Obscure Downsides to Serving a Full-Time CFO
Updated: Oct 20
While a full-time executive position often comes with attractive benefits and compensation packages, there can be obscure downsides associated with such roles. I have worked as a Chief Financial Officer for about six years as of this writing, and here are some unobvious costs I found CFO may face:
When served responsibly, CFO roles typically demand long working hours and a significant time commitment. Frequently, finance executives are “on call” beyond regular business hours, including weekends and holidays, to deal with a crisis. I worked with companies where one crisis followed another non-stop, and being on call was needed to meet my CFO responsibilities. This led to reduced personal time, less work-life balance, and strained relationships with my spouse and other family members.
Stress and pressure
Finance chiefs often bear significant responsibility for the success of the organization. They are accountable for strategic decision-making, managing teams, achieving targets, and dealing with high-pressure situations. The stress and pressure associated with these responsibilities can impact their mental and physical well-being. In my case, I attribute anxiety, poor sleep, and some level of burnout to the stress and pressure of the job, which required management through physical exercise, among other things.
Travel and relocation
Finance leaders may be required to travel extensively for business purposes, both domestically and internationally. For example, I had a Zurich, Switzerland-based employer, and I would alternate by spending one week in Europe and another week working remotely from New York. Frequent travel can disrupt personal routines, result in time away from family and loved ones, and add to the overall stress and fatigue of the role. I would also add frequent jet lag adjustments were also taxing.
Some finance positions may require relocation, which can entail expenses and uprooting family members. I don’t anticipate that in the post-Covid and start-up context, relocation may be a pre-requisite for a job; of course, there may be exceptions.
Public scrutiny and visibility
Chief Financial Officers often face public scrutiny and visibility. This is especially true when the company they lead is publicly traded, but even a private company’s leadership involves a meaningful amount of limelight on the finance executives. Stakeholders, shareholders, media, and the general public may closely monitor CFO's actions and decisions. This increased scrutiny can create additional pressure and limit personal privacy.
For the reasons outlined above, full-time finance executive jobs may limit opportunities for personal pursuits, such as entrepreneurial ventures, hobbies, or other interests. The demanding nature of executive positions often leaves little time and energy for other pursuits outside of work. When not in crisis, I appreciated CEOs who did not reach out (email or call) during the weekend or designated time off with my family.
Continuous learning and professional development
Finance execs must stay updated with industry trends, new technologies, and management practices. This often requires continuous learning, attending conferences and workshops, and pursuing professional development opportunities. For example, when I attended a life sciences CFO conference in San Diego a couple of years ago, between the East-West Coast transit and time zone differences, the three-day event turned into a week-long commitment. These activities can come at an additional cost in terms of time and financial investment.
The stress and demanding nature of finance executive jobs can impact health, which may be hard to quantify in the long term. In the short term, finance executives may incur costs related to healthcare, such as medical treatments, counseling, and wellness programs, to manage their role's physical and mental toll.
Executives may have to make personal sacrifices to fulfill their professional responsibilities. The sacrifices include missing important family events or limited time with loved ones due to work commitments. I had my fair share of missed Irish Dance or swim practices, which I know I am not getting back.
All-in-all, when a CFO takes on a full-time job, she must be mindful of these unobvious downsides to being a leader. They vary depending on the executive, company, or even industry circumstances. Of course, most CFOs don’t take the job expecting a nine-to-five schedule, but more often than not, the true costs of the position to the executives reveal themselves months or years into the job.
Check out Company’s Hidden Costs of Employing Full-Time CFOs for the organization’s perspectives.