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How CFO became the toughest job in banking

Funding costs are rising and the markets periodically shut down. But regulators want you to raise more and to hold more short-term liquidity that you can’t reinvest at a profit. You don’t know how regulators will classify your risk assets or how much capital they will require you to hold. But it will be more than you have. Raising it will cost more than you can earn as a return on it. Fancy a challenge? Become a CFO. Peter Lee reports.

CFOs ride out the storm

Swimming not drowning?: (l-r) John Cryan, UBS; Chris Lucas, Barclays; John Gerspach, Citigroup; Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley; Chuck Noski, Bank of America

Swimming not drowning?: (l-r) John Cryan, UBS; Chris Lucas, Barclays; John Gerspach, Citigroup; Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley; Chuck Noski, Bank of America

THE CHIEF FINANCIAL officer is having a hard life. "I had a couple of weeks of good sleep after the Dodd-Frank Act was passed and then I realized I had to focus on Basle III. I asked my CEO this morning: when does this get easy? And he told me: ‘When you die.’"

The words of the CFO, who works at one of the world’s biggest banks, sum up the burden that he and his counterparts face today, and indeed have faced ever since the sub-prime crisis began.

While their bosses in the chief executive suites have had to publicly face down politicians, regulators, shareholders and the media, it has fallen to each bank’s CFO to ensure the firm’s capital and liquidity meet the standards required by impending legislation and volatile markets, while putting their signatures to financial statements for which it is difficult to ensure the accuracy they must attest to when so much uncertainty exists.

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