Hiring a Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) can be a difficult process. After all, how do you differentiate their role from that of a CFO? And what skillset is most valuable to a CAO compared to other C-suite positions?
Whether you’re looking to hire a part-time finance expert or a full-time accounting leader for your company, the role of a CAO can add value. However, you have to know what skills to look for if you want to maximize the potential of your new executive.
Here are some of the most beneficial skills hiring managers should seek out in their CAO candidates.
1. A Mastery of Accounting
First, you need a CAO to have absolute mastery over every accounting task. Since CAOs are in charge of overseeing everything from bookkeeping accuracy to compliance with federal regulations, you need someone who knows what they are doing and can coordinate with CFOs to communicate an ideal accounting strategy.
Unlike CFOs, accounting officers have a more direct role across a singular department. They act much like a controller to manage cash flow projections and balance sheet review, streamlining accounting tasks on an executive level. To be successful, a CAO needs experience and education.
Look for someone with a master’s degree in accounting at the very least. Additional experience serving in accounting leadership is also a plus, as it can help you verify the next important skill.
2. A Flawless Ability to Communicate
Across any kind of company, the ability to communicate effectively is one of your most important determiners of success. Without a strong ability to communicate, executives in any department will fail to express the company’s needs and balance their own endeavors. This means a CAO has to have more than just a strong head for numbers but exceptional people skills as well.
Effective communication comes down to actively listening, empathizing, and forming a narrative around key points. As an accountant, these traits are all the more important since you’re often dealing with numbers and complex financial spreadsheets that can be all but incomprehensible at times.
A great CAO candidate will be able to prove their ability to humanize financial data while effectively communicating and applying information. Test for communication skills in your candidate search.
3. An Analytical Mind
For maximum success in the role of a CAO, however, a candidate needs to also be able to analyze a situation and form useful and applicable insights. This requires an analytical mind.
Critical thinking and analysis is a necessary trait of any executive. In an accountant, this skill can be vital for catching problems, correcting trends, and developing strategies to ensure the financial safety of a business. CAO candidates should come equipped with the tools and strategies to view all their work through an analytical lens.
For example, a decision-making tool like a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis can help CAOs coordinate market trends with business practices. This can lead to the use of innovative software that helps verify accounting data or streamline accounting processes by automating tedious tasks.
It takes an analytical mind to be able to assess any problem effectively. Search for a CAO who can use analysis to improve their decision-making process.
4. An Eye for Detail
To succeed as an executive accountant, you need more than reliable, readable, and regular reporting. Though these components are necessary to effective decision-making, a CAO needs an eye for detail that goes beyond the numbers. A candidate should demonstrate exceptional perception and adaptability to make the cut, since gathering information and generating informative insights from it are a key part of the job.
CAOs will also be ultimately responsible for making sure all the numbers line up. Without an effective approach to auditing and a truly comprehensive understanding of every account payable and receivable, your business will miss something vital.
Look for an eye for detail in your candidate pool. Consider auditing tests and ask for examples of a time a candidate has caught a mistake to better assess their skills.
5. A Commitment to Innovation
Last but not least, a commitment to innovation is vital for any accounting executive. Modern accounting tech offers all kinds of benefits for businesses from automation to greater transparency. Your CAO should keep up to date on these tools and the features they bring to take your business into the future.
For example, accountants are now using blockchain technology — the decentralized data networks that make cryptocurrency possible — to conduct triple-entry accounting. This allows them to immutably store transaction data across three separate nodes. When auditing time comes, a simple verification of these three points makes the process easy.
Without a commitment to innovating through new tech and strategies, however, accounting departments will be slow to make use of valuable tools. Find a CAO who embraces and seeks out innovation.
Choose the Right CAO
Since choosing a CAO is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in running a business, it’s vital to create an inventory of all the necessary skills a candidate needs to excel in the role. Start by seeking out an accounting master, then explore both the soft and hard skills that the job demands.
By looking for these skills, hiring managers set themselves up for a successful approach to hiring a Chief Accounting Officer. As a result, your business will be able to scale and thrive through a streamlined and constantly innovating accounting approach.