CFO Salaries: Just One Reason to Aspire to the Top Job

By Robert Half March 7, 2017 at 4:30pm

A quick Google search will give you a wide-eyed look at the highest-paid CFOs at publicly traded US companies. CFO salaries have obviously blossomed, along with the responsibilities of this strategic finance role.

Whether you’re just starting an entry-level accounting job or you’re already working as a financial analyst or controller, you might consider the office of the CFO to be the destination on your career path. So why not imagine it now? How much money can you expect to make as a chief finance officer, what skills and experience do you need, and what will you do when you get there?

CFO salaries, like those of other accounting and finance professionals, vary by size of company, region and industry, not to mention the impact of bonuses, stock awards and dividends. The 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals can show you pay ranges for more than 190 positions, including the top finance job.

Benchmarks for CFO salaries

The midpoint starting salary for a CFO in corporate accounting is $196,750, according to the Salary Guide. In financial services, CFOs can expect a salary of $203,500 at the midpoint.

The salaries listed in the Salary Guide reflect starting pay only, not bonuses and benefits. They are based on actual placements throughout the United States, as well as an analysis of the market conditions. At the midpoint, candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements.

CFO salaries vary widely from city to city. In San Francisco, for instance, the CFO midpoint salary is 41 percent higher, and in Boston, the market variance increases by 34 percent.

Duties and expectations

The CFO is ultimately responsible for the financials of an organization, of course. But that’s not all.

CFOs can’t just review the numbers; they need to understand all aspects of the business, from sales and marketing goals to the overall strategic plan. From financial results and planning to operations, to risk management and funding, this demanding position encompasses an increasing range of responsibilities, expanding the influence of this role within a company.

The job description for CFOs varies by industry and company size, but here are some examples of duties at this rung on the career ladder:

  • Providing strategic management of the accounting and finance functions
  • Directing accounting policies, procedures and internal controls
  • Recommending improvements to ensure the integrity of a company’s financial information
  • Managing or overseeing the relationship with independent auditors
  • Collaborating with chief information officers on technology decisions
  • Overseeing financial systems implementations and upgrades
  • Managing relationships with investors and investment institutions
  • Identifying and managing business risks and insurance requirements
  • Hiring, training and retaining competent accounting and finance staff

Professional experience and skills

CFOs must have a broad range of skills beyond the ABCs of accounting, including analytical, strategic planning, management and communication skills. They also need to be able to work well with the CEO, board of directors and senior managers.

CFOs must have a broad range of skills beyond the ABCs of accounting, including analytical, strategic planning, management and communication skills.

They typically have at least 10 years of experience in accounting or finance, including a minimum of five years in a management job. Larger firms require more experience than smaller ones. Many companies prefer candidates who possess a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) and/or a CPA or certified management accountant (CMA) professional accreditation.

CFOs should possess knowledge of all aspects of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Public companies also need CFOs who have experience with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting. Many employers also value public accounting experience for CFO roles.

Candidates should have held positions of increasing responsibility within an accounting department, such as director of finance, director of accounting or controller.

Finally, it’s critical for CFOs to keep up with their professional development so they can manage fast-coming changes in the industry. Whether it’s regulations, analytics, business strategy, risk management, talent acquisition and retention, consensus-building, leadership, value creation or technology (and that’s just a partial list), CFOs need to have the vision to position themselves at the top, where they’re ready for anything.

Considering all the elements of the CFO job, from pay to skills to responsibilities, are you ready to take the next step?

This post has been updated to reflect more current information.

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