Understanding the accounting hierarchy in the workplace
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes
Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in accounting, or are just starting out in the finance field, understanding the hierarchy of accounting roles can be confusing.
From accounting clerks at the coalface, to the CFO at the top, knowing who fits where and why will help you in your day-to-day work as well as guide you as you make decisions regarding professional growth and your ideal career path within the industry.
So, to help you learn who’s who in the accounting hierarchy in the workplace, in this article we take a closer look at the key roles explaining what they do, their level of seniority and how they contribute to the financial management and strategic decision-making within the business.
Overview of the accounting hierarchy in the workplace
Accounting positions and job titles can and do vary from business to business, depending on the type and size of the organisation. Wherever they fit on the hierarchy, each position has a critical role to play to within the finance team to ensure the ongoing financial health and overall success of the organisation.
As a general rule, in a mid-large company, a common structure from greatest to least seniority will look something like this:
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
- Accounting Manager
- Senior Accountant
- Staff Accountant
- Accounting Clerk
The different accounting roles explained
For those working within the finance department, understanding the responsibilities, skills and career progression opportunities for each of the different accounting roles is essential. Below we look at each role in detail, explaining where they fit on the accounting hierarchy in the workplace and why.
Chief Financial Officer
Positioned at the top of the accounting hierarchy is the CFO, who is responsible for strategically evaluating past and current financial performance to inform the future direction. They work closely with the wider senior management team, presenting financial information, evaluating the levels of debt and equity, as well as examining revenue streams to identify trends and spikes within specific products or services.
Also known as the Director, the Controller reports directly to the CFO and has a high level of responsibility in the daily operations of the accounting team. Their role includes regularly creating financial reports that provide an overview of the existing financial position of the organisation and compiling the required information and documents to be included in annual reports and audits. The role of the Controller is critical to a high-performing finance team.
Sitting in the middle of the accounting hierarchy in the workplace is the Accounting Manager. Depending on the size of the organisation, this role may be performed by one person or in the case of large businesses, it may be split into multiple functions to manage the workload, with the areas of focus including accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll.
Key responsibilities of accounting managers include compiling monthly financial information for the Controller and keeping them informed of reports and timelines, filing bank compliance documents, and supervising accountants as they prepare audits and ledgers, generate reports and create budgets.
Reporting directly to the Accounting Manager, the role of the Senior Accountant involves managing all of the day-to-day accounting activities that inform the higher levels of the hierarchy. This includes ensuring the accuracy and integrity of a wide variety of tasks related to accounts payable and receivable, invoicing, payroll, reporting and analysis.
They also prepare financial statements and budgets, analyse variances, conduct risk assessments, and supervise staff accountants and clerks, all the while looking for ways to improve the company’s accounting practices.
A Staff Accountant is generally a person in the early stages of their accounting career, who may have a finance or business administration degree or some previous experience in an entry-level role. Their responsibilities include performing bank and credit reconciliations, maintaining financial records, generating profit and loss statements and similar reports, as well as providing support in other areas such as accounts payable and receivable.
At the base level of the accounting hierarchy in the workplace, the Accounting Clerk provides direct assistance to the accountants. Daily duties may include data entry, processing payroll and accounts and a wide range of other financial functions.
How to advance within the hierarchy
The vast majority of CFOs and Controllers at the top of hierarchy have started out at the base levels and worked their way up to a senior position over time. As Marco Tam, finance and accounting division director at Robert Half Hong Kong explains, the ability to advance within the hierarchy relies on a combination of skills, knowledge, experience and desire.
"For CFOs leading financial departments, there is often a common thread in their stories of how they have climbed the ranks to reach these higher level positions. For example, a solid educational foundation with a relevant degree, plus a few years working as an Accounting Clerk or Staff Accountant to gain a deep understanding of the everyday workings of the department is always a good starting point.
From there however, success relies heavily on a personal desire to grow and succeed. Investing time in relevant learning and development opportunities and seeking mentors within and outside the organisation who can offer guidance and advice will set you up for success. A solid understanding of opportunities within the organisation will also allow you to seek the service of specialised recruitment agencies if needed to continue to progress your accounting career."
Marco has been placing Finance, Accounting, Internal Audit/Risk/Compliance, Sustainability, Investor Relations, Company Secretarial professionals for global MNCs and HK listed conglomerates for six years. If you want to learn more about the job market, please feel free to contact him for a confidential discussion.
Advance your accounting career today
At Robert Half, we can help you find the finance job you are looking for faster. Contact us on +852 3653 7300, send us your CV, or search jobs to learn about current positions available and advance your accounting career today.