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December 22, 2021
4 minute read

Careers in finance: Know your options and prepare for change.

Written by Laura Slauson
careers in finance

Advances in accounting automation are improving the finance career landscape. As automating manual tasks frees up time for finance teams, all evidence suggests that automation doesn’t hurt finance careers, but rather leads to more value-added, interesting work. To take full advantage of the unfolding opportunities, aspiring finance professionals need to be aware of career options, and how to advance within them. 

Below are eight broad finance career descriptions, all experiencing positive changes due to advances in technology. It’s important to keep in mind that many of these job titles are fluid. Some will depend on the size of a company, with finance professionals in smaller companies typically wearing more hats. It can also depend on the stage that a company is at, since finance is often one of the slowest growth areas within a company at the early stages. Plus, businesses adapt some titles, or even get creative — the job title for Tesla’s Zach Kirkhorn recently changed from CFO to “Master of Coin.”

Chief Financial Officer: The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) holds the top financial position in a company, and is responsible for the financial operations. A CFO oversees the execution of the reporting, accounting, treasury, tax, and forecasting and budgeting functions.

As the guests in Airbase’s Path to Becoming a CFO series frequently remark, there are multiple education and training routes to a CFO position, but one thing is certain: The CFO of the future will need to have a firm grasp of technology, including AI and machine learning. 

VP Finance: Generally speaking, a VP Finance focuses on the forward-looking elements of a company’s finances, such as budgeting, forecasting, and reporting, although their role is often seen as less strategic than that of a CFO. High-headcount companies can have multiple VP positions related to finance, such as VP Payroll or VP Procurement. 

As with the CFO role, there isn’t a set path to this career, but many have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business. The career advice site Zippia estimates that almost 20% of VPs of Finance have a master’s degree. 

Treasurer: A company’s Treasurer oversees the treasury function, including:

  • Ensuring liquidity.
  • Protecting against financial risks associated with FX, interest rates, etc. 
  • Overseeing debt and equity issuances.
  • Managing working capital and banking relationships. 

Although this is another career characterized by multiple education paths, most treasurers have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business. Specialized training and industry certifications like the Certified Treasury Manager Certification from the American Association for Investment and Finance Management (AAIFM) provide recognition that a treasurer has achieved recognized standards, and is committed to following the latest developments. 

Controller: A company’s Controller is responsible for accounting functions. Responsibilities could include: 

  • Ensuring all financial records are accurate and comply with regulations.
  • Managing the accounting team.
  • Creating and applying controls for reporting needs.
  • Establishing and optimizing accounting procedures.
  • Overseeing and signing off on the month-end close.

The traditional career path for controllers is often a degree in accounting or finance, and certification as a CPA, followed by a period at a Big Four accounting firm, although many controllers take alternate routes. Forbes magazine once named this as the most competitive position in finance, so a diverse skill set, including leadership experience, is important. 

A report by Deloitte and the Institute of Managed Accountants called Outside the Box: Elevating the Role of Controller states that controllers typically spend about 70% of their time on traditional accounting tasks, like closing the books or ensuring reporting is compliant. That big chunk of time can keep them from playing a more strategic role within a company, and some of the main obstacles identified in the report were conflicting management priorities and inadequate information systems. To avoid getting “boxed in” to a traditional role in a company, the top recommendations in the report are clear communication with leadership on the values that a controller can bring to the organization, and developing skills with new technology, like robotics process automation and visual analytics. 

FP&A: The overarching goal of the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) function involves determining the story behind the numbers through forecasting, planning, and analytical activities. If the controller focuses on an accurate recording of what happened in the past, FP&A uses that financial data to create a plan to reach a company’s goals. Several positions could exist within a company’s FP&A function, including FP&A Director, FP&A Manager, and/or FP&A Analyst. Credentials like becoming a Certified Corporate FP&A Professional (FPAC) aren’t firm requirements for most positions, but can help you advance your career. 

Accountants: A few careers fall under the accountant umbrella, including Accounting Manager, Accountant, and Staff Accountant. A recent Accounting Today article talked about the growing list of possible careers available to a CPA, and emphasized that all require deeper technical skills than accounting careers of the past. 

Some studies have found that fewer aspiring accountants are interested in pursuing the traditional CPA designation, in part because they no longer feel it is relevant to their career goals. In response, AICPA and NASBA recently introduced the CPA Evolution licensure model. That shift emphasizes the importance of staying current in order to advance. 

It’s not necessary to have a CPA to become an accounting manager, but it does offer a competitive advantage. Having formal management training, like an MBA or management degree, is also helpful, according to recruitment agency Robert Half

It’s an exciting time to be a finance professional as technology opens up space for more interesting and value-added work — It’s much more gratifying to actually feel like your training and education can impact a company’s success than it is to download CSV files. Knowing the finance careers available and how to advance within the finance function will help you get there.


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