April 07, 2021

How the CAO’s Role is Evolving in Today’s New Normal

4-minute read

Although the role of the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) has already been evolving over the last several years, the pandemic put a unique spotlight on accounting and finance (A&F) operations and accelerated the expanding responsibilities of the CAO.

As companies continue adjust to today’s new normal, CAOs have an opportunity to advance their careers and become a valued business partner with a perpetual seat at the table.

Recently, KPMG conducted a survey of 229 CAOs and their functional equivalents who shared observations about their changing and growing roles. This blog summarizes the key findings and important topics from KPMG’s CAO rising report.

The Shift to Strategic Business Partnering

The expansion of the CAO function began with the need to implement new accounting standards, which pushed CAOs to work directly with other business units affected by the new rules. Now, with the CEO focused on business continuity and hybrid workplace strategies, and the CFO occupied with managing cash liquidity, CAOs are being tasked with business transformation projects beyond technical accounting guidance and compliance activities.

When asked how they see their responsibilities evolving, CAOs said they expect time spent on transformation work to increase by 18% and time spent partnering with business leaders to increase by 14%. They also expect to see a decrease in time spent on compliance matters and transactions.

CAOs are being tasked with transformation projects and partnering with the business because A&F input is needed, according to 62% of survey respondents. Additionally, 69% of CAOs said that their expertise is critical for supporting increasingly complex transformations and ongoing changes in business strategy.

An Opportunity for CAOs to Step Up

To take on these new responsibilities, CAOs must make their day-to-day run more efficiently, elevate the capabilities of their teams, and work to fill gaps in their own skillsets.

To make time, CAOs need to streamline A&F and automate core month-end close processes. This will also lead to more real-time reporting to inform strategic decision-making, understand the operations of other business units, and demonstrate that A&F is seamlessly embedded within the goals of the organization.

CAOs realize that technology will be a key contributor to their success. When asked which skills will grow to become more relevant in one to two years, survey respondents indicated that the biggest change will be the demand for CAOs to acquire data and analytics skills and boost their knowledge of technology.

Additionally, CAOs also need to consider how to take on transformation work given constraints—68% of respondents expect to work within existing budgets, which puts a strain on already stretched resources. This can also have a negative impact on the timeline of transformation projects.

To meet these resource challenges, CAOs will need to lead a successful digital transformation of A&F, which will undoubtedly save time and resources for value-added initiatives.

Modernizing Accounting & Finance

To find time to focus on more strategic activities and become a true partner to the business, CAOs need to make the A&F department more efficient and effective. A true enabler to business transformation is modern accounting—automating routine month-end close activities such as reconciliations, review and approval workflows, and unifying data for reporting.

CAOs have an opportunity to empower their teams with the tools, technology, and training to streamline manual accounting processes and then extend their learnings and recommendations for improving the organization at large.

Listen in on a panel discussion from A&F transformation leaders, KPMG and BlackLine to learn more about how the CAO role is evolving and what you can do to elevate your role and your business.

Sonia Chu
Senior Product Marketing Manager

Future of Work