Human Capital & Careers

For the Highest Paying CFO Jobs, Go to Europe

A new study shows that European CFOs enjoy more earnings power, less volatility and a narrower pay gap with CEOs than their American counterparts.
Jason KaraianApril 6, 2009

As anger over the perceived excesses of executive pay runs high, this year managers will work harder to earn less. (See “Hard to Get.”) But according to a recently released report by Hewitt Associates, a consultancy, pay packages for CFOs at European blue chips may be able to withstand the downward pressure better than those at American companies.

Crunching the numbers based on disclosures in the latest batch of annual reports for Europe’s 100 largest listed firms, Hewitt found that the median package for finance chiefs at a European blue chip was worth €3.05m ($4.08m), up nearly 12% compared with the previous year. At the equivalent American company, the median CFO package was worth €2.32m in “target total direct compensation.”

What’s more, European pay packages tend to feature a greater fixed-salary component — nearly 30% of total compensation — than the typical American mix, with around 15% of an executive’s package comprised of base salary. With many executives now forgoing annual bonuses and with share-based incentive schemes worth a fraction of their former value, Europe’s focus on fixed salaries — now largely frozen on both sides of the Atlantic — means that CFOs in the region will likely continue to earn more than their American counterparts. This won’t be true for all of Europe, however. The median value of a package in the Nordic countries, at €744,000, is well below typical blue-chip CFO remuneration in Germany (€2.84m), Switzerland (€3.11m) and the UK (€3.70m).

Another difference between European and American pay packages is the gap between CEO and CFO salaries. Pay levels in Europe “tend to be more collegiate” than in the U.S., as Hewitt puts it. For Europe’s top 100 companies, the median CFO’s salary is 59% of the CEO’s, while in the U.S. finance chiefs collect 51% of the CEO’s base pay.