Finance glossary

How do you become a CFO?

Bristol James
4 Min

A Chief Financial Officer, also known as a CFO, manages the finances of an organization, communicating with the CEO and other staff in the finance function. The CFO role can also include managing investor relations, general business administration, financial planning, and strategic thinking.

Great CFOs will also manage the financial risks of the organization, identifying potential issues to implement proactive strategies. From cash flow management and approving invoices to forecasting growth and planning resources, CFOs handle all things finance and accounting related within a business.

With technology advancing, many organizations have enlisted the help of part-time or virtual CFOs. For example, an organization might need help with high-level finance decisions, managing the finance function, and smoothing over investor relations. However, if there isn’t enough work for a full-time in-house CFO, the organization might enlist the expertise of a part-time CFO.

How to Become a CFO

The term CFO is a job description, not a professional certification. This means that the path to becoming a CFO might look different for each person. Nevertheless, here’s a four-step process to becoming a CFO.

Step #1: Complete Education

CFOs generally have some formal education in the finance realm. This is commonly a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting. Some CFOs take their education a step further, obtaining a master’s degree in general business administration or finance. However, a master’s degree isn’t required.

Studies show that 61%* of CFOs have an undergraduate degree in business, while another 51%* have a master’s degree. Certain educational requirements are also needed to pursue professional certifications, like a CPA or CFA license.

Step #2: Obtain Professional Certifications

Aspiring CFOs will also hold some type of professional certification. Certifications demonstrate that the individual is an expert in the finance field. Here are the three common types of professional credentials of CFOs:

  1. CPA – A Certified Public Accountant has extensive knowledge of general accounting and finance practices.
  2. CA – A Chartered Accountant is a similar designation to a CPA, demonstrating that the individual has sufficient experience to handle accounting and finance matters.
  3. CFA – A Certified Financial Analyst is a global investment credential, demonstrating the individual has an expert-level background in finance.

These professional certifications are not required, but many hiring companies prefer their CFOs to have some credentials.

Step #3: Gather Experience

Before you can step into a CFO position, you should have an existing finance career and extensive work experience. The CFO role comes with new challenges and issues each day, making it important to have experience related to a wide variety of finance topics. Examples include financial planning, risk management, strategic thinking, and general business administration.

Most CFOs will have between 8 and 10 years of experience working in a finance career before pursuing the CFO position. It is very difficult to jump into a CFO position without extensive experience handling different finance tasks and managing a team.

Step #4: Find an Opening

Great CFOs choose a company that aligns with their work experience. After you’ve completed your education, credentials, and gathered sufficient work experience, you can start exploring different CFO positions.

Top Skills to Become a Good CFO

Aspiring CFOs have a plethora of skills and talents that help them effectively meet their job description duties. Let’s explore some of the top skills to become a CFO in more detail.

Risk Management Skills

Risk management skills are essential in a CFO position. One of your main goals is to reduce potential business risks, such the risk of customer volatility and economic changes. CFOs need to be able to identify these risks and implement a plan to minimize or avoid any negative consequences.

The risk management process doesn’t always need to be complex and can include something as simple as cash flow management. Nevertheless, CFOs have the background to handle a variety of risk management skills.

Accounting and Finance Experience

Technical skills are a requirement to become a good CFO. Becoming a CFO means you have extensive knowledge of a variety of accounting and finance topics. Staying up to date on the latest accounting and finance news can seem difficult, which is why many candidates hold a CFA, CPA, or CA membership, which requires continuing education.

Nevertheless, in the CFO position, you will need to make a variety of strategic decisions on how the organization will spend its resources. These decisions use accounting reports, such as the income statement, balance sheet, and internal budgets. Understanding how to interpret and utilize these statements relies on accounting and finance experience.

Leadership Abilities

CFOs are the leaders of the finance and accounting departments. As a result, you need to be able to lead a team toward the organization’s growth goals. For one, leadership abilities require strong communication skills to coordinate employee actions, ensure compliance, and reach strategic goals.

Additionally, one of the skills great CFOs retain is the ability to acquire and implement employee feedback. Improving the soft skills of your communication allows you to understand what your team needs and make adjustments to keep employee sentiment high.

Ethical Responsibilities

CFOs are not only required to follow ethical responsibilities within their organization, but CFOs who hold credentials are also obligated to meet the ethical demands of their organization. For example, CFOs have an ethical responsibility to act in the best interest of the organization.

CFOs often communicate directly with the board, which gives them a unique opportunity to enforce ethics. Moreover, CFOs will work alongside external auditors and accountants to ensure accuracy in the financial statements, producing compliant reports for shareholders and investors.


  • A chief financial officer, known as a CFO, manages the financial and accounting transactions of an organization.
  • The four steps to becoming a CFO include completing education, earning credentials, gaining experience, and applying for positions.
  • The top skills a CFO needs include risk management, accounting and finance experience, leadership abilities, and ethical responsibilities.


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