by Barret Daniels

Breaking Down the CAO Role - A Conversation with Angelina Hendraka, Amy Garefis, and Wendy Zheng

Most accountants are forward-thinkers—looking beyond where they are and towards where they could go. So what does this mean for moving up a leadership career path?

Often, the first step is taking on leadership roles within an accounting team. From there, an accountant can become a controller, embracing a larger role in supervising and shaping the operations of the accounting department.

And beyond that? At the very peak of the mountain? Lies the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) role.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what a CAO is, how you can prepare yourself to step into that role, and what the relationship between CAOs and CFOs looks like.

What is a CAO?

A CAO is an executive that focuses on company-level strategy. They move beyond daily operations, giving the accounting department a seat at the executive table and involving someone with accounting expertise in long-term, strategic, company-wide decision-making.

CAOs also participate in deliberations at the highest level of an organization as a subject matter expert (SME), bringing technical knowledge of accounting to bear on the relevant strategic business decisions and financial planning decisions the company will face.

How can I prepare myself to become a CAO?

If you’re interested in becoming a CAO, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself:

  • Develop an understanding of what other teams and departments are doing in your organization.
  • Look for opportunities to participate in cross-functional activities.
  • Put yourself forward as an accounting SME who can weigh in on decisions before you have a formal title.
  • Look for ways to add value beyond your accounting team.


Moving up to CAO is a fluid process and often begins with your own initiative.

The Relationship Between CAOs and CFOs

Many firms are just now creating or promoting accountants into CAO roles, which often begs the question: What is the relationship between CAOs and CFOs?

Usually, the CAO reports directly to the CFO. They bring an accounting perspective to the financial decisions a company needs to make. While CAOs still primarily speak for the accounting department, the CFO position is becoming increasingly broad, sometimes extending into new territory, such as IT.

As CAO’s become more common and companies distinguish this work from that of a controller, new opportunities at the C-suite level are opening up for experienced accountants looking to make broad, strategic contributions to their company.

Angelina Hendraka (CAO at PowerSchool)
Amy Garefis (CAO at ZipRecruiter)
Wendy Zheng (CAO at OneTrust)
Play Video about Podcast The Chief Accounting Officer Role

Interested in learning more?

Listen to the entire podcast (E20: The Chief Accounting Officer Role) here:

About Gappify

Gappify, founded in 2016, is a cloud-based provider of accrual automation solutions for mid-market and enterprise accounting teams. The company is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Berkeley, California, Washington DC, and Manila, Philippines.

Its team consists of accountants and CPA’s from Big Four accounting firms and software innovators. Gappify is also supported by strategic advisors from some of the world’s most recognized technology companies and is affiliated with the top companies & accounting organizations.

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