Accountants in family firms: a systematic literature review

Sandgren, M., Uman, T., Nordqvist, M.

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The purpose of this article is to review the body of the literature on the role of individual accountants in the context of family firms, synthesize the findings, outline directions for future research, and to present an integrative framework that summarizes these directions.

The study utilizes a systematic literature review approach and is guided by three overarching questions related to the field’s development, a reflection on current state-of-the-art research, and an outlook for the field’s future paths. The questions are answered through the mapping and analysis of 39 key articles over a 20-year period. We show central patterns in theory, data, methods, and findings.

Our review reveals that the literature is scattered, and that the role of accountants is found to be context dependent. In existing research, an accountant tends to have the roles of a traditional bean counter, a decision-maker, an advisor, and a protector and mediator. Scholars also show that an accountant influences various organizational outcomes in family firms. The review further reveals that accountants can play a key role in accounting- and strategy-related decisions with impact on family firm’s survival and growth. We offer a map of the research on accountants in family firms and an integrative framework. This work does not only highlight the importance of an accountant’s role in family firms but it also allows us to identify numerous research gaps and a pathway for future research in terms of methods, theories, and models.