What does a Chief Accounting Officer do?

A chief accounting officer, or CAO, is a company official who is in charge of the company’s accounting operations. This includes everything from regulatory compliance with accounting standards and practices to developing financial strategies for the company with the chief financial officer (CFO). Applicants for this position typically need at least five years of relevant experience, and in some cases even more, depending on where they plan to work. When looking for jobs in this field, qualifications such as a degree from a reputable institution and experience at large, well-known companies can be advantageous.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is usually required, as well as a commitment to continuing education to keep up with changes in the accounting field. Work experience at various levels of a company, including in the accounting department, is acceptable. A chief accounting officer may rise through the ranks of a company to reach the position of chief accounting officer, or they may be hired based on strong accounting experience and knowledge of related management topics.

Support staff is typically available to assist the CAO in managing the accounting staff, conducting internal audits, pursuing regulatory compliance, and other related tasks. This person is responsible for establishing and enforcing accounting policies, as well as collaborating with other departments to develop positions on reimbursement policies and other issues. This official double-checks accounting department reports before sending them to other departments of the company for review.

Along with the CFO, this person is responsible to auditors and financial regulators. One of the most important aspects of this job is keeping accurate and detailed financial records. If accounting issues arise, the chief accounting officer is one of the first people to be consulted, and he or she may be subject to criminal and civil penalties. If investigations uncover irregularities and evidence that the CAO was aware of the problem or participated in covering it up in some way, such as moving funds, falsifying reports, or taking other steps to hide illegal financial activities, the CAO could face legal action.

Because there are few accounting emergencies, people in this position usually have consistent hours. In the event of an external audit or a crisis, the chief accounting officer may be required to spend more time in the office in order to coordinate the response and handle the situation. Pay varies, but most positions come with perks like access to retirement accounts, health insurance, and paid vacation time. Benefits packages for people with special skills and experience are frequently better negotiated.