Companies Don’t Need CFOs to Be CPAs Anymore

The transition away from an accounting focus is profound and gaining steam: Russell Reynolds research.

CFO | May 20, 2016


CFO published a bylined article written by Russell Reynolds Associates' Jenna Fisher​ titled, "Companies Don’t Need CFOs to Be CPAs Anymore." The piece explores the transition away from a formal accounting background in CFO recruitment. Her article is excerpted below.​

Must you have a formal accounting background to become a CFO? Increasingly, the answer is no.

While historically CFOs cut their teeth in accounting and treasury operations, focused on managing costs and cash, today’s CFOs often serve as strategic business partners to the CEO. Under this remit, they lead M&A activity, serve as the external face of the organization to shareholders, and generally act as a broad-minded guardian of the business.

In my recent experience, this transition away from an accounting focus is stark. Among the last 50 CFO searches that I have completed over the past 18 months, only one client indicated that a CPA was highly desirable. Most of our clients, particularly larger ones, have in fact bifurcated the top finance and accounting functions. Following the Sarbanes-Oxley act in 2002, companies strengthened their accounting functions and appointed qualified chief accounting officers, who generally are highly technical CPAs.

This trend toward bifurcation of the CFO and CAO roles has only strengthened in recent years. According to Russell Reynolds research, the number of CFOs hired in the past three years with corporate accounting/control experience has decreased to 38%, compared with 51% of CFOs appointed more than three years ago.

CFOs with investment banking experience are actually more common among recent hires, as 24% of CFOs appointed in the past three years have such experience, compared with 17% of those hired before then.​​

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Companies Don’t Need CFOs to Be CPAs Anymore