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Accounting and Finance Careers

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were a reported 1,332,700 accountants and auditors in 2014.1 By 2024, there will be 1,475,100, an increase of 11%, which outpaces the overall growth average across all projected jobs categories in the US.1 Adding to this positive trend, many will retire by 2024 as 544,200 openings will come from replacement hiring.1 That replacement rate is significantly higher than the overall US average projected for the same period, and bodes well for those entering and advancing in this field. It is a better-than-average, expanding field with a wave of projected retirements pending that will combine to see 142,400 new hires by 2024.1

This page covers advanced accounting careers first and then advanced finance careers after. Accessing the more advanced career paths come through some combination of the following:

  • Pursuit of an advanced degree such as Master’s in Accounting or an MBA with a concentration in Accounting or Finance
  • Pursuit of certifications like a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).
  • Experience and advancement from time in the profession.

Accounting Careers

Accountants who earn a graduate accounting degree and pass the CPA exam will find a greater range promising of career options. A CPA credential is required when filing tax returns for corporations, while not required for filing for individuals. The credential is favored for many reasons since in most states it requires a rigorous combination of education, experience and passage of a challenging exam along with required education upkeep. The CPA designation can help you stand out when applying for a competitive position, as well as help you get promoted into a management position. Many CPAs have opened their own accounting firms or advanced in corporations to the position of chief financial officer, controller, COO or CEO. There are also opportunities to work for the FBI or other law enforcement agencies investigating fraud, tax evasion, and different financial crimes.

The following provides a summary of top careers in accounting and notes if a master’s degree is required, preferred or improves compensation:

Public Accounting

Certified Public Accountant (CPA) This is the title of an accountant who has passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. To maintain CPA status, ongoing tests and other state-level requirements are usually required. Accountants prepare financial statements, file taxes and do a host of other financial and business planning services.

“Get good as grades-many firms have a GPA cut-offs. Use an internship as an entry to a firm, as well as a skill builder.”
-Donald P. Danner, CPA, CGMA, is the Assistant Professor of Accounting at Dunham School of Business at Aurora University and Chair of the Missouri Society of Certified Public Accountants
J. Michael Kirkland, CPA, CGM New York State Society of CPAs, tips for becoming an accountant:

  • Don’t be afraid of hard work.
  • Be passionate about your CPA career.
  • Learn to demonstrate your value.
  • Join and become active in your state CPA Society.
  • Separate yourself from the crowd: become a CPA, the Gold Standard.

Auditor

An auditor examines financial statements and processes often with generally accepted accounting principals (GAAP) in mind. They look for potential errors and fraud as they verify information. Auditors work for outside accounting and audit firms or in internal audit departments of large, complex companies. A form of accountant, there are entry level through senior roles. A bachelor’s in accounting is required. Often a master’s degree in business or accounting is needed for senior roles. Many have passed the exam to be a CPA. The BLS reports the median 2015 pay at $67,190 with the top 10% earning $118,930.1

Forensic and Investigative Accountant

Greed, criminal activities, inadequate oversight and/or poorly-conceived incentive schemes can combine to create environments that lead to financial fraud. Lenders and investment banks with perverse incentives preceding the Great Recession too often shunned their fiduciary responsibilities for their own benefit. Criminals launder and embezzle money. Bankruptcies can require investigations. Further, with an aging population, elderly individuals subject to undue influence are increasingly at risk to have their Trust and Estates harmed by self-dealing individuals. To prove financial fraud and misdealing, a study of transactions can be conducted by an accountant to uncover issues as part of a larger effort to identify misdeeds and criminal activities. This effort is often done in conjunction with lawyers or law enforcement. Depending on the situation, an accountant or someone with an appropriate financial degree or certification is required. A strong audit function can prevent fraud by improving systems. Compensation is similar to an accountant.

Enrolled Agent

This is a special federally licensed tax profession with expertise on tax matters attained by either being an IRS agent for at least five years or by passing a comprehensive exam and maintaining required education upkeep. Only enrolled agents, attorneys, and CPAs have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers with the IRS. The National Association of Enrolled Agents estimates there are 48,000 Enrolled Agents.

“I would also advise students to study and pass the Enrolled Agents exam. The advantage is that accountants are state licensed and enrolled agents are federally licensed. In other words, when my clients move to another state I not only can continue to prepare their taxes if they wish but I can also continue to represent them before all levels of the IRS. Accountants can only do so within the state in which they are licensed.”
-Julianne Molek, EA, is the President of the Wisconsin Society of Enrolled Agents

Personal Financial Planner

This profession advises people on financial decisions such as investments and insurance needs. According to the BLS, one needs a bachelor’s degree to become a personal financial advisor and a master’s degree often improves earnings or prospects for employment. The BLS notes the median pay at $89,160 as of 2015.2

Corporate Accounting

Financial Manager

A financial manager’s role varies on the type and size of an organization, which can include small to large businesses including financial institutions. Functions underneath a manager include being a controller, credit analysis, risk analysis, and cash management. The manager progresses in his or her career path through one of these organizations. Tasks include overseeing budget development, reporting, compliance, collection and strategic planning. The head of the finance organization is the Chief Financial Officer in a sufficiently big enterprise. According to the BLS, in 2015, the median salary was $117,990.3 A master’s degree in accounting, MBA or equivalent experience is more likely required as the size of the organization grows.

Controller

A financial manager that oversees accounting procedures, reporting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll.

Budget Analyst

A budget analyst is tasked with monitoring and reporting on a company’s financial budget. They may be involved with reviewing budget proposals, monitoring company spending, and making budget recommendations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $71,590 for budget analysts in 2015.4

Cost Accountant

A cost accountant plays an important role within an organization by providing cost information to managers to help them develop product and business strategies, evaluate the value or process chain, and measure progress towards meeting goals and objectives. For example, it can be incredibly difficult and analytically challenging to estimate product costs in complex operations like automotive manufacturing due to the need to allocate fixed and variable expenses to certain lines. A cost accountant would conduct this type of analysis, for example, by looking at the right way to attribute plant energy costs to a certain model by allocating by headcount, units produced or some other factor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $67,190 for accountants and auditors in 2015.1 Advancement to senior positions will be helped by a master’s degree.

Accounts Receivable/ Payable Manager

These staff accountants are in charge of tracking and managing payments due to the company and payments owed to vendors. They fulfill an important role of reporting on the company cash flow to ensure that the company has the fuel it needs to operate. They will work in conjunction with senior staff on tactical issues (e.g., slow payments and non-payment on key accounts) and strategic issues (e.g., the need for credit lines to avoid cash crunches). Salary is similar to other accountants noted already.

Tax Planner

A tax planner helps individuals or companies to develop a tax strategy that takes advantage of tax saving opportunities while minimizing tax risks. This work can extend into Trust and Estate planning matters in cases of individuals.

Job Outlook for Accountants

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that US jobs for accountants and auditors will grow by 11% from 2014-2024.1 As mentioned earlier on this page, the replacement rate for accounting positions is significantly higher than the US average and there will be 142,400 new hires by 2024.1 Accounting is a vital job functions for businesses and government agencies large and small. The importance of accounting means that there is a constant demand for accounting professionals throughout the country.

The Four Largest Accounting Firms in the World

  1. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
  2. PricewaterhouseCoopers
  3. Ernst & Young
  4. KPMG

More Accounting Job Resources

Additional Resources for Accounting Careers

IRS.gov – The IRS is continually recruiting accounting graduates to join their team in roles such as internal revenue agent, tax specialist, and tax examiner.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) – An interactive resource for students to find out the going rate of pay, local trends, conferences, and professional development opportunities.

Top 50 Accountants on Twitter – Follow these leaders in the accounting community for insights into the accounting field.

Top Accounting Blogs

Our list of top accounting blogs provides insights into the work of current accounting professionals as well as news on the latest changes and issues in the accounting field.

Finance Careers

A master’s degree in finance can open many doors and differentiate you from other candidates for competitive jobs. Graduates work in various areas including asset management, investment banking, portfolio analysis, commercial banking, corporate finance, and commercial real estate. Organizations that hire MSF grads include government agencies, banks, mortgage companies, and corporations. Some examples of jobs that graduates are well positioned for include budget analyst, financial manager, loan underwriter, investment banker, and portfolio analyst. Venture capital, private equity, and hedge funds are areas of the finance industry where master’s in finance graduates can find employment.

Here are select finance careers with notes if a master’s is required, preferred, or improves compensation:

Corporate Finance

Financial Analyst

Financial analyst is a broad term that includes several finance careers that provide investment recommendations including fund managers, rating analysts, junior investment bankers and portfolio managers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for financial analysts at $80,310 as of May 2015.5

Cash Manager

Cash managers are in charge of tracking cash flow and making future projections to determine if capital is needed for business operations or investments. The BLS reports that financial managers (including cash managers) earned a median salary of $117,990 as of 2015.3

Credit Manager

The credit manager is responsible for managing the credit that is given to customers which can involve setting credit limits and determining credit worthiness. Compensation is similar to other financial managers. Earnings for credit managers are similar to other financial managers.

Investment Manager

An investment manager oversees a portfolio of securities and assets with the goal of meeting investment goals. Some investment managers work at large investment firms with thousands of employees and over $100 million in assets under management.6

Investor Relations Manager

Investor relations managers are responsible for raising shareholder capital and enabling effective communication between the company and the financial community.

Payroll Manager

The payroll manager is responsible for management of employee compensation including wages and bonuses. They also manage employment payroll records that are required by the federal government.

Commercial and Investment Banking

Commercial Lender

A commercial lender analyzes and makes recommendations for approval of applications for business loans. They verify financial documents to determine the ability of the company to repay a loan. If the loan is too large, they may to work with multiple banks to put together a package of loans.

Trust Manager

A trust manager oversees a corporate or municipal trust. A corporate trust can be established with the goal of issuing corporate bonds to the public.

Private Banker

A financial advisor to high net-worth professionals who manages client portfolios. They often consult financial analysts and accountants at the bank to develop complex investment strategies.

Investment Banker

Investment bankers assist clients with high level financial activities like taking a company public, running a private auction, issuing bonds, recapitalizing and corporate mergers. 80 hour weeks are typical but the long hours can pay off with very high compensation if successful.

Venture Capitalist

Venture capitalists typically work at a venture capital firm where they evaluate early stage companies that are seeking investment. They review business plans and financial information to help decide which companies will can provide very high returns for their clients or become the next Google or Facebook. It is often said that for every ten investments by a VC firm, they hope for one star, a couple moderate successes and seven failures. Note that some firms known as Private Equity firms focus on making bets on companies with some early success and they often lever up with debt to buy these firms with the hope of seeing 4x their investment in four to five years. Some private equity firms specialize in turnarounds and may be the firms tagged as vulture capitalists by media.

Hedge Fund Manager

Hedge fund managers oversee a private investment pool and executes investment strategies to earn a positive return. They are often the founder of the fund and key person in charge of the fund which can range in size from $1 million to $10 billion.7 Salaries of hedge fund managers can be extremely high and are based on the performance of the fund. The most successful hedge fund manager can earn $4 billion in a single year.8

Risk Manager

A risk manager uses investment strategies to minimize the chances of financial loss, especially due to currency and commodity price fluctuations.

Insurance

Claims Analyst

Claims analysts review claims to determine if it is eligible for reimbursement and ensures payment accuracy.

Underwriting Agent

Insurance underwriters review insurance applications to determine whether to offer insurance and the price to charge for coverage. Insurance underwriters earn a median annual salary of $65,040 as of May 2015 according to the BLS.9

Actuary

Actuaries analyze risk using math and financial theory to help a company make pricing or financial decisions. They ensure prices for insurance are set to a level that will cover all claims and return a profit. Advancement in this career is dependent on passing a series of actuarial exams which require a significant amount of preparation. The BLS reports that actuaries earn a median wage of $97,070 and the top 10% earned more than $180,500 per year as of May 2015.10

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Accountants-and-auditors.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Personal Financial Advisors: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Managers: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm
4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Budget Analysts: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm
5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Analysts: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm
6. Travers, Frank J. Investment Manager Analysis. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
7. Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-best-paid-us-hedge-fund-managers-take-home-13-billion–2016-5
8. Vault Editors. The MBA Career Bible. New York: Vault Inc, 2006.
9. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Insurance Underwriters: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/insurance-underwriters.htm
10. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Actuaries: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm