Date posted: 7/04/2020 8 min read

Do you have what it takes to be CFO?

CFOs need an ever-growing skill set, but the rewards are generous for those who have what it takes.

In Brief

  • CFOs and senior partners need a mix of technical expertise and strategic and people skills.
  • Those who reach the CFO role reap the benefits, with CFOs surveyed for the 2019 CA ANZ Remuneration Survey earning an average A$306,862 annually in Australia and NZ$263,559 annually in New Zealand.
  • Financial controllers and finance directors also take home generous salary packages.

By Ben Hurley

The requisite skill set and experience for chief financial officers and senior partners of large corporations is broader than ever before. Facing hawkish regulators, a suspicious public and a slowing economy, candidates need a rare mix of technical expertise, people skills and strategic nous.

But for accountants who make the grade, the rewards can be huge. On the back of record revenue at Deloitte, for example, partners at the firm’s booming consulting division were set to earn up to A$2 million in 2019, according to a report last year in The Australian Financial Review.

The 2019 CA ANZ Remuneration Survey found the average partner in Australia last year earned A$307,387 while the average CFO earned A$306,862 (among those who took part in the survey). Among CAs in New Zealand who were surveyed, the average CFO earned NZ$263,559.

Of course, the rewards are far higher for CAs who venture into ASX-listed companies. Xero CFO Kirsty Godfrey-Billy CA, who was promoted from chief accounting officer in October 2018, received a base salary of NZ$450,000 (total package NZ$692,200).

Kirsty Godfrey-Billy CAPicture: Kirsty Godfrey-Billy CA.

Alison Harrop FCA, Dexus CFO since 2015, earned A$704,468 (total package A$2,047,915) last year. She was previously deputy CFO of Dexus and financial officer and general manager, group finance at Westpac. She has also been CFO at Australia Post and Deutsche Bank.

Alison Harrop FCAPicture: Alison Harrop FCA.

Peter Beaven CA, BHP’s chief financial officer since 2014, took home a base salary of A$1 million in 2019 (a A$4.45 million total package after selling a considerable number of shares). And the acting chief executive of Westpac, Peter King FCA, took home A$1,222,006 in fixed remuneration in 2019 in his role as CFO, his total package amounting to A$2,641,920.

C-suite remuneration

Total package A$

 Alan Docherty CACFO Commonwealth Bank  $1,469,669
 Peter Beaven CACFO BHP  $4,450,000(due to selling shares)
 Peter King FCACFO (now acting CEO)Westpac Banking Corp  $2,641,920
 Gary Lennon FCACFO National Aust. Bank  $1,881,150
 Tino La Spina CA CFO (now CEO, Qantas International) Qantas Airways  $3,230,000(due to share price growth)
 Robyn Denholm FCA CFO Telstra Corporation (finished 30 June 2019)  $1,113,000
 Alison Harrop FCA CFO Dexus  $2,047,915
 Tania Archibald CA CFO Bluescope Steel  $1,793,309
 Pam Bains CACFO Aurizon Holdings  $1,605,000
 Iona Macpherson CA CFO Sigma Healthcare  $671,967
 Kirsty Godfrey-Billy CACFO Xero Limited  NZ$692,000

Source: Annual reports of the organisations listed. The remuneration of CFOs is not disclosed in publicly listed companies in New Zealand.

Roles, sectors and incentives

Top finance roles in organisations also have their perks. Graham Jenkins, an executive search specialist at S2M Digital Recruitment who focuses exclusively on C-suite roles, says a financial controller or finance director of a large multinational in Australia is looking at a salary of A$300,000 to A$400,000 plus a bonus of A$30,000 to A$50,000. Financial controllers in small or medium enterprises can expect to earn A$180,000 to A$250,000, plus a bonus of A$10,000 to A$50,000.

In Auckland, finance directors can earn between NZ$170,000 and NZ$275,000, and financial controllers between NZ$130,000 and NZ$180,000, according to Hudson’s 2019 Accounting and Finance Salary Guide.

An audit partner of a major accounting practice can expect A$250,000 to A$400,000, plus a larger bonus of A$80,000 to A$150,000, Jenkins says. And topping the list is consulting, where partners in business advisory at a major accounting practice can expect A$300,000 to A$400,000, plus a bonus of A$100,000 to A$200,000.

While banking and financial services in the corporate world remain the highest paying sectors, exits, floats or private equity buyouts in other sectors may lead to large one-off payments that can surpass the gains in corporate, says Peter Goddard, who leads the chief financial officer and finance practice at executive search firm Omera Partners.

And while roles in the public sector and not-for-profits aren’t known for their big salaries or bonuses, they offer finance professionals more than just the satisfaction of working for the public benefit.

“There can be, especially in the public sector, immense complexity and scale in the organisation on both a state or national level, and this is genuinely attractive for a CFO to experience,” Goddard says.

“There can be, especially in the public sector, immense complexity and scale… and this is genuinely attractive for a CFO to experience.”

Average total package for permanent full-time remuneration by job title - New Zealand (NZ$)Average total package for permanent full-time remuneration by job title - New Zealand (NZ$). Click image to enlarge.

Average total package for permanent full-time remuneration by job title - Australia (A$)Average total package for permanent full-time remuneration by job title - Australia (A$). Click image to enlarge.

Source: Data comes from a survey of 3700 chartered accountants in Australia and New Zealand conducted in Nov-Dec 2019

Gender pay gap wider across senior roles

The CA ANZ Remuneration Survey 2019 found the gender pay gap was the largest among senior roles, with male CFOs in Australia earning an average A$317,612 and female CFOs earning an average A$268,067 – a difference of A$49,545. It was a similar situation in New Zealand, with male CFOs earning an average NZ$278,325 and female CFOs earning an average NZ$224,759 – a difference of NZ$53,566.

Despite the brutal numbers, Goddard says the culture is changing, with organisations stepping up to address the gender gap. That can include offering a higher salary to a female candidate to take on a role, out of the desire to achieve more diversity at that level of the organisation.

“There is fairly regularly a willingness for an organisation to stretch a salary band to appoint a senior female candidate to certain roles,” Goddard says. “This is a really positive change from years gone by.”

What it takes to get to the CFO role

For those with their eyes on the top job, gaining the right combination of skills and experience is no simple task. Beyond having strong technical skills, CFOs are expected to be deeply involved in strategy alongside the CEO, and be seen as a voice of authority and trust. This might include taking the lead on change programs and having a significant understanding of the importance of technology and data, says Goddard.

Michael Keevy, senior client partner and co-head of the CFO practice at Korn Ferry, adds that aspiring CFOs need to have led sizeable finance teams and gained strong commercial experience from involvement in purchasing decisions, mergers and acquisitions or joint ventures. Managing a company’s balance sheet – and dealing with stakeholders such as investors, banks and the board – is also a major plus.

However, Keevy warns that heading a division of a large multinational doesn’t always guarantee the full CFO skill set, as the tax, treasury and capital management is often done offshore at the group head office in the US or Europe.

“I always say to them, the ideal is to go and be a CFO of a business unit or division where they can gain that strategic, commercial and operational experience and be accountable for the profitability and building the business,” Keevy says. “That’s very important.”

Read more:

Nice little earner: Results from the 2019 CA ANZ remuneration survey

CAs seem to be avoiding truly sluggish wage growth, with a little over a 5% average increase in earning power in 12 months.

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