The roles that professional accountants play in ensuring an organization’s financial stability cannot be overemphasized. Accountants create and maintain various systems for recording and reporting finances, as well as explaining and verifying their accounting facts and figures. The benefits of accounting to the financial health of a company or organization stems from the accountants’ ability to craft a numerical snapshot of an entity’s current standing, and predict with professional insight what’s to come financially in the short and long term.
The information collected and analyzed by accountants provides indispensable information about a company’s financial status, helping to identify strengths, address weaknesses, and provide information that helps determine an organization’s success or failure.
For those who think crunching numbers, predicting financial outcomes, and creating business plans sounds like a rewarding and interesting career, there are several accounting-related positions to explore. These included a certified public accountant (CPA), auditor, and accounting manager. Each of these careers has unique work, education, and licensing requirements — all of which can be gained during pursuit of an advanced college degree.
Certified Public Accountant
Earning a CPA certification is a mark of distinction, meaning certified public accountants are viewed as having the highest level of knowledge and competence in the accounting field. Professional CPAs are licensed by a state board of accountancy. Before licensing, however, candidates must meet educational standards, pass the rigorous Uniform CPA Exam, complete a set amount of general accounting experience, and meet all state-mandated licensing requirements.
In a study conducted in part by the American Institute of CPAs, 450 finance and accounting professionals were asked what they believed were the seven top skills CPAs should cultivate. Their answers included:
- Management and leadership strength
- Public speaking competence
- Up-to-date tax knowledge
- Business expertise
- Systems abilities
- Communication mastery
- Additional auditing training
According to information from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, CPAs who earn a graduate degree and pursue additional certifications earn between 5 and 15 percent more than their peers.
An auditor is primarily responsible for examining and preparing an organization’s financial records. This includes ensuring that all relevant taxes, payments, and employee payrolls are paid. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), auditors are only required to earn a bachelor’s degree, but many professionals elect to earn specific certifications. This includes becoming a Certified Internal Auditor via licensure from the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Such certification works to increase the credibility of an accountant, is a sign of advanced professional knowledge, and shows a higher-level commitment to the industry as a whole. Additionally, the IIA claims in its research that certification earns auditors an average of $38,000 more per year than those without the certification.
The IIA also identifies seven “prized attributes” possessed by effective auditors. Those include:
- The ability to manage change well
- Desire to serve others
- Ability to work with diverse groups
- A global mindset
The IIA, in its industry report, states that “technical skills remain absolutely necessary, but they are no longer sufficient on their own. The most effective ‘internal auditor of the future’ possesses a broad range of non-technical attributes in addition to deep technical expertise.”
There are different career paths that can lead to becoming an accounting manager, but all of them require high levels of education. A bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting is necessary, and a master’s degree is required for many management positions. According to Robert Half, the professional services and staffing firm, employers also often seek at least five years of experience, and may require advanced licensure such as that held by a certified management accountant (CMA) or chartered global management accountant (GCMA).
Accounting managers are generally responsible for a team of accountants, and report to a company’s chief financial officer or controller. Typical duties of an accounting manager include:
- Preparing and reviewing ledgers and reconciliations
- Maintaining the general ledger
- Preparing financial statements
- Assisting with regulatory reporting
- Researching accounting issues for compliance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles)
- Overseeing the budgeting process
- Hiring, training, and supervising accounting staff
While each of the three careers examined in this article have their own set of skills and job requirements, many of the same themes can be seen in all three. Earning a master’s degree in accounting helps with developing interpersonal and leadership skills, building communication skills, and improving analytical thinking and problem solving — all abilities that employers value.
Whether you choose to become a CPA, auditor, or accounting manager, the benefits of an accounting education can serve to increase employability and expand opportunities in the finance industry.
A complete and accurate accounting system — driven by a knowledgeable accounting professional — is crucial for any business or nonprofit entity that wants to provide value. Organizations must have a clear picture of their fiscal health and financial dealings. They must be able to react to changing market dynamics, tax laws, and financial regulations. They must have the information to make smart financial decisions that work to ensure operational success. A trained accounting professional can play a central role in all of these areas — and beyond.
Find out more about how Ohio University’s online Master of Accountancy program works to prepare students for success as financial professionals.