Once upon a time, the post of chief financial officer was the consummate insider’s job. Even as the prestige and power of the role increased, CFOs worked almost exclusively behind the scenes. Dealings with external constituencies — auditors, FASB, bankers, the SEC, even Wall Street — followed the conventions of a gentlemen’s club: cordial, discreet, and conducted largely behind closed doors.
No longer. CFOs are now conspicuous in ways large and small, in matters public and (formerly) private. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the complete emergence of the CFO as a public figure more than the SEC’s decision to require disclosure of CFO compensation in proxy statements (see “What’s in Your Wallet?“).
Thrust into the public eye, first by scandal and then by regulation, finance executives are turning this newfound prominence to their advantage. As senior editor Tim Reason reports in “The Spitzer Backlash,” probusiness groups are organizing to rein in aggressive state attorneys general and elect candidates more friendly to their interests. A CFO survey (see “A Tough Act to Follow,” by CFO.com deputy editor David Katz) reveals that not only is there widespread dissatisfaction with Sarbanes-Oxley (no surprise), but that a sizable number of respondents are encouraging Congress to change the law.
Simply griping more loudly about finance-related regulations is not particularly newsworthy. Today’s CFOs are more visible not only in the corporate arena, but in public policy as well. For instance, operating in a global economy has turned American CFOs into de facto enforcers of immigration policy. They cannot afford, argues senior researcher Don Durfee in “Help Wanted” to stand on the sidelines — nor do they intend to.
Indeed, we are beginning to hear the voices of CFOs raised in other national debates — notably the health-care issue. It is altogether fitting that they should do so.