The DNA of the CFO

Wanobe founder and CEO Dave Noble

A recent report by Ernst & Young, titled The DNA of the CFO, challenges the assumption that all chief financial officers (CFOs) are aspiring chief executive officers (CEOs) and instead finds that the majority see their role as a vocation of its own. Of 669 CFOs interviewed across Middle East, India, Europe and Africa by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Ernst & Young, 73% saw their role as a career destination of its own with just 10% aspiring to be the CEO. Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services.

The majority of respondents report their leading strategic contribution to be in providing insight and analysis to support the CEO and the senior management team.

“The CFO is expected to be someone who provides guidance, advice and counsel on the bigger picture,” says Michael Hasbani, Ernst & Young’s MENA Leader for Performance Improvement. “It’s not just the numbers, but what you do with them and how you can use that information appropriately.”

Who is the average CFO?

The research also provides a snapshot of the average CFO: they are most likely to be male; are highly educated, highly skilled and highly motivated; 42 years and eight months old; have worked in finance for most of their careers; believe that five years and 10 months is an appropriate tenure for their role; and most likely to hold either a degree in finance (29%); MBA (27%) or a chartered accountancy qualification (27%).

Strategy co-pilot

There has been a shift in the perception of the finance function from outmoded “business prevention units” to an enabling partner to the business. Just over half of the CFOs surveyed said that business managers routinely consult them on key aspects of strategy. But the majority of respondents say their contribution focuses on providing insight and analysis to support the CEO and ensuring that business decisions across the business are grounded in sound financial criteria. The CFO acts in many cases as the co-pilot; driving the process of setting corporate strategy and bringing that vision to life.

Top three business priorities

While CFOs are reveling in their newly elevated role, they are also coming up against the challenge of carefully balancing the development of company strategy with the renewed focus on finance fundamentals brought about by the financial crisis. CFOs identified cost management, risk management and cash flow as their top three business priorities in the wake of the financial crisis.