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.
In this post, we highlight the average CFO salary for both public and private companies based on revenue size. Other variables apply, such as location and industry.
Annual cash bonuses are often tied to specific personal or organizational performance benchmarks and are a percentage of base salary. While long term incentives (LTIPs) come in the form of golden handcuffs or golden parachutes, which incentivize an executive to stay for a particular amount of time or guarantee them financial compensation upon the end of their tenure respectively.
How do you develop a competitive and compelling CFO compensation package that will bring the best, most qualified talent to your company? The team here at Cowen Partners Executive Search will breakdown the most essential, key factors to consider.
The age-old real estate saying holds true in the case of understanding and allocating CFO compensation. While CFO paychecks are inexorably intertwined with the broader company structure, current financial status, and trajectory, geographic location makes a tangible impact on their salary- just as it does for any other company employee. The regional differences in the cost of living and economic opportunity correlate to CFO salary.
To put this into context, a CFO in Keya Paha, Nebraska, can expect the lowest CFO salary ranges in the country to start at $284,250 and a compensation package totaling $354,259. An average CFO in San Francisco, however, needs nearly double that salary to live and work. The average San Francisco CFO salary rises in proportion with the cost of living and comes in at $451,070 with total compensation of $724,006.
The price variations based on geographic location may or may not decrease as we resume commerce in a post-pandemic world. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that he’s letting employees work from home forever, even after COVID-19 is eradicated. These kinds of financial-saving decisions might close the regional pay gaps in CFO compensation packages, should they be adopted by other organizations. Cowen Executive Partners stays abreast of developments like these and evolves our CFO consulting services to accommodate shifts in the market.
Beyond physical location, each company has a unique approach to financial structure, commerce, success, work ethic, and values. We take all of these ideas into consideration when matching CFOs to open positions, but the financial structure is the second major determinant of a CFO’s compensation.
While salary.com cites the median base salary of a CFO in the United States as $362,030, and the median total compensation package (including bonus, healthcare, and retirement) as $506,386, each CFO is compensated differently depending on the company in question. Non-profits, private companies, and public companies all compensate their executives differently and in proportion to their previous and potential earnings.
Tack on benefits and bonuses, and you can expect to shell out somewhere between $225,000-$275,000, depending on business size.
CFOs of public companies make about 45% more than their private company counterparts, with their average salary coming in at about $267,976. CFOs of non-profits, in contrast, take home an average of $133,576 per year.
A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is often a key employee for companies, whether at startup or later-stage pre-IPO firms. With their expertise in strategic management and financial accounting, they imbue companies with financial confidence, making them a safer bet for investors.
However, there’s fierce competition for senior-level finance execs due to a hot market for top CFO talent. So, many companies, especially in the tech and sciences industries, sweeten their offers with stock or other equity grants to gain some headway. It’s often a balancing act, though, as firms try to find a compromise between offering too much while keeping enough on the table for an attractive offer.
CEOs and executive search committees will be keen to clarify what constitutes a competitive CFO equity grant as they build out their talent acquisition strategy for this role.
Equity grants are one of the most widely used compensation tools for CFOs in startups. They offer participation in the company’s ownership as a way to lure senior-level talent. The tool is often effective because it gives two distinct advantages:
CFO equity grants have mainly come to the fore as a competitive tool in senior finance hires. Startups typically cannot compete on the same salary and benefits scale as established late-stage companies and public corporations. So, they include lucrative equity grants to turn the heads of potential hires and keep their offer afloat.
That’s not to say that CFO equity grants are the sole preserve of startups. Publicly held companies and late-stage firms might also award equity to encourage performance, attract top-level hires, or foster ownership in the company for better results overall. Though, the distinct difference between the approach at early and late-stage companies is that equity grants are typically lower at the latter, regardless of the skill or desirability of the candidate.
Since the equity grant tool became predominant, companies began to formalize the process in an equity grant scheme approved by the board and investors. The scheme establishes an employee share pool, the nature of allowable grants, and more. A formal plan helps:
That said, what are the most common figures that a CFO might expect as a competitive equity grant from a company?
Typically, CFOs might expect to receive between .1% and 3% of a company’s value. In some cases, it may be much more, depending on the stage at which the CFO joins the executive leadership or founders.
According to Comparably, public companies or those with more than ten thousand employees generally offer the least equity since their compensation is weighted more towards salary. They note that in companies that have raised more than $30 million in funding, CFOs receive 0 to $250,000+ a year in shares. In a survey of current CFO equity compensation by money raised, Comparably found that CFO grants peaked at .5% for companies with more than $30 million raises. But companies that have raised less than $1 million are often more generous, with CFO equity grants of between 1% and over 4%.
AON finds similarly in CFO stock grants for companies at or close to IPO stage. An analysis of thirty-nine tech companies and thirty-eight life sciences companies that became public between 2013 and 2014 showed the median tech CFO collects about 0.96% while the median life sciences CFO gets roughly 0.81%. Upon public listing, these equity holdings typically translate into considerable value, and the median life sciences CFO might hold up to $1.3 million equity value – roughly 4.5 times their salary. Tech CFOs stand to gain much more, with a median equity value of $4 million or up to 15 times their salary.
Despite what the data suggests, there’s often no hard and fast rule to determining CFO grant sizes. Companies will likely adopt a strategy that considers the going market rate and the peculiar advantages that the proposed hire brings and how that translates into value for the firm.
Although seniority, experience, market averages, and distinct notions of value are major guiding factors in CFO equity grants, timing might be the most significant factor. CFOs joining a company at a very early stage might take much more in equity than later hires, and this makes sense. The earlier a CFO commits to the startup, the more risk they face should the venture go bust.
Therefore, coming on board early makes the CFO a significant early hire and a vital part of the early strategic team. For instance, if the CFO were to join a two-person team, they might well stand as a co-founder and collect 10% equity or more.
Compare this to the average amongst executives hired at a later stage or just before IPO, and the difference is staggering. It might be described as a decaying exponential – the earlier people receive more and equity rates gradually decline from there.
An equity grant might give too much away by letting the employee take lucrative stock without a commitment to stay and realize the value of the venture. To protect against this outcome, companies use vesting restrictions and other mechanisms to preserve and extract the value of their investment in the hire.
A typical restriction is a vesting schedule that delays the exercise of the stock grant and only vests the entire grant in increments. For instance, the schedule might provide for a one-year cliff, after which the stock will begin to vest in increments over a set period of years. Four years is the most common vesting period.
Some companies might:
Ultimately, CFO equity grants can be a powerful tool to attract top-level hires and interest candidates that might not get their heads turned otherwise. However, CEOs and search committees must be careful not to give away the store – draw up a thorough plan for equity grants and follow it strictly.
Finding and hiring the right CFO is an arduous process that demands individualized attention, thorough research, and the right connections. In fact, a 2015 survey by Jobvite showed 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.
Why? Because a CFO creates a vital partnership with company management and cultivates leadership within a company hierarchy to develop financial policies and guide an organization towards success in the marketplace. Plenty of companies opt for an interim CFO service and take their time with the recruiting process. However, time doesn’t guarantee a smart, successful CFO hire.
Cowen Partners Executive Search is a leading CFO search and consulting firm with years of experience and expertise recruiting CFOs and other C-suite professionals, including chief executive officers, chief revenue officers, VP of sales, and more. We are committed to understanding your company culture, needs, and financial goals to fulfill and facilitate the CFO hiring process. We have hundreds of top-talent connections and a tireless attention to detail that helps companies find the right CFO in a fraction of the time without significant company disruptions.
Our hands-on CFO executive recruiters have experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion.
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