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CFO role evolving with ambitions for CEO positions, reveals survey
Mon, 11th Mar 2024

The role of the chief financial officer (CFO) has significantly evolved over the past five years, a shift driven primarily by complexities in environmental, social, and governance matters, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate strategy. This was revealed by a global survey of almost 600 CFOs conducted by Egon Zehnder, a leadership advisory firm. According to the survey, 82% of CFOs reported substantial growth in their roles, with aspirations for the top spot as CEO becoming more prevalent.

Egon Zehnder's study evidences a transformative era for CFOs – not merely adapting to the changing business climate but substantially contributing to it. Arun Dhingra, Global Head of Egon Zehnder’s CFO & Audit Chair Practice, explains, "Our study reveals a momentous evolution with Super CFOs not just reacting to the changing business environment, but in fact driving it. The complexities of the CFO role have propelled these leaders to the forefront of their organizations due to the profound shift in their priorities and substantial growth in their role."

New responsibilities such as handling ESG matters, steering mergers and acquisitions, and managing corporate strategies have added to the CFO's responsibilities. Offering strategic input to the CEO and the board, CFOs are evolving beyond traditional financial functions to become a multidimensional asset for companies. Furthermore, almost half (47%) of CFOs stated they needed more time to develop business strategies in line with their expanded role.

Notably, the financial leadership landscape is poised to evolve further, with CFOs predicting that driving change, shaping strategy, and developing talent will gain prominence in the next five years. The trend was particularly strong among female CFOs, with 57% emphasising the need for driving change as a key competency, compared to 40% of their male counterparts.

However, recruiting top financial talent has become increasingly challenging, with over 40% of CFOs indicating that it is more difficult now than two years ago. To build the right teams, over half of the CFOs surveyed are resorting to more robust performance feedback, rotation across varied financial roles, and targeted development programs. They also emphasised the reliance on key team members, particularly the Head of FP&A and the Controller/CAO.

Moving onto personal career aspirations, 62% of CFOs expressed their desire to become chief executives at some point, with an impressive 70% saying they felt ready for the step right now. However, there is a clear barrier on their way to the top: around half of the ladder-climbing CFOs said networking and visibility posed significant obstacles. Interestingly, female CFOs were approached more often (17%) than their male peers (12%) for opportunities, indicating an upward trend in gender diversity within the C-suite.

James Stark, lead author of the Super CFO Survey and consultant in the CFO & Audit Chair Practice at Egon Zehnder, concluded, "Maintaining the role of corporate Superhero is no easy feat. As signs point to the CFO role continuing to grow in complexity, financial leaders will need to keep growing their leadership skills to drive success in their current role and to help them reach the next step in their career trajectory."