The accounting profession and employers should work more actively to get accountants ready for finance leadership roles such as CFOs, according to a new study.

The study, The Role and Expectations of a CFO, by the International Federation of Accountants, highlights five principles behind the changing expectations, scope, and mandate of the CFO and finance leadership roles. The discussion paper also recommends a number of actions that employers can take to prepare professional accountants for career progression to finance leadership.

The CFO is a critical part of a chain of actors—including the governing body, chief executive officer, audit committee and auditor—all of whom share the responsibility for ensuring sustainable value creation, as well as relevant organizational reporting, the paper argues. The training, expertise and experience that professional accountants bring to the CFO role should be seen as an advantage, particularly in accountants’ typical combination of ethical and technical mindsets with business acumen.

“In these tough economic times, the objectivity and values of the professional accountant can be of enormous value to finance leadership positions in organizations in every economic sector,” said Roger Tabor, who chairs IFAC’s Professional Accountants in Business Committee, in a statement. “But professional accountants in finance leadership roles aren’t universal and, in some parts of the world, their numbers are declining. So it is more important than ever for the profession to develop outstanding professionals who are well equipped to work in business and government, and to take on finance leadership roles.”

The principles and recommended actions are intended to raise awareness of the implications for the education, training, and development of professional accountants. The discussion paper will be used by IFAC to engage professional accounting organizations, employers, regulators and other stakeholders to share and improve their approaches to preparing accountants for financial leadership roles.

“Working closely with employers to understand their needs and requirements helps the accountancy profession to deliver business-ready accountants,” said Susanna Chiu, who chairs the PAIB Committee’s Role, Domain, and Competency Advisory Group and also serves as president of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs and director of Li & Fung Development (China) Ltd. “The education and training of professional accountants should incorporate broader managerial capabilities and skills. Professional accountancy organizations should foster a commitment to lifelong learning and become more innovative in how they engage and serve professional accountants in business.”

A panel of finance leaders from China and IFAC’s PAIB Committee will debate the requirements and expectations of finance leadership and highlight what professional accountants need to do to prepare for leadership roles at the Global PAIB Forum, hosted by the Chinese Institute of CPAs in Beijing, on Oct. 16, 2013. The Forum will facilitate discussion and encourage closer relationships between professional accountants, professional accountancy organizations, employers, and other stakeholders.

An At a Glance publication is available to provide an overview of the discussion paper, along with key discussion questions and additional details relating to the initiative.

IFAC plans to use the discussion paper in conjunction with outreach to initiate a global debate among professional accounting organizations, accountants and other stakeholders. Respondents can submit their comments electronically through IFAC’s Web site, using the “Submit a Comment” button on the discussion paper page.

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