What does a Chief Accounting Officer do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A chief accounting officer is responsible for overseeing a company's accounting operations.
A chief accounting officer is responsible for overseeing a company's accounting operations.

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.

Support staff are typically available to help the chief accounting officer manage the accounting staff.
Support staff are typically available to help the chief accounting officer manage the accounting staff.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I didn't know there was any kind of insurance like that. Although, I don't have a very high powered position myself, so I don't think I need anything like that.

It sounds like this might be one of the better accounting jobs out there. I imagine anyone who is the "chief" of something probably gets paid pretty well.

Although there is a lot of responsibility, it seems like this would be a worthy goal for someone in the accounting field.


It sounds to me like a chief accounting officer should definitely carry some type of business liability insurance. This type of insurance can cover a person if they make an error during the course of their jobs.

Many people in various professions carry this type of insurance. Most people think of malpractice insurance for doctors first when this topic comes up, because that is the most high profile example.

However, doctors aren't the only ones that can get sued during the course of their job. It sounds like a chief accounting office definitely carries the same risk as a doctor.

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