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CEO vs. CFO: What’s the difference?

A CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is the leader of an organization, responsible for its overall strategy, mission, and direction. The CFO (Chief Financial Officer) heads the finance department, overseeing financial operations, budgeting, and financial reporting. While the CEO sees the broader organizational picture, the CFO focuses on financial resources and reporting.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

CEO vs CFO: How do these two C-suite roles differ? To examine their similarities and differences, let’s first give a brief definition for each:



What is a CEO?

The ‘CEO’ meaning is Chief Executive Officer – the leader of the C-suite team and, by extension, the organization as a whole. CEOs are the ones primarily responsible for company strategy, mission and organization.

Who is higher than the CEO of a company?

Usually, CEOs report to the board of directors, a group of internal and external members supervising management and large-scale decision-making in the organization. The CEO is usually an internal member (or inside director) and may be the chairman or chairwoman of the board.

What is a CFO?

The ‘CFO’ meaning is Chief Financial Officer – the head of the finance department of an organization. They’re responsible for overseeing financial operations, budgeting and financial reporting.

Is the CEO higher than the CFO?

Yes, the CFO is one of the positions who reports to the CEO. The CFO may often be a member of the board of directors, too.

The difference between CEO and CFO

By their respective definitions, their differences lie on the scope and level of their responsibilities. Here are 8 principal differences between the CEO and CFO positions:

Leads the organization and oversees all departments Leads and oversees the finance department
Is responsible for the strategy of the organization and sees the big picture Responsible for supporting the organization’s strategy with financial resources and creates company-wide budgets
Has broad scope of duties including managing operations and public relations, making business decisions and leading change Has a narrower scope of duties than the CEO, focusing only on activities relevant to the finance department including hiring, training, operations, and communications
Evaluates business risks and gains Evaluates financial risks and gains
Liaises with all stakeholders Liaises with stakeholders when it comes to finances (e.g. bankers, investors)
Finds ways to ensure profitability and corporate success Monitors profitability and enables corporate success
Is ultimately accountable for overall organizational performance Is ultimately accountable for financial planning and reporting
May come from any background (including sales, operations etc.) Usually comes from a finance / accounting background

So generally, CEOs are responsible for steering the organization to overall success (including increased revenue, market share, brand awareness, etc.) while the CFO is responsible for ensuring the organization has the right financial resources in place to achieve its goals. Both are high-ranking officials that have significant impact on the overall management and direction of the organization.

For more see our CEO job description and CFO job description.

Looking to hire C-suite executives? Check out our list with the best job boards for executives.

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