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Big 4 to FP&A possible?

CPA Career PathHi, I'm an auditor at a big 4 firm and was wondering how easy it is to make the transition from auditing into an FP&A type role with some experience? Basically, I am afraid that going from audit => Sr accountant, which a lot of people do, will pigeon-hole me just into accounting, which isn't good for becoming a CFO. FP&A I feel would build upon my accounting knowledge into a more forward-looking, decion-making role. Additionally, I feel its a better fit for my interests because it involves modeling out the future and deciding where to go from there. Have any of you seen this transition before? Also, can anyone clarify for me what a controller does? Are they just a very senior accountant that deals with reporting or are they also decison-makers at the company that guide their firm/business unit's profitability? Thanks in advance!

Answers

Anonymous
(VP and Special Advisor to the CEO) |

You are thinking too short run. You have the objective of being a CFO. The best way to get there, is to get varied experience in FP&A, systems, investments, risk, M&A, etc. Get varied experience. A CFO is usually the most senior financial position in a company, a broad role which requires a reasonable integration of and understanding of knowledge from different roles. As to the question of what is a controller, this is simply a title and can mean a restricted mandate of only doing the financial statements, or can mean a very senior mandate one level below a CFO. Depends entirely on the company. Good luck!

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Many questions, for which every answer is "it depends." Just one person's opinion - Do not get fixed on the title. I know that idea is counter intuitive. In the end you are building your resume and advancement is clear when you show more responsible roles. But the roles and responsibilities for these generic titles change, depending on the size of the company. I have seen Controllers at large companies, function as Senior Accountants; and Controllers at smaller companies opine on everything from Accounting to Managerial issues. The type of company will also dictate the type of reporting required, i.e. public vs. private. As an auditor, you are on an Accounting track. That is not to say the CFO title is not attainable.

I have also seen many qualified Accounting focused individuals loose their skill when they work for large firms. For example - In a small to medium-sized business you will touch all three financial statements and become intimately involved with every line. While at a large firm you may be focused only on the Revenue side or Liability side.

Understand your current strengths and then find a position at an entity that will utilize these strengths while building on your weaknesses...regardless of the title.

Topic Expert
Alan Hart
Title: Consultant
Company: Pacific Shine Group
(Consultant, Pacific Shine Group) |

Referring to the above useful comments and suggestions I would add that if your goal is to eventually advance to a CFO position (and that depends on the size of the company and industry – I have seen bookkeepers in very small companies with the title of CFO) you will need a lot more general managerial skills, which can only be acquired through increasingly more responsible positions. To that you must add leadership skills which are crucial to becoming a successful CFO. As a CFO you will be partnering with the CEO in leading the organization.

Historically, it was very common to have a CFO with an accounting background, and often a CPA designation was a requirement for the job. This has all changed in recent years. However, coming from a Big 4 firm is not detrimental in a career path leading to a CFO position, as long as the leadership and administration skills are there.

The FP&A role is a distinct possibility, although expect more accounting work at first, primarily based on your existing skills and experience. Moving on to finance roles can be challenging but possible, depending on the circumstances.

And finally, joining a company and advancing to the controller position (there may be several controller positions in existence – plant controllers, regional controllers, corporate controller, etc.) may be a more natural career path for you since a controller position is often defined as the chief accounting officer in an organization (title may vary but the responsibility and work activity is essentially the same). As has been said earlier in this thread, a controller can be a major decision maker / business leader in a smaller organization or just in charge of all accounting and financial reporting activities in larger company.

As in many other career paths, there are several options open and you will need to carefully evaluate them, including the risks taken with every career move, vs. goals and desires.

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

Many accountants move from CPA firms to industry, as controllers, FP&A, CFO's, and other postions. Who have you been dealing with among your clients' staff with on your audit assignments? Typically, the Controller is in charge of supervising the A/P, A/R, maybe inventory control functions, maybe payroll, and in charge of the accountants who prepare the financial statements and similar reporting. Bigger companies have Treasury staff to manage cash movements, raising capital, investing short term cash; internal audit; and FP&A and Budget staff. The CFO overseas all of this. Much of my professional career has been in FP&A and budget - an excellent way to learn about the whole company! The CMA exam (full disclosure - it is where I work) is well suited to help a CPA move from outside auditor to any of these industry roles.

Anonymous
(CEO) |

I believe it would be a wise move Should you already have north of 3-4 years in Big4 audit already....don't recommend anyone leaving before this minimum time period for any reason. That said the FP&A role would be a great next step as this is a value add type role and all else are commodity in nature...with exception to tax, treasury, controller.

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

I am not sure I agree with the above post from Director, Performance Improvement. Some people have excellent careers in FP&A with NO audit experience (I am one; I know many others). If the original poster is just starting with his CPA firm, but hates it, is not doing well in it, maybe he should get out right away. Of course a junior auditor learns what makes companies successful, but so do junior accountants and junior financial analysts working on FP&A staffs. Or company accounting staffs, or other corporate accounting-type positions.

Mayuresh Deosthale
Title: CFO
Company: Quality Kiosk Technologies Private Limit..
(CFO, Quality Kiosk Technologies Private Limited) |

Big4 working in assurance division to FP&A not possible. Reasons being Skills set acquired in audit and required in FP&A different. You have a better chance if you are part of Advisory team in big 4 especially driving/being part of team doing due diligence(buy/sell - M&A) as it develops business understanding and financial modelling skills essential for success in FP&A.

Looking at your goal though of becoming a CFO eventually, would suggest you move into industry in a team managing role on the Statutory and regulatory reporting side(audit exp. will make you acceptable in that role in industry) and then make a gradual move to FP&A. Because as CFO you will need variety of skills including FP&A !!

Thanks

James Scott
Title: Consulting CFO
Company: Early Growth Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Consulting CFO, Early Growth Financial Services) |

Use your audit experience to get a Controller position and leverage that up to CFO. Get some operating experience, not FP&A. Consider an MBA track, get involved in operations and IT. A Controller manages accounting, controls and related reporting. From that position you can understand a business better than anyone else, and know the financial drivers best, and results first.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Don't waste the Big 4 experience. If you really like analysis and is really targeting the CFO role.....get the CFA license. It opens up a lot more markets for you. You can go into industry and most importantly, Investment Banking (Private Equity). From what I am seeing, the IB/PE route is a lot faster. They will however work you to the ground. I have seen Senior Analysts jump to the CFO position (and also CEO ...can you say Burger King?) of portfolio companies. Maybe along the way, you can get your MBA. This however is a much more unconventional and from what I am seeing, and if you are really exceptional,...... a faster route.

Admittedly, I question this approach and generally have reservations on the qualifications of these CFOs on an operational level and I have a general view that they are biased to financial reingeneering. But hey.....they got there! And I also don't want to generalize.

If you want the conventional route, get your MBA and aim for a Controller position in the near term.

Anonymous
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis) |

I recently moved into an FP&A manager role and had to build my team. Big 4 experience was certainly a strong plus (almost requirement) I looked for from my analysts. I personally don't have that experience, but value it in an FP&A function.

At the very core, a solid FP&A professional needs to have a solid understanding of how the financial statements work together. Obviously there are many ways to gain that knowledge and experience, but a few years auditing virtually guarantees it. It gives a hiring manager a warm fuzzy feeling inside!

In short, Big 4 should work as an asset to get you into FP&A if that is the path you want, and not pigeon hole you. Depending on your experience, if you plan to go the FP&A route, try to get a "financial analyst" type role under your belt. For me, that combination put candidates for Sr. FP&A roles at the top of the pile.

Good Luck!

Harold D. Tamayo
Title: Vice President of Finance
Company: MHA Inc., a Roper Technologies Company
LinkedIn Profile
(Vice President of Finance, MHA Inc., a Roper Technologies Company) |

In my opinion, it is always difficult to make a transition from audit to accounting to FP&A. However, Big 4 experience is very well respected and you can get a glance at its importance by looking at F&A job requisitions and how often they state "preferred or must have Big 4 experience." The goal for you, I believe, is to get into a company and then find a way to get into an FP&A assignment or taking FP&A projects in order to qualify for an FP&A role. Keep in mind though, that no one is an expert in every aspect of the CFO role. As it has been pointed out, some CFOs might have been investment bankers or M&A experts, FP&A experts, economists or previous audit partners, etc. Every company has a unique need for a type of CFO depending on its growth cycle and issues. In my view, the goal is to get as many experiences as you can in order to compete for a CFO spot including line management roles.

Lily Teo
Title: Head of Department
Company: EHL
(Head of Department, EHL) |

Anything is possible if you have determination. I agree that it is best to obtain 3-5 years with the Firm. I personally move from audit to corporate finance advisory (M&A, due diligence, valuation, etc.) after 5 years in audit within the firm, and pursued CFA and Master degree at the same time. My path was rather unconventional, and it may not likely be the fastest route. If you are willing to do what it takes and hone the required skills along the way, it is possible.

As a Rothmans FM said a long time, when he was in KMPG, he volunteered for anything in order to cram all learnings within 3 or so years. He did the same when he first joined Rothmans and climbed up the ladder accordingly.

I agree that current CFO of large biz usually have FP&A, M&A and operational values beside accounting. How do you obtain this? SME is a well-rounded accounting role. Large biz provide avenue to advance career without moving around. You may consider starting in FP&A or controller post, then moving on to volunteer for any projects especially when there is short of hands - acquisition, system migration, integration of offshore subsidiary, etc. To be a trusted confidant of CEO, operational exposure and strategic thinking are required, and hence, MBA and/or consulting exposure lends credibility.

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