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How to Become a Chief Financial Officer

If you are looking for a high-level position using your finance and accounting skills, the role of chief financial officer (CFO) is an excellent career choice. As a CFO, you’ll have many important responsibilities, including managing a company’s financial strategy, tactics, and overall health. You will need to have in-depth knowledge of corporate financial law and risk management practices, strong leadership and organizational skills, and be analytical in nature. 

A CFO has proven management experience, excellent risk management skills, and a solid finance background. You might be involved in researching ways to increase company profit, discovering new investment opportunities, managing mergers and acquisitions, and developing financial plans. A CFO is a top-level position and a rewarding career opportunity. You will most likely need to have a decade of experience working with financials to be considered for this position.

Sample job description

To better our success, [Your Company Name] is hiring an experienced chief financial officer. The CFO will have to leverage their experience, leadership, and communication skills in a diverse setting to influence the CEO, COO, and functional leads in our business model, brand portfolio, and innovation. Characteristics of a successful candidate will be one who thinks strategically and holistically and executes with excellence and speed. The CFO must bring a financial point of view to aid in strategic decision making, and build trust, value differences, and deliver results. Our CFO must have an eye for detail, be extremely organized, and be able to delegate tasks to team members effectively. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Work closely with Board of Directors and CEO to create financial plans
  • Direct the creation of all financial statements
  • Compare sales and profit projections and strategize a plan based on past quarters
  • Delegate tasks to team members
  • Create financial reports
  • Effectively execute a company’s financial strategy 
  • Develop company growth plan that also reduces expenditures
  • Manage mergers and acquisitions
  • Discover lucrative investment opportunities
  • Manage account procedures

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or related field
  • MBA or master’s degree in finance or accounting
  • 5+ years of experience as an executive-level employee

Required skills and qualifications

  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Superb leadership skills
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Excellent decision-making skills
  • Ability to delegate and motivate team members
  • Above-average organization skills
  • Ability to work well with others

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s in finance, accounting, or a related field
  • 10 years of experience in a senior role
  • CPA designation
  • Extensive knowledge of financial and accounting computer applications

Typical work environment

The typical work environment for a chief financial officer is a corporate office setting. It is a very fast-paced environment. They will spend a lot of time in board meetings and in meetings with the company CEO. CFOs are expected to spend the majority of their time in their office or conference rooms. They may also have to go to business lunches or dinners with clients.

Typical hours

Typical business hours for a chief financial officer are Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM. However, with it being a C-level position, these hours are just estimates. Often, they’ll work much longer hours to meet their deadlines. It’s also common for CFOs to have to travel to other offices and meet with the finance departments there.

Available certifications

There is an extensive selection of certifications that can be helpful to chief financial officers. Here are just a few: 

  • CFO by AAIFM. The chief financial officer certification is sponsored by the American Association for Investment and Financial Management. They require candidates to have one of the following requirements: a B.S. degree in any field, a minimum of two years in a related finance field, or a minimum of 25 hours of financial management approved training.  This certification requires candidates to pass an oral or written exam. Recertification is required every four years.
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This certification requires a minimum of two years of education or training after high school and more than two years of work experience. Candidates must pass an exam. Certification renewal is required every 12 months. 
  • Chartered Certified Accountant (CCA). The CCA requires a minimum of two years of experience or training after receiving a high school diploma, along with two-plus years of work experience. Many individuals seeking this certification will have a bachelor’s degree. Recertification is required every 12 months. 
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). The CFA requires a minimum of two years of work experience along with at least two years of education or training, like a bachelor’s degree. This is a one-time exam. Recertification is not required.
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP). This certification is perfect for a CFO as you’ll be managing many individuals and projects at once. The PgMP requires at least two years of education or training and a minimum of two years of work experience. Candidates are required to pass an oral or written exam. Recertification is required every three years. 
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP). The certification of CFP requires a minimum of two years of education or training after high school and at least two years of work experience. Candidates are required to pass an oral or written exam. Recertification is required every two years.

Career path

Entry-level finance-related careers in banking, accounting, investing, consulting, financial management or underwriting are all smart choices to start with when trying to move up the financial workforce ladder. Students who want to one day become a CFO should receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree in finance or another related field. Becoming a chief financial officer takes years of experience, education, and additional certifications. The goal of becoming a chief financial officer is far from short-sighted, and you’ll need to work in finance starting directly after college.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 11-1011

2020 Employment292,500
Projected Employment in 2030275,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 6% Decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift16,800 Decrease

The position of a chief financial officer will always be around. Companies will need someone to manage their finances to make sure the company is profitable. However, there is an expected 6% decrease in the number of available chief financial officers by the year 2030. This could be because many executive-level positions are being combined, so the CEO or COO may also direct the finances. That being said, it is still a worthwhile career for candidates to consider.