CFOs, CPAs, and Bookkeepers: Getting the Right Kind of Financial Help

Team of professionals looking at a presentation

Below is a recent conversation I had with one of our long-term, entrepreneurial clients:

Client: So, one of my friends has just found out that the individual managing the finance and accounting operation for her organization made several pretty significant oversights. She asked me for a bit of advice.

Robin: Sorry to hear about your colleague’s experience. I hope it wasn’t too difficult to unwind and repair.

Client: Well, it will require a good bit to repair the tax liens for missed payroll, the incorrectly prepared accounting records that are confusing, and my friend can’t read them.  My friend said to me…overall, John is a great accountant, so I just don’t get how all these things happened.  And, if they were such a great accountant, wouldn’t they be a CPA?

Robin: I couldn’t agree more! The right person for the right seat.  It can be very costly for organizations that choose not to build proper supervision of the accounting function.  The most qualified accountant is likely to have their CPA (Certified Professional Accountant) credential, and not every accountant has that certification, nor are they required to. While it may not seem like a lot, those three letters can represent the difference between accounting oversights and smooth sailing.  Let your friend know they are welcome to call me if they have a few questions.

The above conversation is not uncommon in my line of work. Typically when I speak to prospective clients, there is a lack of understanding of the various accounting functions, especially the vast difference between Accounting Clerks, CPAs, and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs).

If you’re unsure of the differences between these three roles and how they should function within your organization, this article is for you. Let’s get into it.

What Are The Different Accounting Roles Within An Organization?

Without understanding the various roles within the accounting functions, an organization won’t know when the time is right to obtain assistance from a more senior CFO role instead of an accounting clerk, or bookkeeper.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)

The primary accounting functions required for most small businesses include a senior financial role, usually provided by an accountant who can work without any supervision. Compared to your everyday run-of-the-mill accountants, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) have additional education and have fulfilled stringent requirements to be licensed by the state. Therefore, a CPA exists to provide the supervision a business needs. 

They also have continuing education requirements that keep them up to date on the latest regulations and must adhere to specific ethical requirements. CPAs review a company’s financial records quarterly or annually and give management a big-picture perspective. They are the only ones who can perform audits for publicly held businesses. CPA duties can include: 

  • Tax advice and tax planning
  • Financial projections for the business’s future
  • Oversight and recommendations regarding company spending


CFOs and CPAs aren’t interchangeable, although both perform essential functions in running a successful company. A CFO uses industry knowledge, experience, and tactics to focus on planning and executing an all-encompassing growth strategy. In addition, they serve as a visionary for your business, (or even a wedding if you’d like) pursuing its long-term success.

On the other hand, small business accountants usually focus on shorter-term tactical actions that improve current results. They primarily find and correct inefficiencies and mistakes that have a near-term effect on the business, rarely focusing on a long-term perspective.

Do CFOs Need to Have Their CPA Certification?

Although CFOs don’t need to be licensed as CPAs, that credential ensures that a CFO has in-depth financial expertise.

In addition, many CFOs also hold the CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant) designation, which is granted after a participant completes a course of financial leadership study and passes a rigorous exam. CGMA helps finance professionals become strategic business partners and advisers to other departments in the business.

If you think you might need the help of a financial professional, contact KBS CFO. We serve clients in Montgomery County, Frederick County, Washington DC, and all over the country. Still not sure? Learn whether to know if your business is ready for a virtual CFO.