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ABSTRACT

We examine how firms design bonus plans of their CFOs. CFOs participate in decision making much like other executives, but they also have significant fiduciary responsibilities for reporting firms’ financial results. Responsibility for financial reporting raises the question of whether it is appropriate to pay CFOs annual bonuses contingent on self-reported financial performance. In this paper, we provide a framework that characterizes CFO bonuses as a tradeoff between CFOs’ decision-making responsibilities and their fiduciary duties over financial reporting. This framework yields a number of implications that we examine empirically using a proprietary survey of CFO compensation practices of public and private firms. Our main finding shows that from 2003 to 2007 public entities (relative to private entities) reduced the percentage of CFO bonuses contingent on financial performance. We interpret this result as evidence that firms mitigate misreporting practices in part by deemphasizing CFO incentive compensation.