Understanding Ranking Levels in Accountancy

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An accountant in business attire works at an office desk.

Every accounting department has a clear hierarchy of roles. Accounting professionals have different certifications, levels of experience and levels of responsibility within their organization. To advance in an accounting career, awareness of these levels is a critical first step.

Pursuing an advanced degree, such as a Master of Accountancy, can help individuals understand the range of accounting careers available and develop the skills to pursue their desired position.

A Look at Accounting Levels

Different accounting ranks exist to ensure efficiency within the accounting department. Each accounting level focuses on certain key tasks within the organization.

Accounting Ranks: An Overview

Some basic levels in any accounting department include:

  • Staff accounting positions. These entry-level accountants handle routine reconciliation tasks and basic financial analysis.
  • Senior accounting positions. These positions, open to more experienced accountants, tend to include more complex bookkeeping or financial analysis tasks.
  • Controller and accounting manager positions. Those in managerial positions have the ultimate responsibility for all accounting activity and provide leadership for the entire accounting department.
  • Chief financial officer (CFO). The CFO is responsible for all financial activity, which includes the accounting activity, within the organization; this individual may or may not have a background in accounting.

The Purpose of Different Accounting Ranks

The purpose of the different accounting ranks is to ensure efficiency within the accounting department, as individuals at different levels can work together to stay on top of key tasks, such as:

  • Tracking expenses accurately
  • Ensuring taxes are filed on time
  • Maintaining legal compliance in all accounting activity
  • Advising the CFO and other financial decision-makers on long-term and short-term strategies

Careers in the Accounting Hierarchy

Within the accounting ranks are several specific career paths.

Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers prepare financial reports for their organizations. They ensure these reports present an accurate reflection of the company’s financial standing. A number of skills are required for this role, including:

  • Attention to detail
  • Familiarity with bookkeeping software
  • Strong communication skills

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for bookkeepers is $41,230. The job market in this field is being affected by the rise of automation; however, opportunities still exist for bookkeepers to find steady work.

Accounting Clerk

Accounting clerks have the same median annual salary, $41,230, and job outlook as bookkeepers, according to the BLS. However, the accounting clerk role is a little different. Accountants in this entry-level position are tasked with a wide range of administrative duties, from processing accounts payable and accounts receivable to maintaining orderly records.

Helpful skills in this role include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • High level of mathematical proficiency

Senior Accountant

Senior accountants are involved not only in preparing financial records but also in examining them. They apply their insights from these analyses to advising leaders and financial decision-makers on long-term and short-term strategies.

The BLS notes that the annual median salary for accountants is $71,550. Meanwhile, the BLS projects the job market for accountants will grow at a rate of 4% from 2019 to 2029, equal to the average projected growth rate for all professions.

Valuable skills for senior accountants include:

  • Mathematical proficiency
  • Communication skills
  • Analytical thinking skills

Controller

Controllers are often responsible not only for directing an entire accounting team but also for directing investments in a way that promotes the organization’s overall financial health. According to the BLS data, the median annual salary for those in financial management positions is $129,890, while the job market for those positions is projected to grow at the brisk pace of 15% from 2019 to 2029.

Valuable skills for controllers include:

  • Leadership and communication abilities
  • Technical competencies in mathematics, investments and finance
  • Competencies in long-term strategic planning

Chief Financial Officer

The chief financial officer role is an executive-level position. CFOs have ultimate responsibility over all financial activity within an organization, including setting long-term strategies. The CFO also helps to ensure that the organization is meeting all fiduciary responsibilities to investors and stakeholders, maintaining prudent financial stewardship in all corporate planning, investment, and budgeting.

According to data from the BLS, the annual median salary for chief executives is $184,160, with expected job growth of 4% from 2019 to 2029.

Valuable skills for CFOs include:

  • Leadership and communication skills
  • Familiarity with basic accounting concepts
  • Competence reviewing analytics and financial dashboards

Moving Up the Ranks

For people eager to rise through the accounting ranks, advanced education and certification are important steps.

Education

Pursuing a bachelor’s-level education in accounting or finance can help individuals hone the right skills, including technical accounting proficiencies, to excel in their profession. More advanced accounting degrees not only provide an opportunity to expand on those core skill sets, but can also prepare accountants to assume roles of greater team leadership responsibilities, as well as to steward the finances of much larger organizations. Additionally, master’s-level accounting degrees can lead to higher salary ranges and more prestigious roles.

Certification

Another way to move up the ranks is to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which designates a high degree of proficiency in the accounting field. The specific requirements to be eligible for the CPA examination vary by state.

Most states require a bachelor’s degree as well as a set number of classroom hours in advanced or master’s-level accounting classes. Workplace experience as an entry-level accountant can also be good preparation for the CPA exam.

Pursuing a Career in the Accounting Profession

To pursue professional advancement in the accounting field, knowing about the different ranks and levels in the field is a helpful first step. No matter which career path you take, earning a master’s degree in accounting can give you a solid foundation. Rider University’s online Master of Accountancy program is designed to help aspiring accountants meet their professional goals. The program offers concentrations in Business Analytics, Finance and Forensic Accounting, as well as an accounting Generalist concentration that focuses on well-rounded technical competencies. Each concentration is designed to cultivate both hands-on accounting skills as well as big-picture, strategic thinking.

Find out more about how Rider University’s online Master of Accountancy program can help you rise through the ranks within the accounting profession.

Recommended Readings

What Is Fraudulent Financial Reporting? A Look at a Vital Accounting Issue

7 Careers in International Financial Management

5 Types of Auditing for Accounting Professionals to Consider

Sources:

American Association of Finance & Accounting, How to Progress Your Career in Accounting and Finance

Business News Daily, “How to Become a CFO”

Business News Daily, “What’s the Difference Between Accountants and Bookkeepers?”

Houston Chronicle, “Career Levels in Accounting”

Houston Chronicle, “What Is the Purpose of an Accounting Department Within an Organization?”

Investopedia, “Accountant vs. Controller: What’s the Difference?”

Investopedia, “Finding the Right Accounting Certification”

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, Getting a License

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Top Executives