Leadership EY

As the CFO Role Blurs, How Can Future Finance Leaders Find Focus?

Sponsored by EY

An EY study of 769 finance leaders tells how aspiring CFOs can build their capabilities and leadership to forge their career path to the top.

A career in finance is not what it used to be. Changes to how finance operates at every level of the hierarchy means that the once well-trodden path to a CFO appointment is being eroded. Aspiring finance leaders need to think differently about how they manage their careers, according to part 3 in EY’s The DNA of the CFO study: As the CFO role blurs, how can future finance leaders find focus?

At the senior levels, finance leadership roles are increasingly becoming more diverse in scope and focus as incumbents respond to a full range of pressures, including digital, data, heightened scrutiny and ongoing uncertainty and volatility.

Meanwhile, as numbers and data processing and analysis is increasingly being managed in centers of excellence, finance professionals need to focus more on business partnering to help drive decision-making. This requires a greater focus on emotional intelligence, influencing skills and leadership.

And at the early stages of the finance career, transactional activities that once provided a training ground for junior finance professionals are now being managed by shared services centers and, increasingly, automation.


Ambitious finance executives will have to be increasingly bold, creative and inventive in defining and coursing their route to the top.


Our survey of 769 finance leaders worldwide and in-depth interviews with 22 CFOs from leading organizations identifies the capabilities and leadership attributes needed to obtain a future CFO role. Highlights of the results are:

  • 93% of respondents say that leadership and team-building, including strong relationships with the CEO and board, are critical or important for aspiring CFOs to transition to a CFO role in the next five years.
  • 87% say that strategy design and planning are critical or important for aspiring CFOs to make the transition to the CFO role in the future.
  • 66% say that organizations will need to recruit from diverse pools of talent to find the next generation of finance leaders.
  • 62% say that visibility for women leaders who can act as role models for more junior employees is the No. 1 strategy for female finance executives to be appointed to a CFO position.


Other reports in this The DNA of the CFO series:

Part 1: Do you define your CFO role? Or does it define you? The disruption of the CFO’s DNA

Part 2: Is the future of finance new technology or new people? Preparing for the future finance function