Survival of the Fittest: Wie sich die Rollen in der C-Suite verändern - die/der CFO

Teil III: die/der CFO 

Die Rolle des CFO hat sich stetig weiterentwickelt: vom "Erbsenzähler" zum "Unternehmensstrategen". Heute zeichnen sich die erfolgreichsten CFOs durch eine kluge und zielgerichtete Führung aus und arbeiten mit dem CEO zusammen. Aber ein unbeständiges operatives Umfeld bringt den CFO ins Zentrum eines Risikosturms, und die regulatorische und ESG-Berichterstattung erweist sich als belastend. 

Im Finanzbereich ist die CFO-Rolle nach wie vor die mit Abstand begehrteste. Auch wenn ein buchhalterischer Hintergrund nach wie vor am weitesten verbreitet ist, ist dies nicht der einzige Karriereweg. Mit Blick auf die Zukunft wird der CFO weiterhin ein Hauptanwärter auf den CEO-Posten sein, wenngleich sich die Liste der Nachfolgekandidaten auf andere CXOs ausweitet. Wie wird der CFO der Zukunft aussehen? Welche Faktoren bestimmen das "Survival of the Fittest"?

Survival Of The Fittest CFO

Key Messages

The context is volatile for the finance domain and CFOs. Geopolitical and environmental factors are reducing the flow of available capital, interest rates are fluctuating wildly, and financial measures are restrictive.  

The CFO role is evolving from ‘bean counter’ to ‘business strategist’. The fittest have moved from retrospective reporting to forward-looking business partnering. They propose avenues for future value creation in areas such as investment, divestment or restructuring. Driven by skilled CFOs, ‘strategizing with data’ informs existential decisions, confronting opinions with facts. 

The CFO must exercise wise and purposeful leadership. The new CFO holistically combines individual, socio-environmental, and business purpose. The core aim is to drive impact and long-term value creation for people, the planet and profit. A sense of purpose also enables the CFO to resolve a core paradox; the pursuit of health and wealth: ‘doing well by doing good’.  

Accountancy remains the main path to the CFO role, but others are opening up. There is a growing appetite for candidates with a background in investment banking, M&A and FP&A, with a deal-making mindset. Yet it remains vital for C-suite designers to build a qualified accounting resource into the finance domain. Financial acumen is critical for credibility, facing the CEO, board, shareholders and wider stakeholder community. 

CFO presence on boards varies widely, but top-level relationships are changing. A recent study (see full article) associates CFO board membership with better investment decisions. Wherever they sit, all CFOs must fully engage with their board, fellow CXOs and the Chair of the Audit Committee. The CFO/CEO relationship, increasingly one of equals, unites the CEO’s global and board insight with the financial-strategic knowhow of the CFO.  

The CFO still dominates the domain, and there is a concentration of role species. Amrop analyzed its global database of C-suite assignments1, looking at the proportion accounted for by each role type. Comparing two five-year periods from 2014 to 2023 we found some concentration in financial ‘species’. Whilst the core role of CFO is still by far the most sought-after, the number of role types has dropped from 13 to 7. 

The CFO is at the epicenter of a risk storm. Geopolitical, cyber, operational, supply chain: the need to anticipate and manage risk is at its zenith. Risk may be a distinct domain working with finance, or part of the CFO’s mandate. Whilst it depends on an organization’s size and sector, the need for Chief Risk Officers (or equivalents) is ticking up. Reputation may become a formal consideration for CFOs, given the financial stakes of a fallout. 

Regulatory and ESG reporting is placing a heavy burden on many CFOs. The Financial Times has signaled a ‘decade-high turnover’ of CFOs, with burdensome reporting as a factor. In Europe, thousands more organizations must now comply with directives. ESG factors are playing an increasing role in investment and acquisition decisions. And the focus on ESG reporting is not set to soften for some time.  

The CFO is still a top contender for CEO, but faces competition. Given the growing emphasis on culture, values, and sustainability, any CXO could be eligible for CEO, based on a capacity to drive these topics, credibility and ability on the public podium.  

Download the full article here.

A new level of VUCA

An Amrop Partner draws a vivid picture of the volatility re-shaping the finance domain over the last few years. “Risk and business impact have come from places where traditionally we would not have seen them, and definitely not at this pace. Consider Covid, how fast the world shut down and supply chains changed. Ways of working and different industries were impacted tremendously.  

“Financing is now being affected by the regional conflicts, the lack of money compared to before and the restrictive financial measures we are seeing in many places, with interest rates rising significantly in a very short time. Suddenly, geopolitical and environmental factors are becoming major issues. And that means that risk is fast evolving into a strategic priority for many.”  

A strategic shift 

This turbulence is compounding a steady evolution in the scope of the CFO role: from ‘bean counter’ to ‘business strategist’. As one Amrop Managing Partner puts it: “They need to know how to manage defense now, not just offense.” 

Another confirms: “Everybody wants not an accountant but a strategic CFO, understanding the business drivers and able to help shape the organization by understanding the financial forces and risks. So that’s been the big shift within the last fifteen years.” 

This Amrop Partner has observed a move towards a “business partner discussion with business cases, strategizing with data.” It is also about informing the decision-making process: “helping the organization speak data and numbers, as opposed to ‘people with opinions’.”  The perspective has fundamentally changed: “From a retrospective reporting CFO role to a forward-looking business partner; much closer to the organization.”  

The CFO needs a true north  

In our exploration of the C-suite ecosystem2 we saw an unprecedented need for today’s C-suite to foster a compelling organizational purpose, culture and values. All must embody wise and purposeful leadership, holistically combining individual, socio-environmental, and business purpose.  

A sense of purpose will help the CFO resolve business paradoxes, particularly ‘health versus wealth’. This means combining profitability with the sustainability (and ESG) agenda: ‘doing well by doing good.’ Especially in crisis, painful choices must be navigated such as satisfying shareholders whilst preserving jobs.  

“If this acquisition may be financially sound, but it’s going to put us back five years ESG-wise, do we want to do it?"

The accountant is quietly evolving

An Amrop Board Member confirms the shift: “Historically the CFO was trained as a chartered or certified public accountant who worked their way up.” Today, “I am seeing more of an appetite to bring in people with an investment banking, M&A-type background.”  

An Amrop Partner agrees. Even if many candidates still come from major accounting firms and then transfer over to CFO roles, “I think that’s going to be less and less. Whilst accountancy is also moving in a different direction, growing up in finance, it’s clear that you need to come from FP&A, the business side, the M&A side, investment banking, as opposed to accounting.” 

What is more: “the accounting side can either go to robotics or offshore centers, where a lot of the general number crunching, retrospective consolidating of accounts and so on can move to.” 

Still, an accounting resource remains vital, warns the Amrop Board Member. “If you’re not an accountant by training, that’s fine as long as you have a really strong controller or financial director.  

Technical prowess is important not facing the CEO and board, and “from an investor relation perspective.” In most cases, a national accounting qualification remains key for public companies “to have the requisite experience to be acceptable to your regulators, your investor community, and the stock exchange.” 

The widening role of the CFO will affect relationships  

When it comes to the CFO’s formal presence on a board there are significant variations. In the UK, for example, 83 per cent have a seat in their boardroom, compared to only 1 per cent in the US.3 

But the future may hold change. A recent study examined the relationship between a CFO’s presence on the board and the firms’ propensity to over- or underinvest. It confirmed that “CFO board membership is significantly associated with a decreased level of corporate over- and underinvestment.”4   

Regardless, all CFOs need to fully (and in some cases better) engage with the board and fellow CXOs. Of these relationships, three are paramount. 

  1. The CEO and board 
  2. The audit committee  
  3. The C-suite  

See the full article for more. 

"We often see now that the CFO is hired by the board. And the CEO no longer has the direct mandate to fire the CFO. You’re seeing much more a leveling of power."

Stormy weather

Volatility in the financial markets, interest rates, cyber- and geopolitical threats. As one Amrop Partner puts it: “Typically the most measurable impact of risk tends to be financial, so it ends up in the CFO domain.” The energy crisis was a recent nasty surprise. To this, another Amrop Partner adds cyber-risk: “Then operational risks, complicated by digitization and digital channels.”  

Whether risk is part of the CFO’s mandate depends on the size and sector of the organization. But in general, there is a growing need for Chief Risk Officers (or equivalents). In financial services, the CRO is critical, says this Amrop Board Member: “It helps determine your credibility with the regulators.” The sector’s need for outstanding people also makes it a good source of CROs for hiring organizations in other sectors.  

Avalanche warning: Chief Financial Officers are struggling 

The Financial Times recently signaled a ‘decade-high turnover’ of CFOs. The reporting burden is one reason, it says. Recent regulatory changes have broadened the scope: “depending on the jurisdiction, these involve climate change, diversity policies and cyber security.” 5 

This Amrop Board Member questions the place of regulatory reporting on the task list of today’s CFO: “When it starts to take on more of a compliance mindset you’ll have people well versed in the regulatory side. To me those elements of the (CFO) role are the less value-added.” 

One time-consuming reporting issue is ESG. A recent Amrop report6 cites a Deloitte poll revealing that only 46% of professionals are satisfied with the ability of their reporting teams to gather and report on financial metrics for regulatory compliance.7  

Is the load on the CFO set to lighten? An Amrop Board Member: “It’ll depend on the size of the organization whether ESG measurement should be part of the CFO role or a stand-alone.” Still, thousands of organizations operating in the EU will now become liable to comply with reporting directives, given Europe’s drive to become the first climate-neutral region by 2050. 

The Amrop Board Member thinks the focus on ESG will continue until the arrival of the next generation who are skilled around all its elements.  

The CFO’s evolution into CEO  

The CFO and COO have traditionally been lead contenders for the CEO role (together with the COO). Now the slate is broadening. As one Amrop Managing Partner put it: “I think if we look at culture, values, and sustainability then it could be any CXO.” To qualify, financial acumen and strategic weight alone will no longer suffice. As this Amrop Partner puts it, if a competent CFO “is an introvert and not capable of communicating, of embracing the company with their personality and so on, that’s taxing.” The CFO will likely need coaching, training and/or the support of other CXOs. It will take self-awareness and humility to listen, learn, and accept help.  

This Amrop Board Member is optimistic: “We’ve seen more and more CFO’s moving into that CEO realm and doing it very effectively. And of course, depending on the discipline it would also talk to where their gaps might be and how they would need to bridge those gaps. It’s a fascinating journey to see how that role has evolved.”  

Many CFOs have already developed a good understanding of the CEO role, enriched and deepened by the close relationship between many CFOs and CEOs. There is everything to play for, and the stakes are rising. 


1 Large mid-caps account for the majority of the data analyzed. 

2 Survival of the Fittest Part One: The C-suite Ecosystem, (2024), Amrop 

3 The Role of the CFO 2022, BoardEx. 

4 Liu, Y., Gan, H. & Karim, K. The effectiveness of chief financial officer board membership in improving corporate investment efficiency. Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting  57, 487–521 (2021). 

5 The scramble to find CFOs as departures hit decade high. Financial Times, January 11, 2024 

6 The C-suite Sustainability Struggle, (2023), Amrop. 

7 Trainor, D., Hurley, M. (2023). Few are Confident in Their Organizations’ Ability to Report on ESG Financials. Deloitte 

Download the report

Survival of the Fittest III: The CFO