How to Become a Finance Director
‘How do I become a Finance Director?’ is a question you may have asked yourself many times since becoming a qualified Accountant. A Finance Director is a greatly influential, high profile role within a company and one that many finance professionals aspire to. However, despite such aspirations, it’s difficult to know when you’re ready to take that career step, especially if it’s been a while since you made your last career move.
GAAPweb have reviewed many Finance Director job adverts from top recruiters across the site to put together a helpful overview of the qualifications, experience and skills usually required for a Finance Director role. This will serve as a useful guide to assess whether you have what it takes to make this next career move, or whether you need to develop your career further before making the leap. At the end of this article, we offer five top tips for building up the skills required to become a Finance Director that you may be lacking.
What does a Finance Director do?
A Finance Director is a high-level role which comes with plenty of responsibility. Often, these professionals are in charge of overseeing the entire finance function, which means being responsible for the financial development of the business, mitigating risks, budgeting and forecasting, managing cash-flow and financial reporting.
For many organisations, the Finance Director will hold the most senior role in the finance team. Therefore, another key part of the role is to head up the department. As a Finance Director, you will have ultimate responsibility for managing, inspiring and leading the rest of the team. Although this is a leadership role, it’s also a supportive one, as you will likely be reporting directly to the CEO, assisting them in navigating the business and ensuring key objectives are met.
Above all, Finance Directors are expected to make a positive impact on the organisation, to drive change and bolster the financial performance.
Need more insight? Check out our comprehensive career guide article to find out more about the role and responsibilities of a Finance Director.
How to Become a Finance Director
What qualifications do you need to be a Finance Director?
By reviewing many Finance Director job adverts listed on GAAPweb, we have identified the key qualifications required if you are looking to take the next step in your career.
The fundamental requirement on any Finance Director job description is a professional accounting qualification. Employers almost always require the candidate to be a fully qualified finance professional and usually specify accreditation from a particular professional accountancy body such as ACA, ACCA or CIMA.
Other required qualifications sometimes include:
- Bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or a similar field
- A Master of Business Administration degree (MBA)
Employers often state a requirement for an excellent academic record of achievement. It’s not rare to find employers specifying 2:1 or above in particular subjects or from certain universities. Some employers may even require a postgraduate degree in a finance or related topic.
Other useful qualifications may include those related to a specific area of finance and accountancy such as tax, treasury, or audit. Leadership and people management courses will also give you a competitive edge.
For more information about Accounting Qualifications, check out our article on the changing landscape of accounting qualifications.
What experience do you need to become a Finance Director?
Due to the seniority and responsibilities associated with the Finance Director role, any professionals looking to take the step up must have a wealth of experience built up over many years within increasingly senior positions.
Significant experience at a senior level within your chosen industry is a must for most Finance Director roles.
As a Finance Director, you’re most likely to be the number one in finance within the whole company, meaning you’re going to need a lot of experience in managing projects, improving processes and leading reporting functions - situations that demonstrate your ability to think on your feet, adapt, control and deliver. The exact requirements will of course vary from job to job, depending on the type of role, industry, and size of the organisation, but being able to demonstrate a track record of delivering results in a Financial Controller or similar senior role will stand you in good stead when you go for a Director position.
People Management Experience
Experience leading and managing a team is also key for successfully becoming a Finance Director. Many positions require a proven track record of developing teams and providing engaging, effective leadership. Many mid-level finance roles such as Finance Manager and Finance Business Partner include line management of junior finance professionals, but if management is not one of your current responsibilities, you could consider becoming a mentor for a junior finance and accountancy professional in order to build up experience.
What skills do you need to be a Finance Director?
In order to become a Finance Director you will also need to possess a skill set that balances technical proficiency and commercial awareness with leadership and relationship management.
Unlike lower level finance roles, which have a focus on tackling specific tasks, managing projects and delivering results, a Finance Director’s role is more wide-ranging. As the head of the finance function, a Finance Director must be able to step back from these specific day-to-day tasks in order to have a holistic view of the team and business to allow themselves to manage all aspects of the finance function efficiently and drive strategy.
Before you begin browsing the latest Finance Director vacancies, we recommend assessing your current skill set and acknowledging any areas that need further development.
As with any position, you will not be able to succeed without possessing the required technical skills. Ultimately, as the head of the finance team, if someone asks you a question about finance and accountancy, you need to know the answer.
Technical accounting skills are gained through education, hence the requirement for particular accounting accreditations, but they are also developed through many years climbing the career ladder, working your way up through various finance roles, embracing challenges, managing projects and delivering results.
Prospective Finance Directors must be able to show a track record of proactively developing their technical skills, understanding of GAAP and spreadsheet functionality skills. You should always be looking out for opportunities to develop your existing skills and learn new ones. Most companies offer training and development courses which can help to build up your technical knowledge.
The role of Finance Director is often seen as more commercial than technical, given the expectation to drive profitability and future growth of the business through overseeing business strategy. Commercial awareness is not a skill that comes naturally like communication or relationship building might to some people. Instead, building commercial acumen requires effort; it requires not taking something at face value and instead questioning it.
So, be curious and ask questions. An inquisitive mindset will help you understand the business, how it makes profit, the business objectives, and key milestones.
Listening to finance podcasts can be a great way to develop a commercial mindset and build a general awareness of the industry to help you think more strategically.
Leadership skills are one of the most frequently listed skills on Finance Director job descriptions, which is only natural as you will be heading up the whole finance team. Aspiring Finance Directors must have the ability to inspire and engage others, provide strategic and confident leadership, and motivate a team to achieve results.
Professionals with previous management experience are often sought for Finance Director roles, but even if the particular vacancy you’re applying for does not specify these skills, having them on your CV will give you a competitive edge. Gaining people management experience will help you understand what type of leader you are and help you build the skills required to become the values-driven, inspiring leader that makes a great Finance Director.
As Finance Director, you are ultimately there to assist the CEO in matters relating to the financial and commercial performance of the business, so in addition to being an inspiring leader, you must also understand how to play this supportive role.
Relationship building skills involve the ability to actively listen, understand and ask the right questions to aid discussion. Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence underpin how we build and maintain relationships, understand different perspectives and show empathy.
A recent Finance Director vacancy listed on GAAPweb required ‘emotional intelligence and the ability to challenge and influence senior stakeholders’. You may find that you need to challenge the CEO, investors and other business partners from time to time, and interpersonal skills will help you to do this whilst maintaining good relationships and being supportive.
Without ambition, you would not be trying to find out how to become a Finance Director. Confidence, drive, ambition and the desire to hit the ground running are four essential requirements that should not be overlooked. A Finance Director is in a position of significant authority and must be comfortable leading the finance function, driving change, and getting involved. We have already discussed the need to challenge your CEO from time to time - being confident will help you assert your decisions and convince others of your point of view.
Next Steps: How to Become a Finance Director
Having now read through our guide on how to become a Finance Director, you may have already identified skills that you are lacking or qualifications that you need to undertake before you begin applying for jobs. If you are struggling to pinpoint these areas for yourself, the following tips should help you to get started.
- Do your research. Does your organisation or chosen industry require specific qualifications? Will you need a a greater understanding of your sector and its major players before becoming a Finance Director?
- Gain industry experience. If possible, identify the industry you would like to work in early on in your career so you can work towards building your knowledge and experience. If you have decided to switch sectors, do you need more experience as a Finance Manager or Financial Controller before you will be considered for Finance Director roles?
- Embrace every opportunity you can to build your skills. Sign up for training and development opportunities offered by your employer. If these are not available, seek them out yourself. GAAPweb recently published a list of free courses and resources for accountants that could help you to get started.
- Work on your commercial awareness. Listen to podcasts about the accounting profession and future of accounting. Read up about the latest developments in your company and the wider industry. Be curious and question everything.
- Seek out opportunities to build people management skills. Whether as a permanent line manager or managing people on a particular project, people management experience is highly sought after and will help you understand what kind of leader you want to be.
Are you ready to become a Finance Director? Before you start applying for the latest FD jobs on GAAPweb, make sure you are putting your best foot forward with our Finance Director CV tips, templates and examples.