from financial analyst to CFO – what’s the career path?

Whether you’re studying finance or at the start of your career as a financial analyst you might be wondering what your opportunities are for the future and how you can get to where you want to be.

While there is no defined route to becoming a CFO or trajectory for financial analysts, there is a broad career path benchmark to help you explore your options.

A typical career path from analyst to CFO.

Financial analyst.

The broad role of a financial analyst is to perform detailed financial modelling to aide executive decisions, to operate budgets and to assist in decisions around capital spending.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • evaluating possible investments
  • developing forecasts
  • analysing data and producing detailed reports

Senior financial analyst.

A common move from financial analyst is to senior financial analyst, which involves managing a group of financial analysts and overseeing broad financial analysis projects to assist the executive team.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • making financial recommendations
  • reviewing financial reports
  • directing analysts

Finance manager.

A typical next step is that of finance manager. This role involves reviewing financial analysis undertaken and highlighting areas for cost reduction and development from this insight.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • acting on financial analysis
  • working closely with the executive team
  • highlighting opportunities for efficiency

Director/VP.

At this level, a director/VP has built up considerable experience in financial modelling, management and analysis and coordinates with other departments on projects such as formulating budget.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Hiring team members and overseeing daily operations
  • Coordinating audits
  • Ensuring teams are on track to achieve objectives

CFO.

The CFO is the top executive role and broadly concerns the strategy, direction and sign-off of all financial activities. This role also involves a lot of financial future gazing and strategy regarding long term moves the company should make.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Reporting on the company’s financial standing
  • Balancing cash, debt, equity and internal financing
  • Economic forecasting

Core personality traits for this career.

It’s not just a case of being numbers-savvy to go from financial analyst to CFO. There are key traits that you’ll need to have already or work towards developing to succeed.

Communicator

The ability to work with others and clearly explain and understand complex ideas is crucial at all levels in this career. Presenting confidently to senior members of staff and clients is commonplace.

Analytical

A working knowledge of statistics, mathematics and finance is invaluable, but beyond this, analysts need to be able to harness these skills and be critical thinkers.

Adaptable

Being good under pressure is important as the tasks making up all these roles are multifaceted, meaning the ability to multi-task and be flexible is imperative.

Qualifications you’ll need.

A bachelor’s degree is the entry level requirement for a financial analyst position, with a variety of undergraduate subjects generally accepted by employers. These include business fields, as you might expect, such as finance, accounting and economics. But due to the importance of advanced quantitative skills in this field, bachelor's degrees in statistics, mathematics, engineering and physics are not uncommon.

To move into a more senior position over time, many analysts also work to get a master’s degree at an early stage in their career.

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