Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Career and Education Facts

Chief financial officers play an increasingly important role in major financial institutions, high-profile companies and even the public sector. Read about the path to advancing to this executive position, from earning a bachelor's degree onward. Learn about graduate degree options and voluntary certifications that could help you in your career. Schools offering Finance degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Chief financial officers are employed in nearly all industries, including non-profit organizations as well as federal, state and local government agencies. Average salaries for CFOs range widely depending upon the industry, company size and an individual's experience level or credentials.

Degrees Bachelor's or master's degree in business administration, public administration, finance or accounting; designation as a Certified Public Accountant may also be preferred or required; top executives at large companies often have a Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Certification Certifications are available and may be required by your employer
Median Salary (2017)* $183,270 per year (for all chief executives)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Role Does a Chief Financial Officer Have for a Company or Organization?

A chief financial officer (CFO) oversees the financial operations for a business or organization. As a CFO, you supervise, manage and engage in the work of the controller, credit manager and insurance manager. Duties also include managing investments, analyzing expenses and tracking regulatory trends.

What Level of Education Will I Need?

You will need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in a related subject area, such as accounting, finance, economics or business management, to be considered for entry-level positions in the industry. Many prospective CFOs obtain an advanced degree in business management or accounting. Master's degree programs include:

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Accounting for Financial Analysts
  • Master of Accounting for Financial Managers

Many universities offer continuing education and workshops for financial professionals. Non-degree programs focus on peer networking, improving organizational communication skills, current market trends, regulatory issues and transparent accounting practices. Though many extension programs aim to bring business professionals together in a face-to-face setting, online workshops and M.B.A. programs geared toward certification preparation are also available for distance learners.

What Certifications Will Benefit My Career Prospects?

Most CFOs obtain their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential. Each state has an individualized CPA licensing board. In general, CPA licensure requirements include a bachelor's degree with a minimum amount of accounting coursework, minimum professional experience in either hours or years of service and a comprehensive examination.

You may also wish to seek other credentials as well, including the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credential, issued by the CFA Institute; the Certified Treasury Professional (CTP), issued by the Association of Financial Professionals; and the Certified Manager of Accounting (CMA), issued by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

A 2016 study conducted by the IMA showed that 55% of IMA members in the Americas earned an advanced degree and 58% obtained CMA certification (www.imanet.org). The study concluded that certification often benefits younger applicants due to increased competition for executive management positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for top executives is expected to see average growth in upcoming years, increasing 8% percent from 2016-2026 (www.bls.gov).

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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  • Georgetown University

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    Popular programs at Georgetown University:

    • Master

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  • Florida Tech

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