From budgets to reporting to payroll, one of the inescapable roles that controllers participate in every day, month, quarter, and year is accounting. Heck, you may even have gotten the title of chief accounting officer (if you’re lucky, it came with a salary bump to represent your new C-suite role).

Regardless, if you’re responsible for ensuring that all ledger accounts, expense statements, and cost control policies are in place, take a second to appreciate the role you have.

Why? Because it’s safe to assume you’re the highest person on the totem pole with accounting experience. Somewhere between the massive talent shortage in the accounting field and the decline of the ‘accountant CFO’, you’re more important than ever. Though the former trend is well documented, the latter is intriguing—and discussion-worthy.

How the Accountant CFO Fell—and What It Means for the Controller

In a recent IFAC article, Revisiting the Question—Should a CFO be an Accountant?, author Stathis Gould noted a recent trend: CFOs who are certified public accountants fell to about 36% in 2019. Five years prior, the number was closer to 50%, and at the time of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, demand for accounting-literate finance leadership was at an all-time high.

The move from accounting-literate finance chiefs to those focused on capital markets, equity and debt financing, and externally communicating to the market has firmed up the market for the controller—in the US, at least.

Benefit: You’re Increasingly Necessary

With the decline of the ‘accountant CFO’, the demand for a competent controller has never been higher.

“The CFO of a public interest entity is, in many countries, responsible for a company’s financial management and signs off on its financial statements. This inherently represents a public interest responsibility and a professional accountant in this role provides confidence to the market and stakeholders.”

Now, the CFO is turning to you for the go-ahead on whether everything is in the right. If the trend continues, controllers and chief accounting officers will only become more important as an “accounting confidante” and trusted advisor. Consider that when you’re in the market for a raise.

Challenge: More Work, More Vigilance Required

That said, you may also need to be more vigilant than ever—you might be the highest on the totem pole taking continuing education courses and bound by the Code of Ethics for Accountants.

“There are time-tested benefits to choosing a CFO who is a professional accountant and a member of a professional accountancy organization. In addition to their continuing professional development obligations, professional accountants must adhere to the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, […] If a professional accountant breaches the Code of Ethics, they face consequences such as financial penalties or losing their membership to the profession.”

Now, with CFOs stepping away from accountancy, you’re the person who’s anchored by the fundamental ethical principles of integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behavior.

Opportunity: Regulatory Changes May Position You for a Vertical Move—If You Want It.

Though a healthy portion of professional accountants aren’t interested in taking the linear jump from controller to CFO—a big regulatory change could put you in position for the job. In the same way SOX and increased scrutiny created demand for accountant CFOs in the early 2000s, the same could be true if the regulatory environment changes again.

For example, top companies in the UK expect financial leadership to be knowledgeable in accounting— an accountancy qualification is typically required to become the CFO of FTSE 100 companies.

Not only this, with a fifth of FTSE 100 CEOs being accountants, change, complexity, and scrutiny creates demand for people with your skills.

Expectation: Diversify Your Talents

Regardless of where you see yourself in the future or how necessary your accountancy skills are at your company, it pays to continue learning. As discussed in the IFAC article,

“Accounting and finance professionals are already working within organizations to improve decision-making and business performance in a range of settings– a trend we expect to continue in the future.

Accountants now work in a variety of areas, including financial planning and analysis (FP&A), information systems, technology and data, commercial or business analysis, planning, appraisal, cost, risk, project and sustainability management. Accounting professionals also contribute uniquely through specialist roles, such as in treasury, reporting or investor relations.”

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