Accounting, Reporting Only the Tip of CFO Iceberg

Lora Bentley

The role of the chief financial officer has changed in the last decade, largely due to Sarbanes-Oxley and other stiff regulatory schemes with which companies must comply. And the effect is multiplied for public companies in the financial services industry.


Observers say the economic crisis is also changing the skills a CFO must possess. At, David McCann says accounting and audit skills are not as high on the list as they used to be, but exactly what companies look for in a CFO depends largely on how they are affected by the crisis. He notes:

Those for which raising capital is an urgent priority want someone with proven skill at managing a balance sheet and who understands the capital markets. Those that need to restructure flagging businesses are going for people with operating backgrounds. For many financial services firms, adeptness at valuing assets is everything right now.

The overriding quality that CFOs need right now, though, is flexibility. Korn/Perry International's Chuck Eldridge probably said it best in the piece, "I feel sorry for the CFOs. They need to be chameleons." In other words, they will probably need to do a little bit of everything, from raising capital to restructuring the company to valuing assets and other things, depending on the day.


It's unrealistic to think that finding someone who can do all of these things well will not be difficult, McCann points out. He quotes Hay Group VP Christine Rivers as follows:

Many CFOs and controllers are so much in the weeds with all the Sarbanes-Oxley, compliance, and risk requirements that in many cases they don't have an opportunity to demonstrate strategic abilities. Some of them become very successful, but usually only if they've had developmental experiences that have allowed them to be at the table doing strategy formulation and helping to use financial data to make business decisions.

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