Two new compensation surveys provide important insight into what CFOs can expect when it comes to their pay packages and, more importantly, how those packages compare with their peers.
There are big differences in the financial management of a public company compared to a private company. It follows that pay packages for CFOs of public companies would differ from the pay package for private company CFOs. And they do. Just not always in the most obvious ways.
Let’s look at overall satisfaction. There is more to CFO satisfaction with pay than the amount of the check. Although CFO compensation levels increased last year and are expected to increase again this year, not all CFOs are completely happy with where things stand. Two new compensation surveys provide important insight into what CFOs can expect when it comes to their pay packages and, more importantly, how those packages compare with their peers.
The first survey is the AICPA/ASU 2013 CFO Incentives and Compensation survey conducted by Michal Matejka of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, based on data from 2,349 CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other finance executives. This data shows that median CFO cash compensation increased by 6% last year compared to 2010.
However, the potential for dissatisfaction creeps in when it comes to the design of incentives. Not surprisingly, CFOs are not in favor of incentive payouts that are based on subjective measures rather than objective targets. The more incentives are based on subjective performance measures, the less satisfied CFOs tend to be. The most dissatisfied CFOs received a bonus payout based on 40% subjective measures, compared to 25% for satisfied CFOs.
The AICPA/ASU survey focuses in on situations where this subjectivity is greatest and, perhaps, reveals its origins. In general, the survey found that proportion of subjective incentive payouts tend to be higher in private and in smaller companies. But there are other factors involved. When negotiating compensation with a current or prospective employer, CFOs should be particularly aware of the level of board involvement in pay decisions. In general, the more closely a board is involved in CFO compensation design and issues, the lower subjective incentive payouts tend to be.
The second survey is the Financial Executive Compensation Survey conducted by Grant Thornton LLP and the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), which is based on the responses of 549 financial executives. This survey found that nearly 70% of finance executives are eligible for an annual target bonus. When it comes to measuring CFO performance for incentive payouts, the Grant Thornton/FERF survey found that companies align CFO performance goals with company goals and objectives, as well as discretionary, EBITDA/EBIT, cash flow and net income measures.
Like the AICPA/ASU survey, the Grant Thornton/FERF survey shows some important differences between CFO pay at public and private companies. In general, CFOs in public companies have higher base salaries ($248,900) than CFOs of private companies ($201,700). Public CFOs also receive larger annual bonuses ($81,700 vs. $54,300 for private company CFOs). This amounts to a significant difference in total cash compensation of $348,800 for public companies CFOs and $268,400 for private company CFOs.
When it comes to long-term incentives, not surprisingly, public company CFOs (80%) are much more likely to receive stock-based long-term incentives than private company CFOs (39%). Stock options tend to be the vehicle of choice for public company CFOs (44%) and private company CFOs (27%).