A background in finance and accounting makes you much more likely to secure a position on the executive board and even bag the top company spot of CEO, finds new international research from specialist recruiter Robert Half UK. The majority (87%) of senior finance professionals surveyed across 16 different countries said that a background in finance and accounting improves one’s chances of being appointed to the executive board, while 86% said that it would make it more likely for individuals to secure a CEO position.

The study suggests that finance and accounting professionals are most likely to secure positions on the executive board in China (98% of respondents), Brazil (96%), Australia (95%), Singapore (95%), Hong Kong (94%), Japan (93%) and France (91%) and least likely in Switzerland (78%) and the Netherlands (75%). Eighty-three per cent of UK Financial Directors (FDs) believe that those with a finance and accounting background are more likely to be promoted to the executive board.

The majority (86%) of companies also believe that a background in finance and accounting lead to a CEO position, echoing findings from Robert Half’s recent FTSE 100 CEO Tracker, which found that half (50%) of FTSE 100 leaders had a finance background. There is a stronger perceived link between finance and accounting and securing a CEO role in Australia (96% of respondents), Hong Kong (95%), Singapore (95%), China (95%), Brazil (91%) and Japan (90%), but a weaker link in the Netherlands (75%) and New Zealand (74%). Eighty-one per cent of FDs in the UK believe that those with a finance and accounting background are more likely to be promoted to CEO.

Executive board Chief Executive
Global average 87% 86%
China 98% 95%
Brazil 96% 91%
Australia 95% 96%
Singapore 95% 95%
Hong Kong 94% 95%
Japan 93% 90%
France 91% 89%
Austria 88% 84%
UAE 88% 83%
Chile 86% 87%
New Zealand 86% 74%
The United Kingdom 83% 81%
Germany 82% 79%
Belgium 81% 81%
Switzerland 78% 80%
The Netherlands 75% 75%


As well as contributing to individuals’ progression through the ranks, finance and accounting skills stand females in good stead when advancing their careers, according to the study. Overall, 67% of global respondents said that compared to 10 years ago, there are more opportunities for women to progress in accounting and finance.

This rose to 88% in Singapore and 86% in China, whereas expectations are lower in Belgium and the UK (59%) as well as France (51%) and the Netherlands (50%). This may be attributable to the maturity of the market, where the rate of progress is accelerated in emerging economies when compared to more mature markets.

Regardless, women who want to reach the top CEO position should consider a career in finance and accounting, with an overall 91% of global FDs reporting that this will help women achieve their ambition to become CEO.  FDs also report that a background in finance and accounting will help women reach the executive board: an overall 95% of FDs agreed.

Phil Sheridan, senior managing director, Robert Half UK said: “There exists an explicit link between finance and accounting skills and senior leadership opportunities, suggesting there is a clear career path for individuals to follow when trying to progress to the top of the company, to executive board level or even to become CEO.

“A career in finance and accounting can also help women achieve their career goals, demonstrating a clear understanding of commercial acumen, financial analysis and cost management. With the finance function increasingly playing a role in developing and delivering corporate strategy, partnering with various business units to deliver growth and efficiency, women who also excel in soft skills, including collaboration and communication will be well positioned to rise in the ranks. This trend means that organisations have access to a wider pool of skilled professionals to draw on.”