November 2020

The traditional career-ladder approach to becoming a CFO, where one role simply follows another, is changing forever, according to a report from ACCA and the Institute of Management Accountants.

Instead, you need to think flexible pathways that embrace a variable range of career choices as the way forward. The ‘experiences’ that got today’s CEOs and CFOs into their current roles are no longer relevant, and the problem is many of the skills needed to get into these posts in 2020 are those that cannot be readily taught.

Today’s more variable career structures are making the task of getting that experience even more problematic. The study acknowledges the importance of peer-to-peer networking and informal knowledge here, as many of the core skills cannot be directly learnt.

Against this backdrop of disrupted career paths, the development of the next generation of CFOs is also becoming a real challenge.

There is a worry that not enough attention is being paid to the nurturing of tomorrow’s finance leaders, said some two-thirds of those surveyed for ‘The CFO of the Future’ report. Recruitment firm Barden’s Sandra Quinn suggested that just 10% of the CVs she sees fulfil the criteria that her clients are looking for in the CFO. She explained many people think they are ready, but lack the breadth of experience necessary to fulfil the expectations.

The good news is that most people surveyed (81%) felt that having an accountancy qualification will be either essential or strongly recommended for the CFO of tomorrow.

The report explains that the CFO of the future will have a broader role too, one that is transformative within the organisation, strategic, and be a ‘right-hand’ to the CEO in many instances.

The current pandemic has placed the CFO at the forefront of many entities, with the need to ensure liquidity paramount for many businesses. That said, their role has, according to those surveyed, moved away from the traditional focus solely on accountancy and finance issues. While these remain fundamental, they are not the only aspect that adds value to entities. The new reality is one where the CFO has a broader function across the piece, where performance is measured against the ‘3Ps’ of people, profit and purpose that are increasingly being used to evaluated success.

• The report is at