When it comes to managing a company’s financials, the top executive seat usually belongs to the chief financial officer (CFO). Often a member of the senior leadership team, a CFO helps set strategy and minimize overall risk for the company. They also head up the staff responsible for everything related to financial reporting and accounting operations.

What is a CFO?

Reporting directly to the CEO, a CFO is mainly responsible for managing an organization’s financial operations. They’re the C-suite executive tasked with overseeing the company’s fiscal health. They may not do all the necessary hands-on bookkeeping, but they work closely with their teams and other key department heads to analyze financial data, create budgets and forecasts, and ensure the accuracy of all financial reports.

In short, everything financial in a company rolls up to the CFO. Balancing revenues and expenses, managing financial planning and analysis functions, and even making recommendations for everything from mergers and acquisitions to funding—these all fall under the jurisdiction of a CFO.

The answer to “What is a CFO?” has certainly changed over the years. Nowadays, besides providing financial and accounting oversight, a strong chief financial officer is also a visionary. They don’t just look at the numbers of the past, but also at the potential of the future. They work alongside a company’s other high-level executives to strategize growing areas of interest, such as technology, sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

So exactly what does a CFO do?

For years, CFOs focused on compliance and quality control within a company. These still fall under the CFO’s purview, but in today’s business climate, chief financial officers are also closely involved in overall business planning and process changes. They look to streamline the way things are handled within a company. That may mean simply trying a different approach to something, implementing new technology, or refocusing efforts within various departments.

While a CEO may create a new vision or strategy for the company, the CFO works closely with the CEO to achieve those goals. Keeping an eye on financial goals and cash flow, CFOs play a key role in influencing the direction a company is headed.

By taking complex financials and putting them in perspective, a CFO can help a CEO formalize a final decision on strategy. Should we hire more staff? Is now the right time to introduce this new product overseas? Is a completely remote workforce a viable solution? These types of questions, which all tie back to financials, are what CFOs typically help answer, which sets the tone for new company strategies.

What education does a CFO need?

A chief financial officer is not created overnight. In general, the prestigious chief financial officer position at a company is usually offered to professionals who are well established in their field. Most will come with advanced degrees, such as a master’s in finance or accounting or a master’s in business administration (MBA). But they also may hold a variety of other certifications or accreditations, such as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

It’s quite common for a CFO to enjoy a professional background in accounting, investment banking, or financial analysis. They’ve generally climbed the corporate ladder, too, moving from one financial position to the next. A controller or VP of finance could very well make the jump up to the C-suite level. Additionally, many CFOs have solid backgrounds in business, potentially holding dual degrees in both business and finance.

Two other areas of knowledge that today’s CFOs need to master are operational and technological. Operational learnings that relate to accounting, finance, and business in general are key to thinking strategically. The same goes for financial technology (fintech): CFOs should be familiar with the latest software needed to successfully run the finance and accounting teams.

What soft skills do they need to know?

In addition to having broad experience with the accounting, finance, and business worlds, today’s CFOs also need strong leadership skills. Being able to effectively communicate with staff, resolve conflicts, and handle negotiations are all “soft skills” necessary for a chief financial officer to succeed in their role.

CFOs also need to scan the horizon and look at the environment outside their company and around the globe. Strategic decisions for the organization can’t be made based solely on internal data. Various external factors in the market and even the world can directly or indirectly impact their organization. Being able to offer advice and predictions on various challenges and opportunities for a company also falls to the CFO.

What are the benefits of becoming a CFO?

There are plenty of benefits to achieving the prestigious status of CFO at any company. For starters, you will be responsible for your company’s overall financial health and stability. As the highest leadership position in a business’ finance division, you will oversee the entire finance department’s actions, as well as work closely with leaders of other departments. In short, your say carries a tremendous amount of weight when it comes to the strategic future of your company.

With elevated levels of responsibility comes an increased salary as well. People often ask what a CFO salary is, since the job is one of the highest-ranking positions in a company. CFO salaries can vary greatly depending on experience, education, size of the company, and even the organization’s location. A rough range across the United States falls between $300,000 and $560,000, according to a 2023 Salary.com report.

What can I expect in a CFO job description?

Job postings looking for chief financial officers will typically address the need for an experienced CFO to successfully perform effective risk management and plan out a company’s overall financial strategy. Ideal candidates will be well versed in every aspect of financial management, as well as business. They’ll also need to be strong leaders, as they set the tone and the future for the company.

Below are examples of responsibilities and requirements you may see in a CFO job description:


  • Create and implement a company’s financial planning
  • Constantly perform risk management
  • Consider investment strategies for the organization
  • Maintain appropriate cash flow for the organization
  • Manage a team of financial personnel (controllers, analysts, bookkeepers, treasurers, accountants)
  • Research revenue opportunities and economic trends, as well as identify existing areas for reducing costs and improving internal processes
  • Handle relationships with key vendors
  • Manage and oversee the process for accurate financial reports and forecasts
  • Oversee the technology and software for the finance team
  • Ensure compliance with company policies and the law
  • Advise on long-term financial and business plans
  • Constantly review all finance, HR, and IT related procedures

Requirements and Skills

  • Previous experience as either a CFO or relevant role, such as a finance officer
  • Deep understanding of advanced accounting, regulatory issues, tax planning, data analysis, and forecasting methodology
  • Mastery of financial management software
  • Strategic thinker and problem solver
  • Excellent leadership skills, with a strong moral compass
  • Exceptional communication skills, both verbal and written