What makes a good CFO?

Chief Financial Officer on phone

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) do a lot more than just crunch numbers; they must possess a holistic understanding of the financial workings of their company, and also of their entire industry. A CFO is a pivotal part of company leadership, helping make crucial financial decisions and leading the execution of those decisions.

CFOs do also crunch numbers, and they must have a strong handle on company accounting down to the details. They are responsible both for staying on top of existing company finances as well as projecting and directing the company toward its ultimate financial goals. Their overarching role is to make the company as financially successful and profitable as possible.

"A good CFO is forward thinking and handles debt and equity with long term strategies in mind. The difference between a good CFO and a great one is the ability to analyze data and use that to project the future financial picture of the company." - Marco Maranzano, Vice President (Robert Walters, New York).

Typically, a CFO is one of the top three decision-makers in the company, along with the COO and CEO. The average workweek is about 50 to 60 hours, but the schedule is often fairly predictable and reasonable.

Areas of CFO responsibility:

CFOs have three main areas of financial responsibility that cover the past, present, and future of a company.

1. Past: controllership duties - CFOs report and analyze the company’s past and present finances and are responsible to shareholders and other company leaders. They oversee daily financial operations, and are in charge of anyone else in the company who touches these operations.

2. Present: treasury duties - CFOs oversee the company’s capital and finances, usually reporting to the COO in this capacity. They decide how to spend money by weighing risk and liquidity factors, and keep the capital structure intact.

3. Future: forecasting duties - CFOs use all of the above information to predict the company’s business successes in the future by weighing in on products and services to determine what's likely to be profitable and what’s not.  This can have a huge impact on a potential public offering, and is one of the reasons that companies looking to go public rely heavily on a CFO. 

Specifically, depending on the company, the CFO can be in charge of things like:

  • Capital structure
  • Risk management
  • Auditing and reporting
  • Business planning
  • Tax planning
  • Capital expenditure
  • R&D investment
  • Working capital management
  • Company budgeting
  • Investor communication

A typical day in the life of a CFO

The CFO is a busy person, juggling a lot of varying financial responsibilities on any typical day. Often, you will see them immersed in standard tasks:

  • Meeting with direct reports like the financial department, customer service, and accounting, and troubleshooting accounting and finance issues
  • Following up on emails and phone calls (like most company leaders)
  • Conducting cash-flow planning, cash-flow management, account analysis, and reconciliations
  • Overseeing and making recommendations on procedures for the entire financial department and the financial workings of the company.

Throughout the year, the CFO is responsible for other projects and meetings, like:

  • Dealing with annual and quarterly tax filings
  • Providing company leadership with detailed financial reports and recommendations in order to blue-sky plan for the future
  • Attending board meetings
  • Preparing an annual budget (and reviewing it once it’s in place)

What you could expect to make as a CFO

According to the 2015 Robert Walters Salary Survey, an average CFO in New York City could start out make anywhere between $160k and $250k in total annual compensation. But of course, every CFO job is unique and salaries vary greatly by location and industry. The good news for CFO candidates is that companies everywhere place enormous value on these crucial positions.

The difference between a good CFO and a great one is the ability to analyze data and use that to project the future financial picture of the company.

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