What Is the Difference Between a CFO and a CEO?

With a lot of experience and ambition, accounting professionals can advance to extremely high-level positions. A job as a chief financial officer (CFO) is a lucrative and exciting senior level career. In fact, chief financial officer is among the highest paying accounting jobs, with the average CFO earning more than $300,000 per year. As much as the position might appeal to exceptionally motivated accounting professionals, you may wonder what makes a CFO different from the better known job of a CEO and other “c-level” corporate executive positions.

CFO vs. CEO

CEO stands for chief executive officer. A chief executive officer’s job is to manage an organization in its entirety. CEOs will typically be concerned with big-picture aspects of running a business rather than mundane day-to-day operations. They create the policies and protocol that employees must follow, establish overarching goals and measure achievement of those goals. Presidents, vice presidents and executive directors are all positions that could also be considered CEOs, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

CFOs, on the other hand, lead their departments within a company rather than leading the organization as a whole. The financial aspects of any business are, of course, one of the most important. CFOs manage the entire financial team and are in charge of essential tasks such as creating budgets and making sure the company sticks to them. They identify goals and develop strategies to reach those goals. Chief financial officers are also responsible for managing any investments a business may make. Because CFOs perform so many high-level job functions, they are well compensated for the sometimes stressful job. Ultimately, the CFO is the most high ranking staff member in the financial division of a business, but still answers to the CEO.

CIOs and COOs

Just as CFOs are top executives managing their departments within a business or organization, CIOs and COOs serve the same function in other departments. CIO stands for chief information officer. These professionals supervise information technology departments of a business, which include computer systems and projects.

Even in relatively small businesses, the day-to-day operations and human resources aspects of running the business can be a challenge. In large organizations, like big corporations, the size of the company and number of employees can make office management that much harder. That’s why another top executive position exists, that of the chief operating officer (COO).

There are many reasons to aspire to a top executive position such as CFO, such as the extraordinarily high salary, the prestige of holding a senior management position and the opportunity to oversee a company’s entire financial department. To reach a high-level position, aspiring CFOs first must obtain extensive education and experience. This may mean working their way up from entry-level positions and possibly pursuing an advanced degree, like a master of business administration (MBA). For the right candidates, the hard work required to become and succeed as a CFO is well worth it.

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