Interim finance directors are much more than just short-term accounting fixers

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Robert Baker candidate, news & events, blog...

We often see vacancies for locums – normally confined to GPs and A&E specialists – but the legal profession too has locum solicitors appointed to handle specific caseloads or fill a short-term gap. Locum finance directors or CFOs are less heard of, but the market for the interim finance director/CFO is very much part of the recruitment sector – is it all in the language or are they different posts entirely?

The role of an interim finance director/CFO can be described in many ways, but having the requisite accountancy qualification is only a small part of a much larger requirement in today’s business world. Industry knowledge and the ability to deliver effective commercial and strategic solutions are a core element to the success of the candidate.

The recruitment of an interim finance director is rarely in place of a permanent appointment, particularly in multinational companies that need stability and key leadership relationships in place. However, the small and mid-sized businesses that are growing fast or going through a period of change often need to fill a gap and it is here that the interim practitioner can bring their experience to the table adding value and commercial acumen at a critical time.

Where there is a permanent role to be filled – a process that can take six months or more – having a specialist in place while the recruitment process is undertaken can make a positive difference to the business, especially if the candidate has the specialist skill set to come in at the top level, being able act as a sounding board to the CEO and other board members.

Gender diversity

While the number of female finance directors at FTSE 100 companies is still in single figures, there are many more women holding the role at small and mid-sized companies, either in a permanent or interim post. And this is one area that has seen a fundamental increase in interim and fixed term contract appointments, in part due to better maternity leave arrangements but also as a result of the flexibility employers are offering valued employees.

20 years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. With up to 50 weeks’ maternity, paternity and shared leave options now available to new parents, interim cover during this time is vital for companies to ensure their business plans are maintained and they continue to thrive.

A growing market

Other reasons why interims are engaged are also growing – whether it’s to fill a divisional finance director role in a large business while the incumbent is on secondment elsewhere, help an organisation improve its growth, enter new markets or simply to provide stewardship where there is a gap, the increasing reliance on candidate flexibility and added value is becoming more evident in today’s fast moving markets.

The ability of an interim finance director to assess and absorb the underlying issues facing a business and deliver fresh thinking, having proven track record, experience and availability at short notice as well as being able to build and maintain excellent relationships with the managing director or CEO makes them attractive to businesses who need more than just a ‘numbers man’.

While it may be that candidates are over-qualified, it means they can charge premium fees to deliver a specific brief which in turn may well result in both cost efficiencies and cost savings for the business. This is particularly the case on short term assignments where a specialist is brought in for two to three months, not given a boardroom seat, but has a particular skill set not available internally and is able to integrate seamlessly into the business.

Longer term assignments and dependent on the type of business can bring different rewards. An interim finance director fulfilling a 9-12 month contract in industry may well be offered a board place, but the same mightn’t be the case for a PE backed assignment. However, the common themes are often similar – commercial value, the ability to bridge the gap between CEO and the wider finance team and a good skillset fit.

A lifestyle change

The variety of the interim assignment appeals to candidates for numerous reasons whether opting for a career break or a lifestyle change. With the current market conditions, our candidates are rarely without a role as the talent pool is small but the requirement growing. Many of the candidates we have worked with over recent years have opted for interim roles as a way of life as they present a new challenge coupled with flexible working conditions.


Research has shown that 55% of FTSE 100 CEOs have a finance background, proof perhaps that the agile finance director has the ability to build a career that takes them to the very top of the profession and some.

Cedar is particularly well-placed to service the needs of clients seeking the very best interim senior finance talent. For more information about this service please contact Robert Baker, Senior Partner and Head of Interim Practice – Qualified Finance, on 0203 002 8047 or