A chief financial officer (CFO) is a pivotal position within a company. A CFO is responsible for managing accounting and finance departments as well as overseeing the business’s financial operations. This role also ensures the company is compliant with all applicable laws and business policies. In addition to working with a company’s financial department, the CFO works closely with the company CEO to make wise investments and to cut costs where necessary.
Managing a company’s financial portfolio is no simple task, which is why CFOs usually take a professional path that includes advanced degrees. A majority of CFO applicants tend to have a master’s in finance or accounting. Of course, an extensive education isn’t the only requirement to become a leading CFO. Experience is another necessary requirement. To become a CFO, candidates typically start in entry-level accounting roles and gradually work their way up over the course of several years into leadership positions. Most CFOs have 10 or more years of business experience under their belts before they achieve the senior executive role of CFO.
Considering the experience required of the role as well as the hefty job responsibilities, compensation for this position needs to be competitive. The average salary of a CFO is dependent on a number of factors. Geographic location and experience, for instance, are two significant factors that will impact the overall salary of your CFO. Perks, benefits, and other compensation avenues are other important elements to keep in mind when determining a suitable salary.
CFO Search Firm | Cowen Partners Executive Search
Cowen Partners is a national CFO search firm, driven to create value for our clients, and we have a long-standing record of placing exceptionally qualified Chief Financial Officers across all industries.
Our President and Founding Partner, Shawn Cole, is a thought leader on the “modern CFO” and one of the few executive recruiters who contribute to national publications, including Forbes, CFO.com, IPOHub, and CFO Dive.
The average salary for private company CFOs varies by the company’s annual revenue, as the table below shows. Note: private company CFO salaries tend to be about 45% lower than public company CFO salaries.
Company’s Annual Revenue
Average CFO Salary in a Private Company
$21M to $99M
$237,983 (or $223,000 to $275,000 with benefits and bonuses)
According to Salary.com the median base salary for a CFO in the United States is $362,030, and the median total compensation package (including bonus, healthcare, and retirement) is $506,386.
CFO Salary by Revenue
Location, Location, Location
The salary range varies widely depending on location. For instance, a CFO in Keya Paha, Nebraska, near the South Dakota border, will expect the lowest salary in the country at $284,250 and a compensation package totaling $354,259. An average CFO in San Francisco, however, will ask for nearly double that salary at $451,070 and total compensation of $724,006.
As a frame of reference, that median base CFO salary in the US of $362,030 would be $174/hour.
How Long Will it Take to Find a CFO?
A 2015 survey by Jobvite indicates that while average jobs are filled in 43 days, it takes an average of 71 days to fill a C-level position and 76 days for a position with “director” or “vice president” in the title.
Many companies take their time with the recruiting process and opt for an interim CFO service so that they are not rushed into a bad decision.
Cowen Partners average time to a candidate is 38 days
Chief Financial Officer CFO Job Description
Develops financial well-being of the organization by providing financial projections and accounting services, preparing growth plans, and directing staff.
Accomplishes finance human resource strategies by determining accountabilities; communicating and enforcing values, policies, and procedures; implementing recruitment, selection, orientation, training, coaching, counseling, disciplinary, and communication programs; planning, monitoring, appraising, and reviewing job contributions; and planning and reviewing compensation strategies.
Develops finance organizational strategies by contributing financial and accounting information, analysis, and recommendations to strategic thinking and direction and establishing functional objectives in line with organizational objectives.
Establishes finance operational strategies by evaluating trends; establishing critical measurements; determining production, productivity, quality, and customer-service strategies; designing systems; accumulating resources; resolving problems; and implementing change.
Develops organization prospects by studying economic trends and revenue opportunities; projecting acquisition and expansion prospects; analyzing organization operations; identifying opportunities for improvement, cost reduction, and systems enhancement; and accumulating capital to fund expansion.
Develops financial strategies by forecasting capital, facilities, and staff requirements; identifying monetary resources; and developing action plans.
Monitors financial performance by measuring and analyzing results, initiating corrective actions, and minimizing the impact of variances.
Maximizes return on invested funds by identifying investment opportunities and maintaining relationships with the investment community.
Reports financial status by developing forecasts, reporting results, analyzing variances, and developing improvements.
Updates job knowledge by remaining aware of new regulations, participating in educational opportunities, reading professional publications, maintaining personal networks, and participating in professional organizations.
Accomplishes finance and organization mission by completing related results as needed.
Financial planning and strategy
Strategic planning and vision
Promotion of process improvement
Education, Experience, and Licensing Requirements
MBA or bachelor’s degree in business, finance, accounting, or equivalent experience.
Master’s degree preferred.
Certified Public Accountant certification a plus.
Minimum 10 years’ experience in accounting and financial management practices.
Experience in a senior management position.
Proficiency with accounting software, word processing, and spreadsheets.
Solid GAAP and financial reporting technical skills.
Benefits, Culture, Etc
We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.
Cowen Partners is a national executive search firm specializing in CFO searches. We have put together 100+ of the best CFO interview questions so that you can be confident in your hiring decision.
Your Job Opportunity
Do they understand the job opportunity and the company?
Are they asking intelligent questions about the job and the job opportunity?
What appeals to them about this particular opportunity and what do they bring to table?
What value will they immediately add to the company? How will their experience benefit this company?
What does their compensation history look like and does this opportunity make sense from a financial perspective? If not, why would they take a pay cut? (No one ever wants to take a pay cut no matter they tell you and they must prove to you logically why it makes sense.)
Does the commute work for them and have they had a similar commute for many years? Check to see how long they lasted the last time their commute was this long. (No one wants to drive farther regardless of what they tell you and again it is one them to prove to you why they would do that.)
What concerns do they have about moving forward in the process and is there anything that would keep them from being interested in the opportunity at this point? Do they have questions for you and/or anything else they would like to share with you?
Is the candidate currently employed full time?
What is their reason for considering a new opportunity?
What are their reasons for movement over the last several years?
Specifically, what made them leave each position and move to the next one?
Does the candidate have good tenure in each of their last few positions?
Have they progressed nicely in their career into higher level roles?
Do they communicate extremely well?
Are they high energy?
Do they speak loud and clearly or are they timid and reserved?
Are they more introverted or extroverted?
Do they make you pull questions out of them or do they explain their ideas fully, take cues from you, listen at the right time and speak at the right time?
Do they speak English fluently, smoothly and eloquently?
Is it easy to understand what they are saying, and do they make sense when they are talking to you without you having to put effort into understanding them?
Do they talk too much, or are they overbearing?
Do they say things that are politically incorrect?
Do they speak abrasively or harshly?
Do they speak negatively about a former employer or co-worker?
Are they likeable and were you able to develop good rapport with them?
CFO Interview Questions – Personality
Are they irritated, or do you sense any frustration when you ask them to explain things detail or ask them difficult questions?
Do they stay positive and embrace the questions or do they seem distant, cold, short, frustrated, or irritated with you for asking them?
Situational Questions Specific to the Opportunity
Describe a time when you made a bad decision that impacted your team in a negative way and what the outcome was
Tell me about a time that you and a board member got into an argument about a capital spending project
What was one project you never got finished for the President/CEO and how did you feel about that?
Management roles vary by organization, depending on a company’s history, the characteristics of its industry, and the demands of investors. And although fitting CFOs into a clear-cut typology may seem artificial, we found it useful to understand how companies are filling the role to get a clearer picture of how it’s changing. Based on our research, we categorize CFOs into four general profiles.