4 Key Traits to Look for When Hiring a CFO

Finding the right person to head up your company’s finance and accounting department can be challenging in today’s tight labor market. While it may be tempting to simply promote an existing employee, external candidates may offer fresh ideas and skills that take your financial reporting to the next level. Here are four traits to put on your wish list.

1. Leadership and strategy experience

The finance and accounting department provides critical feedback on how your company is performing and is expected to perform in the future. That information helps the rest of the management team make critical business decisions.

The CFO must provide timely, relevant financial data to other departments — including information technology, operations, sales and supply chain logistics — to help improve how the business operates. He or she also must be able to drum up cross-departmental support for major initiatives. If you operate overseas or plan to expand there soon, experience operating and reporting in a global context would be a bonus.

2. Command of the basics

Your CFO must have a working knowledge of finance and accounting fundamentals, such as:

  • U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and, if applicable, international accounting standards,
  • Federal and state tax law,
  • Budgeting and forecasting, and
  • Financial planning and benchmarking.

Accounting rules and tax law have undergone major changes in recent years. Candidates should understand the business provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well as the impact of updated accounting standards on reporting revenue, leases and credit losses. It’s also helpful to have experience with managerial accounting and cost-cutting initiatives.

3. Previous employment in public accounting

Many CFOs start off their careers in public accounting for good reason: They learn about a broad range of accounting, tax and consulting projects in many different industries.

This experience positions candidates for leadership roles in the private sector. Former CPAs know how the auditing process works and can implement procedures to support that process within your organization. They’ve also seen the best (and worst) business practices in the real world. This insight can help your company seize opportunities — and avoid potential pitfalls.

4. Forensic and technology skills

CFOs sometimes need to examine the business from a forensic perspective. That could include overseeing a fraud investigation, evaluating compliance with new or updated government regulations, or remediating a data breach.

In turn, the prevalence of cyberattacks has made technology skills increasingly important for CFOs. Candidates should know how to protect against loss of sensitive data, including customer credit card numbers and company financial data and intangible assets. Candidates also must have a working knowledge of accounting systems and how they operate in the cloud.

Help wanted

As your business evolves, so too must the role of the CFO. We can help you evaluate candidates to find the right mix of skills and experience for your finance and accounting department.

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