Boards Prefer CFOs
PHOENIX — As baby boomer CEOs retire, boards are increasingly replacing them with chief financial officers, D. Hilton Associates President/CEO David Hilton told attendees during his breakout session at the CUNA CFO Council conference May 20 at the Wild Horse Pass Resort.
Of the 255 CEOs that credit unions have hired during the past 18 months, 64% have promoted or hired CFOs. The trend reverses a previous preference for executives with technology know-how.
“Anyone in this room who thinks won’t get that CEO opportunity is wrong,” Hilton said.
The pool for viable candidates is shrinking, he said, because many aren’t interested in uprooting their families and moving. Others don’t fit the bill when it comes to experience, skills or education.
Because the candidate pool is so shallow, Hilton said CFOs no longer need to look at positions at credit unions with fewer assets than their current employer.
“In the majority of the last 19 positions we’ve filled, nobody went down in asset size,” he said. “So, don’t set your sights too low. If you’re the most qualified candidate, to a certain point, asset size won’t make a difference.”
However, education and experience still matter. Hilton said an MBA is the most important degree or certification a candidate can have on his or her resume. A CPA certification is also helpful, he said, as is a law degree, giving today’s current regulatory environment. However, Hilton said he hasn’t found that boards value the CUES Certified Credit Union Executive certification very much.
“Boards don’t seem to understand what it is or how much work goes into it,” he said.
Internal CFO candidates may have difficulty overcoming a bean counter reputation because the CEO position requires charisma, Hilton said.
One audience member asked advice about improving his prospects to replace his soon-to-retire CEO, who is very charismatic. Hilton suggested in addition to improving his public speaking and networking skills, the CFO could also position himself as more of a strategic thinker, playing up his financial abilities. Another audience member suggested that perhaps the board is looking for a change, and might actually want someone with more substance and less flash.
Greater involvement in community involvement or comparable experience with select employee groups could also help raise the CFO’s value proposition for boards, Hilton said.
“If it’s a community charter credit union, it could make the difference between an internal and external candidate,” he said. “The more people you know, and the more community involvement you have, the more difficult it would be to replace you.”
However, internal candidates often have more difficulty receiving proper compensation, he said. The recruiter said he argues frequently with boards that want to promote an internal candidate to the CEO position but keep them at the same compensation level until he or she has a couple of successful years in the position. “I tell them, ‘No, you are hiring this person for the job,’” he said. “If you don’t think they are ready, don’t hire them.”
While internal candidates may bristle at a board bringing in a recruitment firm, Hilton said, it does bring the advantage of proper compensation.
Compensation should be discussed early in the interview process, he said.
“Why go through the torture without knowing what you’ll be paid?” he said. “This isn’t your first job when you’re desperate enough to take anything. This will be a lifestyle, so you need to know what you will be paid.”
Because credit union CEOs have historically been in their positions for 20 years or more, Hilton said boards often have an unrealistic expectation regarding how long a CEO will remain with the credit union. The average CEO tenure is 7.6 years.