Do you define your CFO role? Or does it define you?

The disruption of the CFO’s DNA

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Executive summary

“It's become a job that may be too big for any one individual to do well, given all the responsibilities and the incredible contrast between the day-to-day tactical controllership functions, and the very long-term, strategic, executive functions. It's now more important than ever for the CFO to not just worry about their role, but also the team that they surround themselves with.”

Tony Klimas, Global Finance Performance Improvement Advisory Leader, EY

The chief financial officer (CFO) role is being disrupted by digital; data; risk and uncertainty; regulation and stakeholder scrutiny. CFOs who don’t proactively define their role in response to these major forces could compromise their ability to shape strategy with the CEO and drive the innovation necessary for sustainable growth.

In EY’s first The DNA of the CFO study, conducted in 2010, we painted a picture of a role that had already broadened to encompass not only traditional financial skills, but also more strategic and market-facing responsibilities. Six years later, in the latest CFO research study, we’ve found that change has accelerated more rapidly than many would have thought possible.

We surveyed 769 finance leaders across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific from December 2015 to February 2016, and conducted one-on-one interviews with 21 CFOs.

The CFO — a leader feeling the pressure

EY - The CFO — a leader feeling the pressure

CFOs are responding to these pressures in different ways. Our research shows that it is increasingly difficult to decode the DNA of the finance leader, with profiles and job descriptions becoming more and more diverse. Roles vary depending on the disruptions CFOs and their organizations face, as well as their company, sector, geography and personal strengths.

In this environment, perceptions of what makes a great CFO are harder to pin down, and the expectations of colleagues, including CEOs and supervisory boards, are shifting.

To help finance leaders respond to the forces disrupting their role and take control of their professional development, in this report we explore three themes:

  1. The four forces disrupting finance leadership
  2. The many profiles of today’s CFO
  3. A CFO leadership development plan


  • Hanne Jesca Bax
    EY EMEIA Managing Partner Markets & Accounts, Ernst & Young Nederland LLP
    Tel: +31 88 40 71325
  • Robert Brand
    EY Global CFO Agenda Leader
    Tel: +1 201 872 5692
  • Rick Fezell
    EY Americas EY Vice Chair — Accounts
    Tel: +1 312 879 6568
  • Annette Kimmitt
    EY Asia-Pacific Accounts Leader
    Tel: +61 3 9288 8141
  • Tony Klimas
    EY Global Finance Performance Improvement
    Advisory Leader
    Tel: +1 212 773 5949