Today, Chief Accounting Officers are in demand like never before. After managing the implementation of recent accounting change—a complex transition that took many years—CAOs at many companies are being handed greater responsibility and are being asked to partner with business leadership. This spells opportunity for CAOs, but it also comes with risk. They have to do it knowing that they are being thrust into these new responsibilities despite potential capability gaps, particularly in the critical area of managing technology and using data and analytics.
Increasingly, CAOs are asked to perform less routine and more strategic tasks, such as identifying opportunities for automation and other innovative solutions. Having worked with various business units to implement accounting change, CAOs are now expected to have an understanding of functions such as sales, operations, treasury, and even investor relations.
In a recent survey of 229 CAOs and their functional equivalents, KPMG found that CAOs expect their roles to morph in the next year or two, away from routine governance and compliance activities and toward transformation work and collaboration with other business leaders. Input from the finance and accounting function is seen as critical for increasingly complex transformations and ongoing changes in business strategy.
But as a new report from KPMG based on the survey and insights from our work with CAO clients, CAO rising: How the chief accounting officer role is evolving, explains, CAOs know that to take on new responsibilities they must make their day jobs run more efficiently, raise the capabilities of their teams and address gaps in their own skill sets. To give themselves the bandwidth to take on new work, CAOs need to streamline the finance function through business process automation and data driven insights. Traditional activities, such as performing certain account reconciliations and identifying and cleansing data for manual input into financial reporting, can be repetitive in nature and may add little value to the business beyond compliance.
CAOs thus realize that the role of technology in their work will only increase. In our survey, when we asked which skills will grow to become more relevant in a year or two, survey participants indicated the biggest change will be the demand for CAOs to acquire data and analytics skills, as well as to enhance their knowledge of technology—all while managing the pressure to work within existing budgets, especially at this time of severe economic disruption.
To help lift the entire organization, CAOs will then need to seamlessly integrate the finance function with other business functions and demonstrate how they can use accounting and finance to increase value to the organization. CAOs can earn trust and be in the room where it happens by thoroughly understanding the operations of other business functions and providing valuable insights—backed up with facts. CAOs can use accounting data from compliance activities to make informed decisions. For example, CAOs now have a bottom-up perspective on best practices in customer contracting and can apply the same treatment to all contracts across the business.
CAOs can elevate their brand among fellow C-level executives if they can continue to demonstrate their value. By taking on new responsibility through these extraordinary times and adapting quickly to the new reality, CAOs can help position their companies to survive and grow when the economy recovers.
Learn more about how CAOs can tackle current and future challenges, and take charge of their journey of growth.