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CFO/Controller without a CPA

CFO Controller without CPA

Two-part question/discussion about being a CFO/Controller without a CPA, primarily from the small/private company perspective:  

1)  Besides bulletins from/consultations with your external accountants (and Proformative discussion boards), any other key resources/tips for keeping on top of emerging accounting issues?

2)   When job-hunting, how do you deal with a CPA "requirement"?  If it's "required" in a job description, do you address it in your cover letter or just tell your best story and hope to be able to get to an interview to sell yourself?  How do you answer the question in an interview?

I don't have any great tips for (1), I generally just rely on generic internet searches to try to figure something out, then discuss with our accountants as needed.

For (2), I typically use an example of a complex contract -- explain that I write up a proposed accounting treatment and review it with auditors for approval before making the accounting entries (or even before the contract is signed if we are counting on a particular accounting treatment).  Then I emphasize that I wouldn't do anything differently even if I were a CPA -- it is simply "best practice" to handle it at the time the matter arises than at audit, regardless of CPA status.

Also, mentioning an emerging issue (eg FAS 123R) can illustrate that both CPAs and non-CPAs are in the same boat for new regulations -- both need to come up to speed, and CPA status is neither a requirement nor a substitute for doing so.

Other thoughts from this perspective, or from a hiring manager's perspective?
 

Answers

Scott Lane
Title: CFO and CRO
Company: TPG Credit Management
(CFO and CRO, TPG Credit Management) |

To your first question, I get an email from the AICPA every day that is a nice update. If you can't or don't want to get a daily email then recommend you just check their website from time to time. Another great resource is the GAAP research tool that I subscribe to from PwC, it is called Comperio. Think it is about $1,500 a year but it is a great tool to keep up to speed on GAAP changes and to do GAAP research. Most large public accounting firms have something like this but PwC's is the best in my opinion.

As far as your second question goes, I personally don't see the big deal with being a CPA. Yes it is nice to have but I don't think it means anything other than you passed a difficult exam. When I passed it in 1996 (shortly after I finished undergrad) I can assure you that I was clueless about business and how accounting really worked. Experience matters more to me than whether somebody has passed an academic exam.

Think you noted some good ways to overcome this in the event that somebody thinks it matters. Ultimately what matters to me is that somebody is experienced at being an accountant and knows how to research GAAP should that be a necessary skill set for a particular job. Consequently being able to discuss recent GAAP developments such as IFRS, the recent FASB codification, or new pronouncements illustrates that.

Everyone is different but I like it when a candidate asks me my view on something that they have an intelligent view on. So, for example, in an interview when they say "do you have any questions for me" you could ask a technical accounting question to the extent relevant such as "how have you dealt with FIN 48" or something like that.

Bryan Frey
Title: VP Finance/Corp Controller
Company:
(VP Finance/Corp Controller, ) |

Andrea:

Been there, done that. I have been a CFO many times and without a CPA I have lead many successful audits. To your point above, it is about understanding which issues are "accounting" issues and that everyone must approach learning about and preparing for these issues in the same way. Heck, unless you are a freshly minted CPA you are in the same boat as others w/o the CPA: learning all the time about the things that matter to your company.

The CPA "requirement" is an annoying one. I find that this requirement is typically part of job descriptions written by non finance folks (that is: written by recruiters, people in HR, or CEOs). They simply don't know any better and like to put up roadblocks in the hiring process b/c they think this produces a better outcome. Ha! Unfortunately, those people will be tough to get around with the logical arguments you have constructed above b/c they just don't know any better. With a CEO, though, you have a better shot - if you can get to him or her to explain. I think that to get there you have to a)write about this in your cover letter and b)discuss technical accounting skills in your resume that would be applicable to the company.

So far as keeping up to date goes, I use Deloitte's online GAAP resource (DART) but it's only as good as the documents included which tend to be codifications, Q&A, etc.. This falls way short when it comes to practical application and that's one thing i really like about Proformative. If you have a technical question, just ask it to the appropriate audience here and you'll get loads of practical feedback.

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

I think Bryan's got it right on getting past HR and recruiters when a job listing has "CPA required," Andrea. There are some companies who want that designation in their CFO and won't consider candidate without it. However, sometimes it isn't required as much as it is preferred. A strong and compelling value proposition can mitigate the lack of a credential (and age bias), but generally NOT if you are responding to a job posting that takes you through HR or a recruiter (who is taking his marching orders from his client company).

Leveraging networking and social media as major search strategies can help you leapfrog the non-decision-making authority of HR and get directly to the guy who is calling the shots.

Matthew Peiffer
Title: CFO
Company: WorkRecords, Inc.
(CFO, WorkRecords, Inc.) |

I think for public companies the Board only hires CFOs that are CPAs. Same for private Venture-funded companies. The answer to your question should really be - why do you not want to be a CPA? It just conveys a level of expertise that distinguishes you from 95% of all accountants. It is much safer from a company perspective for a key hire to have credentials that really do show an ability to show mastery of accounting.

John Herndon
Title: Senior Consultant
Company: NOWCFO
(Senior Consultant, NOWCFO) |

Either person can go to equal rights prison and jail cell. The courts don't care if you are a CPA or non-CPA. Integrity and reasoning are the keys to being good at anything.

Brian Roche
Title: CFO
Company: Scalise Industries
(CFO, Scalise Industries) |

Obviously the CPA designation is of value to employers or they would not be asking for it. I agree that a CPA designation is not synononous with "qualified for the job" and that someone without a CPA designation may be superior in many ways to someone with. I am simply stating that it is one of the factors on an employer's want list that help tilt the scales in favor of or against a candidate. If you are a CPA then flaunt it, if not stress the qualities that make you the right choice.

Michael Aronson
Title: Senior Project Manager
Company: Consulting
(Senior Project Manager, Consulting) |

To those who think a CPA is a necessary evil, I possess a MBA in Finance and an undergrad in Economics, but in post Enron SOX companies believe CPAs afford protection for CEOs and CFOs who must attest to accuracy and ethics during SEC filings, annual reports, etc. Currently, it is very disturbing to require this designation for financial analysis, variance analysis, NPV, ROI, etc. when these are forward looking designations that in the past were not the purview of the accountant, who told the story of what just happened. My pose to anyone asserting the necessity of a CPA for the CFO role, weren't most of the Anderson folks at Enron, the accountants at AIG, etc. all CPAs? Certainly did not prevent incompetent, dishonorble, or unethical behavior. A CFO, like a CEO, should be a leader of the financial team, not the manager of it! That is what the Controller and/or the CAO should be! Unfortunately, due the the past 8 years post Enron, CEOs and CFOs have become guardians of the numbers rather than leaders of the results! This must stop!

Mitchell Cohen
Title: Advisor and Consultant
Company: Various
(Advisor and Consultant, Various) |

I have been the CFO of 5 publicly traded companies WITHOUT being a CPA. I have taken a company public and raised money through PIPEs and other complex scenarios. I have successfully argued accounting issues and have artfully answered complex SEC comments. Either you can or you can't

Randal Shields
Title: Consultant/CFO
Company: Randal Shields, CPA
(Consultant/CFO, Randal Shields, CPA) |

My observations concerning the two questions asked.

First, there are many avenues and resources to keep up to date regarding accounting rules. Likely what is most relevant concerns how the most recent accounting rules changes effect your employer or your preferred industries.

Second, the CPA requirement in the job description.

I am a CPA, and have held this since passing the exam on my first try in 1983. Always have kept mine in active status. Doing this requires meeting minimum annual continuing education requirements.

However, I got my license in Texas, and at the time did not need public accounting experience. Over the years, particularly in employment down cycles, the job description specifications requiring the CPA, also required "BIG" firm experience and an active license.

To me, this is a pedigree issue, something unless you have it will rule you out in the eyes of HR gatekeepers, and maybe with the hiring manager and/or at the Board of Directors level.

I too have been through many external audits by the "BIG" firms, and second tier firms. What a company should be concerned about is the ability to handle and negotiate with the external auditors - and depending on issues, negotiating does come into play - whether this be with fees and/or resolving interpretive issues. Since CPA firms became regulated by the PCAOB, this is not a prevalent now vs. before.

Have seen many discussions regarding the pros/cons of pursuing the CPA license later during one's career, which is likely something you are asking yourself. My advice - evaluate how difficult this will be based on the state of residence. Each state has different qualification requirements to get the license - passing the exam is not the only issue.

Over the past 15-20 years, Accounting rules have been as significantly impacted by special interests, and made almost as complex, as the IRS tax code. The next issue under debate is IFRS, which in my opinion will ultimately be adopted. Probably not on the timeframe originally targeted, when has this ever happened?

In today's environment, you likely will see some job description requirements wanting both an MBA and CPA. About 15 years ago the CPA licensing educational requirement was changed to include an additional 30+ hours post-grad, leaving the person just a few hours short of their MBA. It is a way to age discriminate through the job description requirements.

At the end of the day, if you do not have an alternative entry method with a particular company that has posted a senior accounting job, and the requirements include the CPA and/or MBA, not having this is going likely to eliminate you immediately.

The recruiters/resume screeners (including automated), that don't see these will put your's in the rejected pile because you did not check off all "required" boxes. It just is the way it is. You have to ask yourself in viewing the job description if a requirement really is a requirement - look at the end recepient - if it is the hiring manager, you may have a chance if in all other areas the "match" is there.

Jeff Taylor
Title: CFO
Company: Communications Co.
(CFO, Communications Co.) |

I have been a CFO many times and each time the job description had CPA in it and each time I got the job. Has nothing to do with me, of course, I'm just a run of the mill CFO. But I have very consistently seen the CPA requirement waived. However, it is only waived by people who realize that the CPA is not what makes a great CFO. It's one of many, many elements and as proof there are thousands of very successful CFOs (both public and private) who don't have a CPA.

However, any job description item that you do not possess it is a barrier to be gotten over and one's lack of a CPA will certainly keep you from some CFO/Controller jobs - no question. So I agree with Randal that your operative question here is: is the ROI on getting a CPA worth it? Would your time be better spent on getting your CPA or on doing the myriad other things you can be doing to a)hone your CFO skills to become more hireable and b)actually get a CFO job. I repeat what I noted above, there are thousands (and thousands) of non-CPA CFOs (more rare to find non-CPA Controllers, I think, although I have seen them) and there are many ways to find those who are willing to hire them.

Candace Bailey
Title: Management Consultant
Company: Self Employed
(Management Consultant, Self Employed) |

Jeff, I am currently assessing the ROI of getting my CPA designation. I have over 17 years experience in accounting/management with my last two positions being in the controller roll and each time have also carried with it some CFO and HR responsibilities. In addition, I don't have a four year degree (because of a recent layoff, I am taking courses to that end). Most of my positions were requiring at a minimum a four year degree. I was placed in the role because of my experience AND because I had a CPA from a very large accounting firm as a reference. She knew of my capabilities through her contact with my employers. I then had to "earn" the position during my probationary period, which I always did. My biggest barrier seems to be the economically driven tight restrictions on hiring. Also, I can't rely on her to give me an accurate appraisal because she wants to hire me back when the economy picks up. This sounds good but, I don't want to go back there. They took advantage of my educational limitations with respect to salary, knowing that I would have a dificult time finding a position that I am fully qualified for without a four year degree and CPA. I have been networking and it has been suggested that I start my own business in this area because the need is there, but no one company is currently hiring but all are realizing the knowledge value of this position since they have laid them off. I love what I do and I do it better than many but I am at a crossroad as to the CPA and MBA requirements. I don't believe that they will improve on my abilities to achieve results.

Donald Bowman
Title: Part-time CFO
Company: Pretium Bay Consulting
(Part-time CFO, Pretium Bay Consulting ) |

Since the above responses cover the area quite well I will keep my response brief. I have been a CEO, CFO and Controller. I am a CPA and have a Masters Degree in accounting. I have worked for public and private companies and have over 30 years experience. In my view, relevant "on-point" experience is number one. Have you actually performed those things that are needed in the new CFO job. Secondly, there are other credentials equal to the CPA designation. Do you have an MBA? Are you a CMA? Do you have a Masters Degree in Finance. Academic credentials and professional certifications are a way to sort out, perhaps, the more cerebral candidates. That said two of the most intelligent and quickest thinkers I ever worked with did not graduate college. Too many recruiters really don't have enough or any experience in the industry for which they are seeking a CFO. It can be intellectually lazy to use a list of credentials rather than a really in depth review of exactly what is needed for the CFO position, for the particular company at this point in time. In the end it is 75% experience and 25% credentials in my view.

Bryan Frey
Title: VP Finance/Corp Controller
Company:
(VP Finance/Corp Controller, ) |

Very well said! Could not agree more.

William Tennison
Title: CFO
Company: Tennison Associates, Inc
(CFO, Tennison Associates, Inc) |

Many of the comments have two themes. The first theme primarily from CFOs without a CPA, regard the CPA designation as non-essential to their specific responsibilities. The second theme is that many companies use the CPA designation as a screening tool for hiring Controllers and CFO's. I agree with both themes. My background is one of being a CFO, CPA from a "Big 4", CAO and and MBA for over 30 years. I have held significant positions with both public and private entities. Based on my background, I may be biased in that I believe experience that includes a CPA designation and experience from a Big 4 is one piece of relevant criteria in evaluating one's experience level for the position of Controller. In addition to the recognition one receives for obtaining a CPA license, a candidate from a Big 4 has typically received 100's of hours of additional training. In addition, these individuals have been exposed to many different business activities. This serves as a great form of reference when dealing with new internal situations of a particular entity.

There is a reason why less than 5% of all accountants have a CPA certificate. Of that total less than 5% of all CPA's have worked in a "Big 4" environment. Can someone without a CPA handle the rigors of a Controller position? The answer is yes. However, in today's competitive market, individuals who have earned the designation of CPA and have Big 4 experience would be a much easier selection for a first interview.

A CFO does not have to be a CPA to be qualified for the requirements of that position. However, without this designation, certain other minimum criteria would normally be required. Typically, master and law degrees would be an acceptable alternative.

The CFO title is used to cover a broad spectrum. If the CFO is involved with securing new financing through public offerings or is responsible for global activities, a minimum of a CPA title is normally necessary criteria to be considered for an interview. In my experience, I found that just having a CPA was not sufficient for a CFO positon. I went back and obtained my MBA after ten years experience. Once that was completed, I became an acceptable candidate for several CFO opportunities.

Jim Rice
Title: UNemployed
Company:
(UNemployed, ) |

In the current job market, it will be very difficult to get an interview for any position looking for a CPA. You will have to know someone with infuence inside - use your network to its fullest. I have a CPA and find many jobs are "not available" to me because they require "Big 4" experience, which seems discriminatory because the big 4 have only been around a few years - what happened to the "Big 8"?
I do believe the current situation, where job seekers vastly outnumber positions available, is very temporary. Once this turns around, the CPA designation will become much less of an issue for CFO hiring. You just need some way to get through to that point...
I do agree that the CPA designation does indicate some knowledge base, but experience is much more important, especially at the CFO level.

Kurt Gruner
Title: Corporate Controller
Company:
(Corporate Controller, ) |

Agree with Jim's comment, and would like to offer my perspective as someone who has been a Controller (although not a CFO yet) without a CPA. I am currently in a search and am running up against the issue Jim articulated in the first sentence of his post. It seems that 90% of the top financial positions I have encountered have either "required" or "desired" a CPA. To be certain, the CPA is a "weed-out" tool in this job market (but of course a very relevant and important credential). To this point in my career (and I stress the phrase "to this point"!!), the lack of a CPA has not been an issue... if I can demonstrate sufficient expertise to secure Controller positions without a CPA, I would hope that would carry to the CFO level... but this job market is brutal, and to not have a CPA for a top level financial role is limiting, but not devastating... for myself, it has been somewhere in between.

Tom Banach
Title: CFO
Company:
(CFO, ) |

Last spring, CFO magazine had an article about CFO without a CPA. They found that 60%-70% of Fortune 1000 companies CFO’s do not have a CPA. The percentage of CFO’s with a CPA has been increasing over the last few years due to SOX. I have been a CFO w/o a CPA for several companies. However, I believe in this competitive market not having a CPA has caused me to lose out on some opportunities. As a result, I am currently studying to take the CPA exam. When I am asked by employers about not having a CPA, I tell them that having a CPA would not make me any smarter or better at my job. However, I believe there is a stigma out there especially with mid size companies that believe having a Controller/CFO with a CPA adds some cache to the company.

John Davy
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company:
(Chief Financial Officer, ) |

I have been a CFO for multi national companies more than 20 years without a CPA. In fact, in my capacity as CFO I have hired many CPA's who fail to grasp the nature of business and subsequently created more difficulties for the company than their non-CPA counterparts. There is no dispute that a seasoned CPA has the theory behind him/her but as one person commented, the accounting laws are changing everyday for both CPA and non-CPA which puts them both on level ground. In applying for jobs; If the CPA is a requirement I submit my cover and CV anyways. Sometimes years of experience is taken into consideration.

David Rowe
Title: President
Company: Rowe Consulting, Inc
(President, Rowe Consulting, Inc) |

I have worked as a CFO without a CPA for several companies. The primary reason why I don't have a CPA is due to having earned an Engineering rather than an Accounting degree (though I do have a MBA and have had other financial as well as non-financial related jobs). The primary difficulty that I have experienced in not having a CFA is getting past the gatekeeper (usually HR) for CFO-level positions. On the otherhand, I have found having an Engineering degree useful in serving in high-tech companies and as a consultant, especially for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance work for both the Finance and IT areas. Degrees and certifications are only an indication of the minimum amount of knowledge that someone has (or had). The ability to apply one's knowledge and experiences is what is valuable to an organization.

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

I would agree, John, that there are situations where a non-CPA can win a job but would argue that it isn't "years of experience" but rather a "record of positive contributions" over the course of a career that can swing the pendulum.

The real key, though, is the pain connection. A company, requiring a CPA or otherwise, isn't hiring a CFO because there is an empty corner office with a great view and a CFO plaque on the door and they need a body to sit at the desk. A company hires because it has a pain, problem, challenge, or issue it needs resolved or it is stuck and can't move forward. When you can make the pain connection, through a solid record of solving those issues and the quantifiable impact of doing so, the CPA (like age-bias) becomes much less of a factor.

There are, of course, companies for whom the issue is non-negotiable, which is why it is key to understand what you have that a company is willing to pay to get ... and then who will buy it (your target market).

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

I posted this question on the CFO group on Linked In. John asked me to re-post here ...

If you hold a CPA, have you also held (or do you currently hold) a seat at the executive table guiding vision - or - has / does it keep you (intentionally or otherwise) in a role that is more controls-oriented and less strategic?

Any thoughts? What have you experienced?

John Davy
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company:
(Chief Financial Officer, ) |

No, I do not hold a CPA but have just completed a Group CFO role in Russia. I was a principle in guiding the vision of the company and had the board seat to execute the vision. Not having a CPA has not really hindered my ability to play a part in both control-oriented and strategic posts. It would be great if you can re-post this question. However, I must say that the job market being as tight as it is right now, employers have a wide choice of experience and CPA qualified candidates.

Scott Lane
Title: CFO and CRO
Company: TPG Credit Management
(CFO and CRO, TPG Credit Management) |

Interesting question posed by Cindy. I have a CPA and I do feel that at times I am limited to more control oriented type roles. I have found it easy to convince people that I know what I am doing on the accounting and control front but it has been difficult to make the jump to a more strategic role even though much of my experience has been more CFO / strategic oriented. Right now I am feeling like I am in a bit of a mezzanine situation: perceived as being too strategic for pure accounting role but not strategic enough for an executive / CFO role.

Wray Rives
Title: CPA CGMA
Company: Rives CPA PLLC
(CPA CGMA, Rives CPA PLLC) |

No way-I have held several positions that were not primarily financial including VP-Operations, COO, President and General Manager and being a CPA while it may have been irrelevant it was never a limiting factor.

Candace Bailey
Title: Management Consultant
Company: Self Employed
(Management Consultant, Self Employed) |

It has been my experience that it largely depends on a business's corporate structure and what it views is on the role.

Leslie Karnauskas
Title: CFO
Company: BMGI
(CFO, BMGI) |

I believe there is an alternative certification to a CPA that has value in industry and that is the CMA (Certified Management Accountant). This certification exam covers everything on the CPA exam plus added knowledge such as decision theory, cost accounting, management theory, computer system knowledge, etc. Yet there are very few companies who identify CMA as a required or preferred certification. There are continuing education requirements for CMAs similar to what is required of CPAs.

Along with the CMA comes membership in the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) which is another great way to stay current on accounting issues and changes through monthly meeting speakers, specific conference offerings, a monthly publication, and the web site.

Another organization that can be useful in the continuing education arena is FEI (Financial Executives International). There are monthly meetings, continuing education sessions, a publication, and a great web site for use by members as a resource.

In the end I agree with many of the comments offered previously - experience and keeping current in the accounting best practice arena are far more important than a certification. I believe employers especially in today's market often use the CPA as a filter to screen out candidates which in the long run just causes them to miss some excellent, well qualified candidates who may actually bring more to the table.

Anne Sutardji
Title: CFO/Controller
Company:
(CFO/Controller, ) |

I don't have a CPA but everytime I went for an interview that required a CPA license, I got it.
I have held board seats at three different companies overseeing finance and operations. Yes, there are CPAs in our team but not necessarily in a decision-making role.
I will hire a CFO without a CPA anytime as long as s/he has the vision, experience and attitude for the job.

Lisa Baker CPA
Title: VP, Controls Manager
Company: JP Morgan Chase & Co
(VP, Controls Manager, JP Morgan Chase & Co) |

As a CPA, I must tell you that you are correct that just because one has a CPA does not mean that they possess the level of skill for the position. When making hiring decisions, I prefer a CPA but one with at least five years of experience to ensure they have the conceptual understanding of accounting. Keep in mind that a CPA is a subject matter expert in all things accounting, so if they are not well versed in an industry, they have the exposure to obtain the knowledge of the specialized accounting. And since underlying accounting concepts are generally the same (industry accounting rules are different but the conceptually the same) a CPA should be able to adapt much quicker. I think that generally saying that the CPA designation is not a good requirement in a general sense is not a fair statement.

John Herndon
Title: Senior Consultant
Company: NOWCFO
(Senior Consultant, NOWCFO) |

Lisa

I disagree on both fronts of the arguement '...CPA is a subject matter expert' and '...CPA should be able to adapt much quicker'.

More often than not, the CPA's from external firms that I have run across do not have the practical expertise. From an academic perspective, they are able to point out inconsistencies but are unable to justify actual exposure or more importantly have relevant the disparities are.

In my opinion, this does not provide a meaningful or value added discussion at all. In the end, these folks ultimately lack the ability to interpret and explain in a rational manner how the information should be used. Lets not forget the 'soft skills' needed to be advisors to business leaders. This has been my goal from the start having been an operator first and an accountant second. You must be able to add value in a cross functional capacity to the business.

To my knowledge, they don't have a standardized test for that and most likely never will.

William Tennison
Title: CFO
Company: Tennison Associates, Inc
(CFO, Tennison Associates, Inc) |

John, I agree that just having a CPA license does not provide the necesary tools to be a controller. Business experience is normally one of the more significant criteria in evaluating prospective candidates. With that being said, the CPA designation is akin to requiring a college degree before a candidate is to be considered for a position. It is nothing more than a first cut for prospective interviews.

There is also a significant issue in hiring that no one has really brought up in these discussions. What is the quality of controller being hired? In many cases, small corporations are looking for nothing more than glorified bookkeepers. I would agree in these type of environments, a CPA would probably not be necessary. However, if there is a fair amount of diversity of issues that a controller will be facing, a seasoned experienced controller with a CPA designation would probably be desired.

The CPA designation also denotes someone has attained a minimum level of knowledge related to accounting. On-going continuing edcuation is required to stay current. In most interviews, there should be a number of questions asked to test the individual on their particular level of expertise in specific areas. Individuals without a CPA license can gain the same industry knowledge. However, it has been my experience that individuals that have attained a CPA license and are active in the job market have maintained a current base of knowledge relating to accounting pronouncements and trends.

Phil Murray
Title: VP of Finance & Administration
Company: Kimbia, Inc.
(VP of Finance & Administration, Kimbia, Inc.) |

I agree with practically all of the above comments.

I operated first as a Controller and then a CFO at the same company, without a CPA. During the time I went back and did an MBA and ultimately took an additional 8 accounting and tax classes after my MBA in order to meet my state's (NC at the time) requirements for sitting for the CPA exam. The extra classes took me a year, then studying for and sitting for each section of the CPA exam took a total of a full year. It was a very rigorous exercise and I learned much in the process.

At the end of the day, I decided to do that because I knew it would contribute to my knowledge, and it would deal with the "CPA required" issue once and for all, if and when I ever pursued another role. As it happened, I did leave that company when I moved to Texas and I am glad I did the due diligence to get my CPA license.

As all have said, certainly a designation can only say so much, and not having a designation can't say all that much either. My recommendation would be though, given what is definitely a bias in industry about having your CPA license, that you do try and pursue it if possible as it will help knock down barriers.

It's unfortunate that it works that way out there, but sadly it does often work that way at least at the first line of resume screening.

Ray Salomon
Title: CFO
Company:
(CFO, ) |

Having seen CPAs whose accounting skills were marginal, and non-CPAs whose skills were superlative, I question the "requirement".

That being said, requiring a CPA is 1) an easy way to pre-screen (read eliminate) a significant number of resumes and 2) allow non-finance types to have some confidence in the candidate's accounting skills (which they otherwise may not be able to assess).

As such, if you know accounting, it's not that difficult to 1) get the necessary educational requirements in an accredited on-line or evening program, 2) pass the exam (I found the Becker CDs very useful, and 3) become a CPA in one of the states that doesn't require experience working for a CPA. Granted, it won't work in every case (i.e., those who seek a candidate licensed in a particular state), but it will work in most cases.

Roger Scott
Title: CPA, V.P. of Finance
Company: in-between
(CPA, V.P. of Finance, in-between) |

I am an experienced public company Controller and an experienced public company Treasurer. I have an MBA, CMA (Certified Management Accountant) and CTP (Certified Treasury Professional) credentials. I have recently completed the requirements for the CPA license in NC as well and I am awaiting licensure.

There are three reasons why CPA is usually listed as a requirement for Finance Executives. First, as others have posted here, it is an easy, bright-line test to disqualify the majority of applicants. In this job market, recruiters do what they must to manage their workload when faced with the volume of responses they receive. Second, if the position (Controller, Treasurer, Divisional CFO, etc.) reports to a CFO, often the hiring authority is him/herself a CPA and wants someone "just like me". Third, it is often a CYA strategy by the hiring authority in case the hire doesn't work out, or worse.

A CPA friend recently made the comment to me that earning the CPA also indicates the ability to initiate, manage and complete a complex project. He is right. Although we have all successfully completed many projects, how is a hiring authority to know for sure that I was responsible for the success of a project as opposed to taking credit for excellent work done by my staff? When earning the CPA (and the CMA, CTP or some other credential) there is no staff. There is only you navigating your way through a body of knowledge, exams, rules, forms and, in the case of CPA, laws as well. Something to think about.

John Zdanowski
Title:
Company:
(, ) |

I'm always asked about not having a CPA. My quick answer to that is to suggest that the best folks to answer that would be the audit partners at the big 4 firms I've worked with. That and a few more examples of the complex accounting problems I've solved & that usually puts the question to bed.

Raffy Ohannesian
Title: Managing Partner
Company: Group Phoenix Advisors
LinkedIn Profile
(Managing Partner, Group Phoenix Advisors) |

Having worked in financial services and within the finance function of public and private organizations, I can tell you that the CPA designation is of import in the obvious area of ACCOUNTING. As an MBA and CFO, I put a great deal of importance on the accuracy of information contained within the systems that support corporate decision-making. I also put a great deal of importance on complying with the relevant and prevalent rules governing corporate accounting. That being said, it has been my experience that the CPA designation offers little in the way of preparing a professional for the rigors of the CFO position in terms of managing and growing the business. You have to have breadth and depth in terms of treasury, banking relationships, currency/FX management, working and investment capital sourcing/pricing/securing, legal ramifications of contract language and the difference between letter and intent of same, people management skills, CEO/Board management skills, analyst/investment banker management skills, due diligence oversight and acquisition/divestiture planning and execution, strategy development, assessment, deployment, execution and adjustment, fostering growth initiatives and risk assumption while curtailing mavericks within the organization (likely to be found in Sales & Marketing, naturally) and limiting liability and exposure for products, services, workforce, internal practices and employee behavior and work product. This doesn't even cover tax strategy, debt/stock issuance, asset-based borrowing and factoring, joint-venture sourcing, etc etc.

The CFO of companies that 'do it right' is the one person in the company that makes the grandiose ideas of product development, the CEO and/or the marketing team come to life, through responsible analysis, aggressive and cost-effective financing, and ensuring the product/service that has whiz-bang all over it on the whiteboard, actually results in whiz-bang on the income statement. Very little in the CPA preparation, exam and CPE universe prepares you for ANY of that.

And I think this is what's being communicated with certain candidates who express frustration with the "CPA only" recruiting process...it's that old adage "No one ever got fired for going with IBM", and that probably holds true for the HR folks looking for a new CFO or Controller: the CPA designation is a safety net, more than it is a profit-enabler or indication of business intellect and an ability to make complex product/service concepts come to life.

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

This seems to have attracted a lot of attention, and some long, well-thought-out responses. People can be successful without having a CPA. But the CPA exam is a tough test and the experience requirements make sure that people can use the practical knowledge in an effective way.

Although not everyone needs or wants public accounting experience, it was invaluable training to learn the value of hard work under tight deadlines and sometimes stressful conditions. It also allowed exposure to how CFOs and CEOs conduct business in the corporate world, exposure to big picture and company risk issues, and allowed one to become confident in presentations and public speaking. All-corporate CPAs with no public accounting experience may also achieve the same over time, but think the public accounting path is accelerated.

Non-CPAs can be successful as well, but one with a credential could certainly have a valid edge in a hiring decision, all else being equal. That being said, careers are a body of work so the credential is just one factor in the hiring decision. All else is rarely equal! Because it is so helpful, though, I have not put a priority on getting an MBA.

Some people will also make jokes about CPAs of course and think that we all do continuing education because we love accounting. We do it because education is beneficial and we want to keep our hard-earned licenses, whether we follow Corp. Controller path, CFO path, COO path, CEO path, or some other VP path. Some of us even do consulting!

Ray Salomon
Title: CFO
Company:
(CFO, ) |

Those interested in becoming CPAs should note that the requirements vary considerably by state. As such, unless you intend to practice public accounting in your state, licensing elsewhere can be an alternative.

For example, some states require experience with a CPA firm while others will allow experience in a business or government setting, providing that you were supervised by a CPA. (And, one state does not require experience.) This variation extends to residency and coursework as well.

Also, I purchased a review course and found it to be invaluable. It focused on the material to be tested and identified some of the test questions and tricks that one might expect.

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

Raffy's comments are spot on. I have been a CFO for a number of companies including leading an IPO and the lack if a CPA was and is not an issue regarding getting the job done. Accounting was a very small part of my job and it is always backward looking. Understanding what drives the business and providing forward looking guidance is critical. I think
CPA is included in job specs if CEOs have little background working with a CFO. A good CFO is much mire than the chief accounting officer. In addition accounting rules are constantly in flux so anything learned as a CPA becomes obsolete. A non CPA can keep up with new rules.

James Finn
Title: Consultant: Finance, Internal Control, ..
Company: Finn Consulting
( Consultant: Finance, Internal Control, IT Systems, and Compliance, Finn Consulting ) |

I consider a mix of CPA's and Non CPA's as corporate Financial officers and Managers not only acceptable, but I consider it essential to prevent the "Guild" mentality from reducing the "well thought out" solutions from being reduced to dogma or ritualistic "solution acceptances".

The CPA is one popular route to senior financial management - but not the only one! Otherwise compliance and SOX would be reduced to an exercise in just accepting a CPA's "Assertions".

James Finn

Kathleen Willis
Title: Consultant
Company: Self employed
(Consultant, Self employed) |

I believe the CPA requirement has become more of a credibility issue than anything else. The fear started with Enron and Sarbanes Oxley.The state of the economy the last few years has magnified the fears of investors, board members,etc of anything that may cause a business to lose money or go under.I have worked with many competent CPA's, and with some that were totally incapable of thinking outside the box.I agree that a CPA designation is not one of the most important qualities of a CFO or other leader who will be making important decisions about a business.Unfortunately, in this job market I think anyone who is a CPA(all other factors being equal) will be chosen over someone who is not.I have been a Controller, and I know I was paid less and given little respect partly due to my lack of a CPA credential. I am currently working on getting my CPA license-not because I will ever work in public accounting, but because I don't think my career will flourish in this economy without it.I have looked at positions in Europe and Great Britain, and all companies there require some sort of accounting certification-they are flexible on which country it is from, but one does not progress beyond entry level positions there without an accounting certification.I think the US is just starting to do what other countries have been doing for years.

Jason M. Jones LPA
Title: Deputy Treasurer - Staff Accountant
Company: Franklin County Treasurer
(Deputy Treasurer - Staff Accountant, Franklin County Treasurer) |

I have recently started an outsourced CFO and controller service after serving a number of years in public accounting and as a controller for a retailer and a non-profit agency. I never passed the CPA exam; the closest I came to passing was getting a 74 in AUD back in '05. My last attempt was in 2009 when I decided my time would be better spent building my track record as a CFO/controller. IMO, a solid track record of measureable and deliverable results would trump, if not be equal to obtaining a CPA credential.

I respect the CPA credential and those who have worked to obtain it, but I think that it isn't nearly as necessary to have as one would think. Working in industry, I think an MBA would be more ideal, especially coupled with a CMA for those who are controllers would actually compliment each other very well, as they serve as two sides of the same coin in that respect.

But I find no disgrace at all with those CFO without a CPA; the two are actually apples and oranges. CFOs serve a strategic role, controllers, CPA or not, serve a tactical role. Both roles are necessary, but the same person does not need to serve both roles at once. Further, CFOs by design are more prone to taking major risks, while controllers tend to be conservative (the conceptual framework of GAAP emphasizes conservatism as one of its constraints). It's kinda hard to wear both hats at once in that regard.

Bottom line, a CPA is much more of a "nice to have" than a "need to have" feature for CFOs and controllers (once possible exception being those who work in public companies where SEC and SOX compliance is an integral component to a CFOs and controller's duties).

Theresa Wilt
Title: Independent Contractor
Company: Multiple U.S. Clients
(Independent Contractor, Multiple U.S. Clients ) |

CFO.com is an excellent resource with daily emails on all the latest updates.

Great chart, thanks for sharing. I have performed tasks in both of the roles.

I agree there are plenty of job opportunites that require the CPA designation whether needed or not, it is definitely key to getting your foot in the door at many companies where that has been selected as a required hiring criteria. I tend to not be interested in those particular traditional accounting roles.

I am not a CPA, but have worked as Controller, and no interest in being a CFO.
I have an MBA in Accounting and 30 years of Govt contract accounting expertise which assumes GAAP & SOX and requires FAR & CAS experience on top of those two.

Federal Acquistion Regulations & Cost Accounting Standards required in industry are harder to learn/find, so that outweighs the CPA requirement in these roles I am interested in. So I have not needed a CPA and do not foresee needing one.

To answer Matthew's question of why not get a CPA license, I know for me, the niche market I work in has been my main reason, but also no interest in taxes or public accounting, or taking a huge pay cut to take job to get audit hours.

Also, from my view as accountant/controller being audited by CPA and DCAA at the same time, the CPA audits seemed liked the no-brainers since you are paying the audit firm, of course you will pass the audit so they get next engagement.

DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) were the more challenging audits since the auditors do not have that conflict of interest. You pass or fail their audits. I would definitely say dealing with them is better prep for a CFO or CEO role.

Also, although Enron has made CPA a household word, the word is not all good, and I think I would rather not be stereotyped into that particular group so if I were to find the time to add to my credentials, I would pursue CMA vs. CPA, since that would more closely match my experience, interest and future needs.

I currently work as an Accounting Consultant for Government contractors, advising them on DCAA audit requirements for FAR & CAS compliance and with implementation of Deltek ERP Accounting systems to facilitate those needs.

Topic Expert
Simon Westbrook
Title: CFO
Company: Aargo Inc.
( CFO, Aargo Inc.) |

This discussion has continued over quite some time focussing on the relative merits of a CPA qualification vs no accredited qualification as a senior financial manager. I am a member of the UK institute of Chartered Accountants with an FCA qualification on my certificate. I came to work in the US more than 20 years ago on an intercompany transfer, so my public company employee knew me and did not care whether I had a CPA qualification. For a while I contemplated sitting for a CPA but decided not to spend the time and effort since I did not consider I would learn anything significantly new, and although I may be biased, I did not consider a CPA as good as my FCA. Subsequently, I have presented my qualifications to prospective employers and found that they generally accept my qualifications as being an acceptable alternative, even though they have no understanding of the comparative qualifications.

I conclude that most recruiting gatekeepers are simply looking to tick a box that proves some qualification evidenced by some initials and i wonder whether we are more concerned with having a "badge" rather than the underlying knowledge and experience. I would be imnterested to hear if anayone else has duplicated a native professional qualification inorder to add the magic CPA initials on their resume?
Simon

Annette Heintz
Title: CEO
Company: WaterMark Executive Recruiting, Inc.
(CEO, WaterMark Executive Recruiting, Inc.) |

In my overall experience, the black and white translates to the person that is in review of the experience and credentials, to the depth of ‘live’, in person or in voice connection to ‘define’. It is having a receptive-right person that is the recipient. Yes, there are areas that have a requirement of CPA, there is a ‘but, ‘yet’, ‘however’ that a high percentage of the time is the pivot point.

Have a grand day!
Annette

Annette F. Heintz
Director of Recruiting
Banking, Credit Union, Finance
WaterMark Executive Recruiting
Direct to Annette: 612-462-7671
watermarkrecruiting@execs.com
Reiterating complete confidentiality for all information and communication.

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Lastest from a post on finance team talent mix on CFO.com ... http://www3.cfo.com/article/2012/2/hiring_finance-team-talent-mix-mba-cpa-fpa

Here's an excerpt:

But there is clearly a growing preference for those with broader business training. More than 2.5 times as many survey respondents (16%) have added people with MBA degrees than subtracted them (6%).

Specifically, companies need finance people who not only bring analytical skills but also influencing skills. They also require staffers with the ability to work across functions and, most important, the confidence to be credible business advisers, says Jeff Thomson, president and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants.

The most desirable finance staffer, says Donald Kilinski, CFO practice leader at recruiting firm DHR International, is a CPA who then gets an MBA. Such a person may be more able to advise on strategic matters, such as what projects should be funded, whether something should be acquired, built, or bought, and whether products or services should be eliminated.

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