COO vs CFO: How are they different and which do you need?

April 8th 2024 | Posted by Phil Scott

Are you currently considering hiring either a Chief Operating Officer (COO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO), but are unsure of which would meet your business’ strategic objectives and operational needs?

In this short guide, we’ll examine these two key positions, outlining their core responsibilities, strategic value, and how their roles can be tailored to meet the specific needs of businesses across a spectrum of industries and scales.

Chief Operating Officer: The Operational Expert

The Chief Operating Officer focuses on the management, development, and optimisation of an organisation’s internal operations to ensure smooth, efficient business processes. Acting as a critical bridge between the company’s vision and its operational execution, the COO works closely with the CEO to implement strategies that enhance operational effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Streamlining operations to enhance efficiency and reduce costs
  • Supervising daily operational activities across departments
  • Implementing strategies for operational excellence and growth
  • Managing major projects and overseeing supply chain logistics
  • Enhancing customer satisfaction and operational output

Chief Financial Officer: The Strategic Financial Creative

Meanwhile, the Chief Financial Officer oversees the financial architecture of the company, managing everything from financial planning and analysis to risk management, reporting, and investment strategies. The CFO’s realm extends beyond mere number crunching; it involves crafting financial strategies that align with the company’s long-term goals, ensuring financial health and sustainability, and steering complex financial scenarios.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Overseeing financial planning and reporting
  • Managing risks and financial compliance
  • Strategising on capital allocation and investment planning
  • Leading investor relations and financial communication
  • Guiding financial decision-making with strategic insight

The Relationship Between a COO and a CFO

Though their primary focuses differ – operational versus financial – the roles of the COO and CFO are complementary, contributing to a holistic view of the company’s health and strategy. The Chief Operating Officer ensures the organisation’s operations are primed for success, while the Chief Financial Officer guarantees the financial strategy supports sustainable growth and stability. Together, they form a dynamic duo that drives the company forward, balancing operational efficiency with financial prudence.

Strategic Performance and Organisational Interaction

In the partnership between the COO and CFO, strategic planning meets operational execution. The CFO’s financial strategies become actionable through the operational frameworks developed by the COO. This partnership is essential for encouraging growth, overcoming challenges, and achieving organisational objectives.

COO vs CFO: Where the overlap can arise

Quite frequently, a CFO will be asked by the CEO to take a more proactive role in managing wider operations, i.e. IT, legal, customer services and people operations. Sometimes this can lead to a change of job title to COO, and often the job title may just stay the same, which is where the confusion can occur.

Conversely, the COO could be asked to oversee finance; perhaps having a Senior Financial Controller or Finance Director reporting into them. Again, this can often merge the two roles into one.

We do see the above two events happening more often in smaller organisations. In larger organisations, we tend to see the two distinct roles remaining separated.

COO vs CFO Salary

Salaries between COOs and CFOs can differ, based on what role they play and the size and location of a company. If you need specific salary details for these roles, you can check out our CFO Salary Guide, or for COO salaries, visit our partner site, Executive Recruit to view their COO Salary Guide.

COO vs CFO: Why your decision matters

Choosing whether to bring a COO vs a CFO on board – or understanding how to influence both roles effectively – is a strategic decision that can significantly impact your company’s path. Depending on your organisation’s current phase, growth objectives, and operational complexities, one role may take precedence over the other, or both may be equally crucial for driving success.

Therefore, understanding the distinct roles, responsibilities, and strategic importance of the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer is essential for any business striving for operational efficiency and financial health. By setting out the unique contributions of each position, organisations can better structure their executive team to support their goals, ensuring a balanced approach to achieving long-term success and sustainability.