3 Careers In Finance: CPA, Controller and CFO


Business owners look to a number of professionals to ensure the financial health of a company. Accountants, Controllers and Chief Financial Officers, for example, are all responsible for putting their financial literacy to work and paying attention to the critical numbers that reveal whether a company is profitable or courting bankruptcy.

Although these titles are far from interchangeable, duties can, and often do, overlap depending on the size of the company. For example, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is well versed in reporting and data entry, and by keeping controllers informed, they play a vital role in the financial infrastructure of a company. Controllers pick up where the CPA leaves off and are faced with the difficult task of assessing the information provided and managing the financial systems used to track the company's investments. Ultimately, a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is responsible for the overall financial direction a company takes.

Compare the duties of these financial positions to learn more about the important role each one plays and discover the opportunities that a financial services career provides.

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): The majority of CPAs are involved with tax advising and preparation for their company or clients. Some CPAs are contracted to assist companies during financially busy times of the year, while others may work traditional full-time positions and help with internal auditing. These bookkeepers help to prevent fraud and ensure that all records are kept accurately. CPAs also work as consultants by analyzing data to help a financial decision-making process. Furthermore, CPAs are held to a strict code of ethics – similar to those of medical professionals – in which they are required to make decisions based on the best interest of their client. This code has helped those working as CPA professionals to maintain the confidence and respect of the public.

  • Controller Position : The position of controller tends to be heavily dictated by the size and function of the business. Steven Bragg, author of Accounting Best Practices, says that approximately half of all controller positions involve working a job similar to that of a bookkeeper – mostly data entry, located in a small department with one-to-two clerks, if any. However, controllers at larger companies are likely to spend more of their time managing and reviewing information assembled by other workers or reviewing systems. Controllers strive to guarantee that all financial practices are being done correctly by continually checking a company's accounting theories. Finally, some controllers work a position that is a hybrid of controller and CFO. This may involve risk management, meeting investors, meeting with other financial institutions and fund raising. Controllers often specialize in an industry or function, such as acquisitions, and therefore are able to create a particular skillset, which becomes quite valuable to others in a specific industry.

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO) :It is easiest to understand the role of a CFO by remembering that these employees spend most of their time thinking strategically. CFOs are responsible for determining any trends in a company's financial actions and subsequently creating a strategic plan to combat any problems. A controller works closely with CFOs by reporting internal problems. The CFO is then faced with identifying solutions for these problems. Additionally, CFOs must be familiar with the big picture. They must thoroughly understand their industry, their company's sales team, and other company operations to determine how multiple factors impact the overall financial position. This comprehensive knowledge supports any call for proactive measures, which can help to ensure a profitable quarterly report. CFOs are also responsible for risk management and investor relations. By knowing where funds are now, and where they will be in six months, a CFO can examine the overall financial route of their company. For CFOs, the challenge is not to create or implement a financial plan, but to win the confidence of decision makers who will subsequently take the right path to financial success.

Careers in finance often begin with a CPA certification. With experience and a reputation for diligence and precision many skilled accountants assume the responsibilities of a controller position. Making the leap to CFO however, is often a bit more challenging. Remember that CFOs often work as strategists – analyzing trends and taking preemptive measures to assure financial growth for their company. This can be a challenge for CPAs and controllers who have very refined tactical and reporting skills.    

Ultimately, a finance career can be a journey more than a destination. Some professionals choose to remain in a comfortable place that suits them well, while others continue to take on new challenges and enjoy the chance to experience multiple roles.

How about you? Are you content in your current position or aspiring to assume new responsibilities? Tell us about your success in the comments section!

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