In Pursuit of Profit
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The accounting pyramid organizes accounting-related job titles into a hierarchy that ranks them by responsibilities and deliverables, with bookkeepers at the bottom, accountants in the middle, and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at the top.
While it is obvious to most people that bookkeepers are the most entry-level accounting team staff and CFOs are the bosses at the top, there is a lot of confusion in the middle.
Understanding the difference between a Staff Accountant, Senior Accountant, and Accounting Manager, is something many business professionals (even hiring managers) do not understand. Many people assume that Staff Accountants and Senior Accountants are individual contributor roles with varying levels of experience and Accounting Managers and Senior Accounting Managers are the people who oversee teams of lower-level accountants. However, that is not a correct understanding of the stratification of roles. To further complicate matters, some people use the titles of Senior Accounting Manager and Controller interchangeably, which adds even more confusion.
To provide some clarity on the topic, we will explain what each job title means, how it differs from other adjacent accounting positions, and when you need to hire each role:
Explanation of the Role: A Staff Accountant is an early career accounting role. Staff Accountants typically have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business administration and a couple of years of experience in an entry-level accounting role before moving into the position.
Responsibilities: Like bookkeepers, Staff Accountants’ responsibilities include maintaining financial records by doing ledger entries and reconciling bank and credit accounts. In addition to helping keep the books, Staff Accountants also typically provide some measure of AP (Accounts Payables) and AR (Accounts Receivables) support. They will also be expected to generate regular financial reports, like the balance sheet and profit and loss (P&L) statement.
Filling The Need: During a corporate reorganization, accounting software change, or audit a Staff Accountant may be asked to provide financial information or generate reports to assist in the process.
Explanation of the Role: A Senior Accountant has additional years of experience over a Staff Accountant and uses their gained expertise to take on additional accounting responsibility with the organization. Some Senior Accountants are CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) or CMAs (Certified Management Accountants), although this is not a requirement to hold the role.
Responsibilities: Senior Accountants prepare budgets, conduct risk assessments, and can supervise other accounting staff as well. Unlike lower-level accountants, Senior Accountants ensure the integrity of the company’s broader accounting information and processes. On top of preparing financial statements, they also help with preparing budgets and analyzing budget variances. In the area of internal controls, Senior Accountants conduct risk assessments, evaluations, and reviews to strengthen the company’s accounting controls. Additionally, they maintain fixed asset schedules to keep them up to date.
Filling The Need: As an organization grows, accounting management becomes essential. A Senior Accountant can provide an important link between a company’s financial leadership and its team of Staff Accountants. Furthermore, when internal accounting controls need to be implemented or shored up, a Senior Accountant is a critical role.
Explanation of the Role: As the name would imply, an Accounting Manager oversees a team of accountants. Accounting Managers typically have a degree in accounting or a related field, some form of higher-level degree, and significant work experience in the specific types of accounting they are managing. The team they oversee can consist of Staff Accountants or Senior Accountants depending on the organizational structure.
Responsibilities: Accounting Managers review and analyze the financial reports and documents that their accounting teams prepare. In addition to managing the company’s financial information, they also manage a team of employees. An Accounting Manager may hire, train, and oversee a team of accountants performing the day-to-day accounting tasks of running the business or a group of specialty accountants such as public accountants, tax accountants, or auditors. Either way, their primary objective is to convey critical information pertaining to the company’s financial position up the chain to executive leadership while translating organizational direction to the team they manage. Furthermore, Accounting Managers use their strong communication skills to work cross-functionally with finance and HR to establish accounting priorities, advise on financial decisions, and set strategic corporate goals.
Filling The Need: Accounting Managers ensure that accounting staff is well recruited, trained, and developed professionally to meet the company’s short-term and long-term goals, which is crucial for any organization. During a period of rapid growth, business shift, industry disruption, or changing market landscape, an Accounting Manager is a vital position.
Senior Accounting Manager/Assistant Controller
Explanation of the Role: A Senior Accounting Manager will oversee multiple accounting teams within an organization to ensure they are working together effectively. This is often a hybrid role that acts in an Assistant Controller capacity as well, providing high-level financial support to the Controller.
Responsibilities: Senior Accounting Managers and Assistant Controllers work to identify and resolve discrepancies found in financial data to improve financial data accuracy. As such, they will often liaise with external auditors, as needed. Furthermore, larger companies with more sophisticated financial needs may employ a Senior Accounting Manager or Assistant Controller to ensure GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and in-house best practices are being followed. The same is true of publicly traded companies, which need SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) oversight as well. Senior Accounting Managers/Assistant Controllers will deal with governance requirements, compliance, payroll procedures, service level agreements, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, and accounting controls.
Filling The Need: Senior Accounting Managers and Assistant Controllers add another layer of oversight into a corporate structure, which is crucial when the organization has more complicated regulatory and compliance needs. A Senior Accounting Manager/Assistant Controller can provide key financial direction within a publicly traded entity or a high growth company.
Explanation of the Role: As the name would imply, a Controller has control over the breadth of the company’s accounting functions. While large companies may have both a Controller and CFO, many smaller and mid-market companies will only have one or the other. In instances where an organization does not have dedicated roles for both, a Controller will perform executive leadership functions.
Responsibilities: Controllers have the whole array of accounting activities under their purview, namely: budgeting, forecasting, data analysis, debt servicing, regulatory compliance, audits, internal controls, expense management, and tax filings.
Filling The Need: A Controller provides strategic financial leadership to oversee the accuracy and efficacy of an organization’s accounting functions, making it a critical role for any company whose executive board needs an accounting perspective represented at a high-level.
When you are ready to hire an accountant or controller, look for an accounting recruiting firm with experience in your local market. The ASP Team serves companies spanning a wide variety of industries across the Pacific Northwest looking to hire accounting and finance professionals. Contact us to find out more about how our recruiting team can help your organization find the right professional to fit your accounting role.