Finance Director vs CFO: What are the key differences?

February 26th 2024 | Posted by Phil Scott

Are you considering hiring a Finance Director or Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and are seeking to clarify the distinctions between these two pivotal roles?

While overlapping in financial stewardship, these two job titles differ significantly in scope, strategic involvement, and the type of companies they are typically found in.

As the two positions are often conflated, this quick guide will compare Finance Directors vs CFOs clarifying their distinct roles, strategic importance, and how they fit into businesses of various sizes.

Finance Director: The Operational Backbone

Finance Directors are primarily tasked with overseeing the company’s financial operations, including accounting, reporting, budgeting, and forecasting. Their role is integral to maintaining the internal financial health and compliance of an organisation. FDs typically operate within the senior management team, focusing on the meticulous management of financial details to ensure the company’s assets are safeguarded and financial strategies are accurately implemented.

Chief Financial Officer: The Strategic Visionary

In contrast, Chief Financial Officers hold a more senior, executive role within an organisation. They not only oversee the company’s financial actions but also play a pivotal part in strategic planning, investment decisions, and steering the company towards its long-term goals. The CFO’s role extends beyond the financial realm to include investor relations and external stakeholder management, often serving as the CEO’s key financial advisor. The breadth of their responsibilities underscores the CFO’s integral role in shaping the future direction of the company.

Finance Director vs CFO: Seniority and Strategic Involvement

The seniority of a Chief Financial Officer over a Finance Director is evident in their direct reporting to the CEO and participation in board meetings, reflecting their critical role in high-level decision-making. This executive status enables CFOs to influence the company’s strategic direction, making them indispensable for large corporations and businesses undergoing significant growth or facing complex financial landscapes.

Prevalence in Businesses: Size Matters

The size and complexity of a business often dictate whether a Finance Director or a Chief Financial Officer is more appropriate for the organisation. Smaller businesses and startups, focusing on establishing their financial foundations and day-to-day operations, may lean towards hiring an FD. Their operational focus aligns with the immediate needs of these companies for financial management and reporting.

Conversely, very large companies, especially those listed on stock exchanges or with ambitious expansion plans, typically require the strategic foresight of a Chief Financial Officer. The CFO’s ability to navigate complex financial ecosystems, engage with investors, and participate in strategic planning makes them a staple in these organisations. Their executive-level insight is crucial for guiding large businesses through growth, mergers, acquisitions, and other transformative processes.

Geographic Preferences and Terminology Trends (UK vs USA)

The preference for the title “CFO” vs “Finance Director” varies by geography, reflecting broader cultural and business practice differences.

According to LinkedIn, the term Finance Director / Director of Finance is used twice as many times as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in the UK.

Conversely, in the USA, three times as many people call themselves a CFO as opposed to a Finance Director / Director of Finance.

In the USA, the title “CFO” is prevalent, reflecting the position’s strategic importance in the corporate hierarchy. The American business environment, characterised by its global influence and the scale of its corporate entities, favours the comprehensive role that a CFO plays. The ratio of CFO to FD titles could be observed as significantly skewed towards CFOs, reflecting this preference.

In the UK, there has been a noticeable shift over the past decade. Historically, the title “Finance Director” was more common, aligning with traditional British corporate structures. However, influenced by American business practices and the globalising economy, there’s been a marked increase in the adoption of the CFO title, especially in larger companies and those in the private equity (PE) sector. This trend indicates a move towards recognising the strategic importance of the finance role in driving business success.

In the USA and UK, PE-backed and publicly listed companies use both titles, reflecting their governance structures and strategic priorities. In PE-backed entities, the need for financial oversight and strategic financial planning may lead to a more balanced distribution between CFOs and FDs.

Finance Director vs CFO Salary

Salary can differ significantly between Finance Directors and CFOs. If you are looking to find out salary differences between the two roles specific to your organisation’s size and local area in the UK, you can download our Finance Director Salary Guide and our CFO Salary Guide.


The distinction between Finance Directors and Chief Financial Officers extends beyond their responsibilities to include their seniority, strategic involvement, and the types of companies they serve. Understanding these differences helps businesses determine which role best suits their current and future financial management needs. Whether focusing on operational efficiency or strategic growth, the decision to hire an FD or a CFO is a strategic one, reflecting the company’s size, complexity, and aspirations for the future.