Four faces of the CFO


Four faces of the CFO

The CFO Program

Today, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are expected to play four diverse and challenging roles, which include the role of steward, operator, strategist and catalyst. These varied roles make a CFO’s job more complex than ever.

Today, the role of the CFO is under greater scrutiny, internally and externally. CFOs face never ending pressure to cut costs, grow revenue and ensure control. Economic uncertainty, increased regulatory requirements, financial restatements and increased investor scrutiny have forced them into the spotlight. Given these factors, CFO turnover is on the rise.

Today’s CFOs are expected to play four diverse and challenging roles. The two traditional roles are steward, preserving the assets of the organization by minimizing risk and getting the books right, and operator, running a tight finance operation that is efficient and effective. It’s increasingly important for CFOs to be strategists, helping to shape overall strategy and direction, and catalysts, instilling a financial approach and mind set throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better. These varied roles make a CFO’s job more complex than ever.


The Strategist is a director, focused on defining the future of the company to enhance business performance and shareholder value. The Strategist provides a financial perspective on innovation and profitable growth; leverages this perspective to improve risk-awareness, strategic decision-making and performance management integration; and translates the expectations of the capital markets into internal business imperatives.


The Catalyst is an agent for change, focused on establishing a value attitude throughout the organization. The Catalyst gains business alignment to identify, evaluate and execute strategies, and serves as a business partner to other decision makers including business unit leaders, the chief information officer, and sales and marketing leaders. The Catalyst establishes a structure of enterprise accountability for results drives enterprise execution and gains acceptance from business management as the organization's catalyst.


Accounting, control, risk management and asset preservation are the province of the Steward. The Steward must ensure company compliance with financial reporting and control requirements. Information quality and control rationalization are top-of-mind issues for the Steward.


Efficiency and service levels are the primary areas of focus for the Operator. The Operator must dynamically balance cost and service levels in delivering on the finance organization's responsibilities, and adapt finance's operating model as necessary. Talent management, offshoring and shared service decisions are often the key issues to be addressed.

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