Earning Your CFO Degree: Become a CFO

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CFO roles are changing. Chief financial officers (CFOs) are traditionally high-level executives who oversee an organization’s finances. Lately, CFOs have taken on a prominent role in the overall leadership of many organizations, from making strategic operational decisions to offering valuable insight into corporate governance and investment strategy. Professionals who aspire to become CFOs need to develop strong financial competencies and business acumen.

The Role of a CFO

Some key responsibilities of a CFO include building the core financial and accounting team, overseeing revenues and expenses to ensure a balanced budget, making decisions concerning mergers and acquisitions, and working with other department heads to analyze and make use of financial data.

CFOs are always concerned with the financial health of their organizations, which results in their offering cost-savings solutions and budget improvements to maximize profits and earnings. As a member of the C-suite, CFOs offer vision and leadership in various facets of the organization’s decision-making.

A CFO is giving a presentation to a finance team while standing at a flipchart.

CFO Career Path

A CFO career path may look different depending on an individual’s education and experience. While not all CFOs follow the same trajectory, most CFO career paths follow a similar structure.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s in accounting remains a fairly common undergraduate degree among CFOs, since accounting degrees directly equip students with competencies useful in corporate finance. Other common degrees include business or finance degrees.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree

Though not a requirement, individuals exploring how to become a CFO may find a master’s degree in accounting offers them an advantage over other applicants. This degree trains students in leadership skills and industry knowledge crucial to a CFO role. Interested students often pursue flexible online degree programs.

Step 3: Build On-the-Job Experience

CFOs must have excellent finance and accounting capabilities and be effective leaders. Those interested in becoming CFOs can gain experience in financial departments by succeeding in such roles as accountant, financial analyst, and budget analyst. Once the candidate has built their skill sets and hands-on expertise in these roles, they often move into managerial roles such as controller or CFO, director of finance, internal audit manager, or finance manager.

CFO Skill Requirements

As in most leadership positions, effective CFOs possess a mix of technical skills and soft skills. A list of skills required typically includes the following.

Leadership and Management Skills

The most critical decisions of an organization’s future are made at the executive level. This means an effective CFO must offer vision and sound counsel while staying versed in ongoing industry trends and market changes. They must be excellent communicators, negotiators, and team builders.

Knowledge of GAAP and Budgeting

In addition to working with business and finance professionals, CFOs work closely with an organization’s budgets and financial statements. This requires CFOs to be grounded in generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and skilled in budgeting and data analysis. They must also continually grow their knowledge of financial technology (fintech) tools that might improve their organization’s growth and spending.

Business Acumen

While a CFO’s primary concern is managing the budget and the finance department team, a good CFO intimately understands the fiscal operations of the business and how they play into the organization’s overall objectives. Organizations often require their CFOs to have a solid understanding of other organizations in the industry and trends in the market. This allows them to collaborate with other executives to identify opportunities for growth and investment.

Courses and Certifications for Aspiring CFOs

Those seeking a career as a CFO may find that adding certifications and specific coursework increases their marketability as a job applicant. Earning a master’s degree in accounting lays crucial groundwork for future CFOs and holding a few certifications and licenses can distinguish applicants from their competition. Courses and certifications for aspiring CEOs include:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This well-known certification grants accountants authority to write audit reports and offer opinions on the financial situation or outlook for publicly traded companies. Some master’s degree programs, such as the Maryville online Master of Science in Accounting, help prepare students to take the CPA Exam, which is maintained by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Maryville recently recently updated its program curriculum in response to upcoming changes to the CPA Exam. These changes reflect the newest trends and regulations in the accounting field.
  • Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA): This title from the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association indicates the completion of two levels of exams. It certifies the individual has met the educational standard for the CAIA Association, which trains financial professionals in investments including private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds.
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): This credential and membership with the national Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) certifies a thorough understanding of investigative techniques and legal issues, and the ability to design anti-fraud programs and resolve allegations of fraud.
  • Financial Risk Manager (FRM): The Global Association of Risk Professionals grants this certification to those who demonstrate a thorough understanding of credit, market, operational, inflation, and liquidity risk. Earning this designation requires passing the FRM exam and two years of experience working in financial risk management.
  • Certified Financial Analyst (CFA): This certification from the CFA Institute denotes that professionals have specialized expertise in investment analysis, financial reporting, and economics. Those who earn this designation demonstrate a proven competence in wealth management, a crucial skill for CFOs.

CFO Salary and Job Outlook

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2021, financial managers earned a median salary of $131,710 annually. Chief executives, including CFOs, earned a median salary of $179,520 in 2021. Job opportunities for financial managers are expected to grow as much as 17% between 2021 and 2031, while the top-executive field will grow 6%. Given that nearly all medium- to large-organizations across most industries need CFOs, the growth of this occupation is expected to remain consistent with the growth of the overall economy.

Discover How an MS in Accounting Can Help You Become a CFO

Aspiring financial professionals can start their journey toward becoming a CFO by pursuing education, certifications, and experience early on. Discover how Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Accounting can start you down a CFO career path through training and hands-on experience.

Recommended Reading

How to Become a CPA: Steps and Skills

Are Accountants in High Demand?

4 Reasons to Get a Master Degree in Accounting

Sources

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Everything You Need to Know About the CPA Exam

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, How to Earn Your CFE Credential

CFA Institute, CFA Program

Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association, The CAIA Charter

Corporate Finance Institute, Financial Risk Manager

Firmbee, “How to Become a CFO”

Indeed, “How To Become a CFO in 7 Simple Steps”

Investopedia, “Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst”

Oracle Netsuite, “Chief Financial Officer Defined: Role, Responsibilities and Skills”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Top Executives