A chief accounting officer or CAO is an official at a company responsible for overseeing the company's accounting operations. This includes everything from regulatory compliance with accounting standards and practices to working with the chief financial officer (CFO) on developing financial strategies for the company. Usually, applicants for this position must have at least five years of relevant experience and sometimes more, depending on where they intend to work. Qualifications like a degree from a reputable institution, as well as experience at large, well-reputed companies, can be a bonus when seeking jobs in this field.
This work generally requires a degree in accounting, along with a commitment to continuing education to keep up with changes in the accounting field. Experience can include work experience at different levels of a firm, including in the accounting department. A chief accounting officer may work through the ranks of a company and into a chief position, or be hired on the basis of strong accounting experience and familiarity with related management topics.
Typically, support staff are available to help the CAO manage the accounting staff, conduct internal audits, pursue regulatory compliance, and look after related matters. This person can set and enforce accounting policy, in addition to working with other departments to develop positions on reimbursement policies ad other matters. Reports from the accounting department are checked over by this official before being submitted to other departments of the company for review.
This person is accountable to auditors and financial regulators, along with the CFO. Maintaining accurate and detailed financial records is a critical part of this job. If accounting questions do develop, the chief accounting officer is one of the first people consulted, and could face criminal and civil penalties. If investigations uncover irregularities and proof that the CAO was aware of the problem or participated in covering it up in some way by moving funds, falsifying reports, and taking other steps to conceal illegal financial activities, this could be grounds for suit.
People in this position generally have stable hours, as there are few accounting emergencies. In the event of an external audit or crisis, the chief accounting officer may have to spend more time in the office to coordinate the response and handle the matter. Pay varies and usually comes with benefits including access to retirement accounts, health care, and paid vacation time. People with special skills and experience can often negotiate a better benefits package.