Who Should Your First Accounting Hire Be: Controller, Senior Accountant, or CFO?

February 15, 2021

Congratulations on successfully establishing your business and beginning operations! Now that you’re up and running, you may be considering your first accounting hire. But, how do you know what position to fill first? How can you be confident that your course of action is the right one? At Aprio, we are often asked, “Do you hire a Senior Accountant to handle daily operations, a Controller to begin building a team, or a seasoned CFO?” It’s safe to say that deciding on the first hire is not met with a one-size-fits-all answer. Rather, thoughtful analysis of your business’s priorities will help you work through this decision-making process. Here are some suggestions to help get you started:

  1. CFO: Thinking about when to hire your CFO? If you need a seasoned professional to steer the financial direction of the organization, start with a CFO. A CFO can help you secure funding, interact closely with banks and investors, review financial results, present financial information to external investors and interact with other external stakeholders. However, most CFOs expect the organization to hire accounting staff to process accounting transactions, assist with reconciliations and other tasks.
  2. Controller: When the financial health of the company does not require external investors and is more internally focused, hiring a controller may be a good place to start. A controller will understand the breadth of the accounting process, including helping to identify an accounting system and implementing internal controls, and drafting accounting policies. A controller may also be more willing to “roll up their sleeves” and do some data entry on their own, especially in the beginning so that they can clearly understand the challenges and work needed to streamline accounting processes. Controllers could have a wide range of skills, experiences and salary ranges, so working with a recruiter to identify candidates can help you find the person with the right level of experience for your business.
  3. Senior Accountant: If you have limited resources or your business’s accounting operations are fairly routine, a senior accountant may be a good first hire. A senior accountant can be a reliable, in-house resource allowing you to transfer over day-to-day operations to a qualified individual smoothly. Consider selecting someone with experience in the accounting software your company uses. Since a senior accountant may not be as seasoned as a CFO, you could also consider a hybrid solution by working with an outsourced CFO on a more limited basis, such as monthly or quarterly. An outsourced CFO could review the senior accountant’s work, giving you the peace of mind that your finances and financial statements are timely and accurate.

As you move through this process, know that identifying your objectives and balancing your needs with your resources will help your organization grow while providing the accounting and finance support your business requires to be successful. Happy hiring!

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