    1. Comprehensive knowledge of your business.

    As mentioned earlier in the article, CFOs are required to wear many hats within their organisation. True success in the boardroom requires full understanding of the products, services, customers, competitors, suppliers, operations, shareholders and employees of your business. Maintain your business knowledge by staying up to date with the latest product launches, senior appointments and general industry news.

    1. Loyalty to your company.

    A Russell Reynolds Associates study of the career path of every Fortune 100 CFO found that a huge 69% of CFOs got their jobs via internal progression and promotion – if you are on the path to CFO, it is worth remembering that loyalty often pays off.