What Is the Highest Rank in Accounting?

While the underlying principles of accounting are the same in many organizations, the person at the top of the organizational chart can be quite different. Accountants in management are known by different titles depending on the type and size of the organization. Know the highest-ranking accounting officers in your firm to help you set your sights on the top.


For public accountancy firms, the highest-ranking accountant is the partner. The partner has "bought in" to the partnership and has an equity stake in the company. In larger accounting firms, there may be many partners with differing levels of responsibility and clout. However, each owns at least some of the company. In smaller firms, there may be only one or two partners, and decision-making is often conducted by committee.

Chief Financial Officer

For larger publicly traded companies, the top accountant is usually the chief financial officer. The CFO is responsible for the overall financial function of a company, as well as any external reporting and regulatory requirements. Because of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the scope of this responsibility is large, and CFOs who knowingly sign off on misstated financial statements can face prison time and large fines. This high risk usually translates into high rewards, making CFOs among the highest-compensated business people in an organization.

Controller/Accounting Manager

In companies that do not have a CFO, the controller or accounting manager is usually the highest-ranking accountant. The controller is responsible for the day-to-day accounting of a company. The specifics of this position vary from company to company, but most controller or accounting manager positions consists of two main job objectives. The controller serves to review accounting work performed by subordinates. In addition, the controller prepares and researches accounting treatments for one-off or complex accounting transactions.

Chairman of the SEC

The Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is one of the highest-ranked accountants in the country, if not the world. SEC chairman is not your typical accounting job. He oversees the agency that ensures that U.S. capital markets are conducted in a fair, orderly and fully transparent way. The commission does this by setting rules and regulations that govern how accountants do their jobs and how companies interact with investors. In addition, the enforcement division of the commission ensures compliance with these rules.