All companies have to deal with finances sooner or later, which means working with accounting and financial professionals. As a company grows, it may no longer be sustainable to work with an external accountant or CPA to manage finances. It becomes a large and complex enough situation that an internal hire, familiar with your organization and in a position to maintain an ongoing flow of information and paperwork, may be much more beneficial.
When building out your accounting department, you’ll need to hire people with different skill sets and experience levels, to handle various aspects of finances.
The question is, what roles are out there, and which are necessary for a company?
Chief Financial Officer
The chief financial officer is the top-level employee in charge of all things finance. They work directly with the CEO and other C-levels and directors to guide the long-term goals, financial benchmarks, and decision-making necessary to bring a business into financial solvency or increase profits year over year.
CFOs are among the most common accounting job titles because almost every company with an accounting department has one. However, the responsibilities and duties will vary significantly between a smaller startup or a major Fortune 500 company.
Chief Accounting Officer
Some companies choose to use the CAO designation instead of the CFO designation.
There are three situations where this may be the case:
- The company needs two C-level money managers; one to make long-term decisions (the CFO) and one to guide the short-term and daily operations of the accounting department (the CAO).
- The company uses CAO and CFO interchangeably, and they might as well mean the same thing.
- The company already has a CFO, where the F stands for something else, and they want to avoid confusion. This is quite rare; very few alternative C-level titles use F.
The CAO generally has similar duties to a CFO, though the focus may be different within different companies.
Chief Revenue Officer
The Chief Revenue Officer (one of many CRO-abbreviated C-levels) is another variation of the top-tier financial officer. In companies where there’s a difference between CFO and CRO, the CRO is generally responsible for one thing and one thing only: pushing plans and changes that increase revenue.
Essentially, their job is to be ruthless in pursuit of profit and have their plans tempered by other C-levels whose interests lie in preventing the damage the unchecked CRO can do.
Vice President of Accounting/Finance
If an organization is large enough that its executive team has stratification, the accounting department may have a vice president. The VP of Accounting, VP of Finance, or VP of Finance and Accounting are all interchangeable terms.
The VP typically acts as an interface between the C-suite accounting executive and the Director or upper management roles of the accounting department. Depending on the company, they translate high-level plans into low-level action or facilitate doing so.
Director of Accounting/Finance
Some companies lack a VP; others have a VP sitting between the C-level and the Director. Directors of Accounting or Finance are often more in touch with specific policies and techniques than top-level strategic vision.
However, the Director and the CFO are essentially the same in some companies. A lot depends on the organization’s size, as you might expect.
The Controller and Comptroller are essentially the same role. They manage accounting staff, maintain overall control over an organization’s assets, manage transaction processing, handle billing, payroll, benefits management, and collections, maintain a ledger, assist auditors (both internal and external), and report on the organization to the SEC. They are often less senior than Directors, VPs, and C-levels but may also be the top-level financial or accounting officer.
The difference between Controller and Comptroller is one of organizational definition. Controllers are typically seen in for-profit companies, while Comptrollers are seen in governmental and non-profit organizations. Sometimes, the comptroller is seen as slightly more senior than a controller, but in most respects, they are identical.
Senior Accountants are either the lower end of upper management or the top end of middle management. They are responsible for reviewing the work of the accountants and clerks employed by the company. They report to the controller/director/VP/CFO and act as a conduit for instructions from the higher-level roles. In some cases, they may be similar to standard Accountants and are only given the title of Senior Accountant out of seniority in the organization.
This position may also be known as Staff Accountant, though in particularly large companies, the two may be similar yet distinct positions.
Auditors may be internal or external. Auditors are responsible for going over the paperwork and receipts of a company’s finances and checking for signs of fraud or violation of policies, regulations, or laws.
Internal auditors typically perform minor investigations into issues such as missing funds in a retirement account, missing paychecks, or compliance violations. External auditors investigate a company on behalf of other organizations, often the SEC or another governmental organization.
Forensic accountants are typically specialized auditors. They have training in financial investigations and preparing documents so that they can be presented in court. Such accountants are often external, hired by law enforcement or government agencies to perform audits and present their evidence in a court of law.
Typically, your company will not need to hire one outside of situations of an employee committing financial fraud against you.
Accounting Representatives are most often found in B2B organizations but may also be found in B2C companies. They are typically the individual who represents the company on financial matters in dealings with their clients.
They create and maintain customer accounts, maintain communication with clients and solve financial issues, create invoices, audit client relationships, and collaborate with other department heads.
Accounting managers are similar to Senior Accountants. They are the head of the accounting department’s day-to-day operations. They oversee financial methods and transactions, ensure compliance from the company’s accountants and lower-level financial employees, and enforce financial policies.
They’re a middle-management position and are nearly indispensable in many organizations as a point of contact between staff and management.
Bookkeepers are accounting professionals who take on many roles for small and mid-sized companies. Their duties encompass many of the entry-level and low-level roles and are broken up across multiple employees in larger organizations.
Bookkeepers process and record transactions and financial decisions, monitor and record sales, payroll, invoices, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and more. Often, their work – “the book” – will be the central ledger for a company and will be used to make decisions when the upper management needs data to drive their decisions.
The general Accountant role is a catch-all for the people who do day-to-day accounting and financial work in an organization. They are not management, but neither are they entry-level. They make up the bulk of the daily tasks a financial department is responsible for. Often, they are among the most common financial roles. Accountant makes up 21% of financial job titles in terms of search volume.
As an extremely broad employee class, accountants may be responsible for virtually any non-management duty relating to money in a company.
Tax accountants are specialized accountants who can also serve as auditors and bookkeepers. They are trained in business tax law and the tax code for federal, state, and local levels of government.
Their primary duty is to review and ensure that a company complies with tax law and takes advantage of any tax regulations they can. Tax accountants are typically working in favor of the company, though adversarial tax auditors also exist as a similar role, with auditing added to their duties.
Analysts are generally data analysis specialists rather than accountants. They take data from various sources and analyze trends, monitor the flow of money and other resources, and make predictions based on data to determine what level of direction is needed.
Their reports help the upper management and executive-level employees make more accurate decisions. They will often work closely with senior accountants, bookkeepers, controllers, and other management staff.
Certified Public Accountant
Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, are an extremely common accounting profession. CPAs receive licensing from their state to perform financial duties for clients.
CPAs can work with businesses as employers or as clients. As employers, a CPA is more like a standard accountant or tax accountant, or even a bookkeeper. There’s a lot of overlap in roles and duties. CPAs are trained and licensed and can perform most financial duties short of management.
As clients, CPAs typically work with smaller businesses to handle financial records organization, some bookkeeping, and tax management. In these cases, the company won’t hire the CPA internally and will still have an accountant to work with the CPA to gather paperwork and information as necessary.
Accounting clerks are an entry-level form of financial employee. Unlike many other roles in an accounting department, clerks are not necessarily required to have certification, though most will have at minimum a college degree in accounting or business finances.
Clerks are responsible for the day-to-day duties that keep money flowing through a business. They record transactions to a ledger, perform financial data entry, update databases, process data backups, and generally handle record-keeping on a front-line level. Their work will be reviewed by an upper-level or management accountant and verified for accuracy.
Accounts Payable Clerk
Accounts Payable Clerks are a form of clerk more commonly seen in large enterprises. They are specialized clerks working with one specific kind of financial transaction – in this case, accounts payable, the money the company pays clients and service providers – and they handle only that kind of transaction.
There are numerous specialized clerks, including accounts receivable clerks, substitute clerks, payroll clerks, etc. Clerks generally handle data entry and other low-level, daily operational tasks. Whether or not an organization needs specialized clerks or just a single accounting clerk depends on the scale of operations.
Accounts Receivable Specialist
Accounts Receivable is the money a company invoices from others, including clients. This job title is representative of the same thing as clerks; “specialist” is simply an alternative term.
It’s meant to avoid the potential negative connotations of using the word “clerk,” and there is otherwise little difference between them.
At the lowest level of the corporate ladder is the accounting intern. Interns may be college students or fresh graduates, working with a company for little or no pay to build experience, earn college credits, or otherwise get a foot in the door.
They may move on to work with the company or as an accounting clerk with another organization.
Which Roles Does Your Company Need?
It’s impossible to say which roles your company needs, as it varies from company to company.
Very small businesses often don’t need anyone to handle accounting or may need a single bookkeeper or clerk to handle data entry and record-keeping, while they hire an external CPA to handle taxes and other management.
Small businesses may hire an upper-level financial director or C-level and one or a handful of accountants to manage. Again, the scope and scale depends on the organization.
The larger an organization gets, the more defined its roles become, and the more distribution of duties ends up happening. A mid-sized company might have a CFO; an enterprise might have all three of a CFO, Director, and VP. A mid-sized company might have a Senior Accountant, several Accountants, and a dozen accounting clerks and interns. An enterprise might have hundreds. For example, a company like Disney has hundreds of open roles, with likely thousands of employees across the entire organization’s various financial departments.
What it all comes down to is need. As your company grows, identify financial bookkeeping and management needs, and hire people to divide labor until it’s reasonable. That may mean having five employees in your accounting department, or fifty.
Do you or your company have any questions about any of these listed accounting positions, or which of them might be needed for your company? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! We’d be more than happy to answer your questions and assist you however we possibly can!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.