As a profession, we continuously strive to offer value-added services for our clients and customers. Innovative and entrepreneurial minds identify opportunities to provide services and solutions needed in the community. Visionary service providers recognize the shift in the market toward CFO consulting practices as a value add.

At the cusp of an unprecedented generational and institutional knowledge shift in the workforce, organizations need a business partner that they can trust and one that has relevant experience to their needs. With multiple years in public accounting and as a CFO, I can attest that the roles and experiences are very different. In addition to financial analysis, the latter involves supporting a team generally comprised of administrative functions including accounting, human resources, and technology.

The responsibilities of a CFO involve maintaining professional relations, financial oversight, process improvement, strategic planning, KPI dashboards, forecasting, cash flows, and team compensation planning. Being a CFO means engaging with operations and playing a pivotal position in helping lead and run a business. It means walking in the shoes of a business owner. You truly live the ebb and flow of its ups and downs and must know its pulse. You see operations through various lenses.

Our economy will continue to experience an increasing gap as colleagues continue to retire. What are you doing today? With the demands of daily operational needs, many companies forgo intermediate and long-term planning. Has your organization assembled a succession plan for its business operations or financial team? Many organizations recognize the need for and fill the critical role of controller. Quite often, many businesses misinterpret the CFO and controller positions, very complementary roles that must engage in tandem.

For those whom might have an interest in serving as CFO someday, it is important to understand how the responsibilities overlap yet differ from the controller. The role of the CFO continues to evolve from having financial acumen to complementing it with business operations, strategic planning, and innovation. A thirst for knowledge along with having respect for your teammates makes the journey rewarding. This starts with having an understanding of and appreciation for positions. It is all part of that expanded role in business that CPAs must embrace, which is addressed in the INCPAS 2025 document.

Controllers, serving a management function, have the responsibility for accounting and record keeping of an organization from a historical perspective. They ensure that established policies are followed and are responsible for financial and regulatory compliance. Depending on the size of the organization, additional duties can include coordination of audits, human resources, insurance, management of information technology, and tax reporting including federal income and sales.

CFOs similarly have financial responsibility yet have a more encompassing function. Using a forward-looking and big-picture approach, they review financial statements to gain perspectives on past performance. CFOs analyze information and work closely with operations and management to develop and implement strategy for the organization to achieve its goals. They serve as stewards, play a key role in operations, help influence the future direction of the company as business leaders and strategists, and act as catalysts driving process improvements and innovations that add value to the company.

A CFO can no longer rely on number crunching and spreadsheets alone as the demands rapidly change. According to an article from Business Insider, CFOs must possess these nine skills:

  1. CFOs must become analytics wizards.
  2. CFOs must manage an increasing amount of risk.
  3. CFOs must adapt to new technology.
  4. CFOs must become better at managing people.
  5. The CFO of the future must guide decisions in a politically charged atmosphere.
  6. CFOs must manage big data as a large part of business operations.
  7. CFOs will make effective decisions with analytics from outside of the enterprise.
  8. CFOs need to understand business drivers and the underlying non-financial information that drives the financials of their company.
  9. Hiring decisions will become a major part of the job for future CFOs. They will need to drive talent acquisition and retention.

In a recent Forbes article, “Three Ways to be a More Strategic CFO,” a discussion centers around what it takes to succeed as a CFO today. Three takeaways:

  1. CFOs must have a passion for and deep understanding of the organization along with intellectual curiosity.
  2. CFOs should have the attitude and aptitude to properly balance risk and reward.
  3. CFOs should be visible working in teams as business partners.

I thoroughly enjoy opportunities to engage with businesses and operations and absolutely relish collaborating with colleagues whom have expertise in each of their areas. For aspiring CFOs, I hope this helps paint a picture for you. I always value teammates with whom I serve. Everyone brings a unique and diverse skill set to each team as they play their positions. Professional service providers or businesses, give me a call. I look forward to identifying ways to partner with and continue helping businesses and our community thrive. In May, a few members from our Financial Executives International-Fort Wayne Chapter leadership team will attend the national Financial Leadership Summit. Having chosen courses to attend, the agenda looks amazing! With over 500 anticipated attendees, I look forward to a time of reflection, professional development, connecting with new colleagues from across the nation, and the opportunity to bring ideas back to our Chapter and Midwest businesses.

In addition to my passion for business operations and financial oversight, one of my favorite parts of my career is the opportunity to network. I always welcome opportunities to connect one-on-one with colleagues. Regardless of your role in business or the community, I look forward to engaging. Just let me know what works best for your schedule. I assure you, we all can learn from each other. In fact, I will be facilitating a couple of courses in Fort Wayne and on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend this year regarding the above topics and ethics. Register here. Let me know if you plan on attending!

Another controller versus CFO perspective at Inc.

John Minnich, CPA, CGMA, CFRM, MAcct
Business + Financial + Relations