7 Strategies to upgrade yourself from ‘CFO’ to a ‘Strategic CFO’

The role of the CFO is continuously evolving and in many organizations it is not well defined. A lot of CFOs therefore struggle to understand the critical nature of their job and adopt a conservative approach of narrowly defining their roles by duplicating the job of their controllers.

The CFO role is unique and powerful enough to get involved with any part of the organization. Generally, CFOs can initiate projects on their own that benefit the business and at the same time substantially expand the scope and responsibility of their own role. It is an opportunity as well as a challenge.

If you are a CFO with narrowly defined scope, here are 7 strategies you can apply immediately to upgrade and redefine your job:

Confident Senior Businessman

1. Stop doing your controller’s job:
Majority of CFOs in mid-size organizations still do their controllers’ jobs fearing that there may not be much work for them if they let controllers do their entire job. Reality is quite the opposite. You need to first offload the low level tasks and create capacity in order to add high value work.

2. Offer ‘Finance for non-Finance’ training:
To strategically re-position your personal brand in the organization, conduct yourself a ‘Finance for Non Finance’ training for your management team. You will be amazed by the appreciation and recognition you will receive for doing this. As a bonus, there will be much better understanding of Finance function among your non-finance senior colleagues.

3. Get involved or initiate the strategy process:
As CFO, you are in the best position to define, clarify and enhance the value creation process for your business. The easiest and most effective way for CFOs to get involved in strategy process is to initiate a Balanced Scorecard implementation process. Attend a Balanced Scorecard training and deploy the idea.

4. Support new business development:
If there is no formal function or role exists for new business development in your organization, offer support to your CEO to get involved into this. It will help you to expand your influence into a line responsibility as well as let you test your marketing skills.

5. Restructure or refinance:
As a CFO you need to continuously monitor the supply and cost of capital. No one else is more qualified than the CFO to identify a deal and the timing to optimize the capital structure of the company. If you are able to strike an opportunity to execute an IPO for your company, it will add substantial value to your credentials and skill set.

6. Lead Mergers & Acquisitions:
CFO needs to be the brain of the CEO when it comes to the mergers and acquisition deals. Identify the potential opportunities, get involved into the due diligence process, negotiate the deal. This experience will substantially enhance your market worth.

7. Enhance or upgrade IT:
Whether IT function reports to the CFO or not, it’s important for the CFO to closely monitor IT investment as the long term productivity, efficiency and performance of the entire organization depends on it. Evaluate the current structure and identify gaps. The high performance business applications of today like CRM generally warrant a higher ROI. Become a champion, lead the change.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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20 thoughts on “7 Strategies to upgrade yourself from ‘CFO’ to a ‘Strategic CFO’

  1. Appreciate the points outlined. Difficult to argue with the logical way in which you have presented them. However, it is only in a mature company can the role of a CFO come to its own where he can be a partner to the CEO and put on the strategic ‘hat’.
    Interesting that you brought about the ‘Finance for Non Finance Professionals’ bit. I have always practiced that in my previous few employments and have found it to be of immense use when the Ops and Commercial departments are already aware of these concepts and use them in their day to day business.
    The other role that the CFO, in the context of strategy, may perhaps actively pursue is that of the Chief Risk Officer. Strategy and Risks are joined at the hip and I have observed that often times, the CFO is in the best position to identify these risks by looking in from the outside and espouse what I like to call a ‘risk -conscious strategy’ in the company.

  2. A great article, Saleem Sufi has precisely and beautifully covered the upcoming challenges for the CFOs. It really gave me a lot of motivation.

  3. Amazing. Today, CFO’s role is quite different from the role of a traditional Chief Accountant. CFO is really a helping hand to the CEO; in fact CFO’s role is sort of COO’s in an organization.

    In order to add more value in the Organization and play a role of strategies initiator; CFO’s should also strengthen their cross functional role and develop good understandings of business operations of the Organization.

    Great – thanks for sharing such a valuable information.

    Fida Zahid

  4. These are great. As a C level executive, the CFO is ideally placed (alongwith other C suite) to take a holisitc view of the business / enterprise. In that context, in addition to the 7 stars mentioned above a CFO could actively support HR in leadership development across all tiers of the organization, not just the management and up levels.

  5. I appreciate your post and agree with all 7 strategies. I also believe that strategy 1 applies to all upward moves. I will definitely include these in my plan. Thanks for sharing.

  6. It’s a great defined study of CFO role, which should adopted by all CFOS, greatly appreciated the work by Mr. Sufi.

  7. Dear Saleem,

    I cannot agree with you more. You have covered the most essential and important aspects of the CFO role. Very recently I have introduced module of ” Finance for Non Finance ” in my organisation. I am pleased to share that it has helped immensely as stated in your role objectives.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Atul Bhargava
    Chief Financial Officer

    Taj SATS Air Catering Limited
    International Airport Approach Road
    Sahar, Mumbai 400 099

    T 91 22 28393692/3 F 91 22 28302060
    D 91 22 67057010


    • Dear Atul, Fantastic and congratulations on doing Finance for Non Finance training.In every new job, this is the first thing I have done to establish my personal brand with fantastic results.

  8. Dear Saleem,

    It is indeed a well crafted and bulls-eye view point of the role of CFO.

    From my experience; I well relate to the fact of letting go the controller ship function without loosing control of finance and accounting key responsibilities for the optimization of resources and adequate and timely reporting of MIS to facilitate the decision making process for stakeholders.

    The role of a CFO today is more of “Making of the CEO” by default. CFO today needs to well comprehend and emulate multitude of functions and the interplay of dynamics of operation for seamless integration.

    The balancing act of CFO in promoting corporate governance and yet facilitating and managing resources optimally to provide growth, is vital to the success of the organization.


    Dhiraj Wadhwani
    Multiforms LLC

    • Dhiraj, You are right. Many CFOs keep involved into basic Finance functions because either they don’t trust their controllers or they do not have the right controllers. In either case responsibility is upon them to take action and create capacity for more important task by delegating the traditional work to the right people.

  9. Dear Saleem,

    Thanks …you seem to have covered all those areas where CFOs can value added and their expertise is most required. I feel a good CFO should be one who does not miss the woods nor the trees.

    I feel one major contribution a CFO makes is in risk management – be it internal or external . It could be economic, political , industry related , currency fluctuations, nuances in contractual agreements – this can mke or break a company. This could also open up great many opportunities.

    In our strategic roles, we feel many times that the company could take a different direction or shings could be done differently…. I would say that for a CFO with potential one way to propel himself is to do a scenario analysis – a kind of WHAT IF I WERE THE COO or WHAT IF I WERE THE CEO …..this will open up more vistas.


    • Sherring, Rightly said. I consider the risk management an inherent part of a CFO role. By expanding into strategy area it takes care of external risk management as well as what if scenarios as you mentioned.

  10. Dear Sufi Sb,

    Another well defined study. One thing I want to add is more or less small and medium size organizations don’t have differentiation between controller and CFO roles. There is expectations from CFO to prepare, analyze and comments on monthly, half yearly and annul financials.

    They are not able to utilize CFO as it should be. CFO as professional accountant with business insights play more wider role and be a partner with CEO in business strategy and execution.

    Any how pls provide us such more studies for our growth.


    Hamid Khan
    DES Group

    • Hamid, You mentioned correctly and this is exactly the point. The so called CFOs/Controllers need to take more responsibility to redefine their roles.