Accounting, or the recording, management and analysis of financial records, is an integral feature of virtually every sector of modern enterprise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. economy supported 1.2 million accountants in 2010, and that’s no surprise: accountants can be found across all industries, helping everyone from individuals and small business owners to the federal government balance the books.
And that’s not all accountants do. With their specialized knowledge of budgeting, tax law, payroll accounting and business finance, accountants perform the indispensable task of insuring that businesses and individuals manage revenue profitably but legally. As the economy stabilizes and businesses acclimate to new federal financial regulatory reform, accountants are increasingly necessary to the management and oversight of capital reinvestment in technology, human resources and long-term growth.
Careers in Accounting
The BLS projects a 16% growth rate in employment opportunities for accountants from 2010 to 2020, a total of 190,700 new jobs. Many specialties exist within the field of accountancy; the following is a brief selection of possible careers for accounting degree holders.
- Public accountants record and manage all financial documentation that companies and individuals are required by law to publically disclose, such as taxes and balance statements.
- Certified public accountants (CPA’s) are expert public accountants who have acquired 30 hours of advanced study in accounting, approximate to a Master’s degree, and passed the rigorous four-part CPA exam. CPA’s are in particularly high demand nationwide and can expect top earnings and salary prospects.
- Management accountants prepare and manage all internal business financial documentation, or that which companies are not required to make publically available.
- Forensic accountants are proficient not just in accounting, but also business law, and they work on the identification, investigation and evaluation of financial crimes, such as tax fraud.
- Auditors work independently or for auditing firms and perform regular analyses of a business’s or individual’s financial documentation in order to insure compliance with applicable regulation and law. Internal auditors perform the same duties but are employed directly by the companies they audit.
- Government accountants are responsible for all the financial paperwork either produced by government or subject to government oversight. They may work for individuals, private companies or municipal, state or federal branches.
- Investment accountants conduct, supervise and advise on the financial activities and documentation pertinent to a company’s or individual’s investment portfolio, which may include stocks, bonds, real estate and other financial products.
- Loan officers review and evaluate loan applications within a bank, credit union, mortgage company or other service provider; many loan officers also recommend acceptance or rejection of the applications they review.
- Accounting clerks are record-keepers who perform large amounts of data entry and related calculations. Accounting clerks often specialize in certain areas, such as accounts payable, expenditures or payroll.
Accounting Salary Potential
Accountants nationwide brought home a median wage of just under $62,000 as of May 2010, reports BLS. The top 10% of earners netted close to $107,000, while the bottom 10% earned less than roughly $39,000—still more than the national median wage of about $34,000 across all occupations at the same point in time.
As in most professions, education and advanced certification correlate with higher salary potential for accountants; likewise, the more professional experience an accountant acquires, the higher the salary he or she can expect to enjoy.
BLS salary and employment data are compiled from a wide variety of employers across the nation and are not necessarily indicative of regional market conditions, given disparities in employer size, type and location. Future students are encouraged to conduct further independent research into local market conditions.
Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in accounting is typically required for entry-level positions in the field, and enrollment in the right degree program is a solid first step toward a career in accountancy.
While many programs offer specializations within the major, almost all accounting degree candidates are required to study certain foundational subject areas, such as financial accounting and tax law. Core coursework typically includes practice with data entry and financial management software; budget-setting, bookkeeping and cost accounting; and tax filing and reporting. Classes in business or information systems, marketing, auditing, statistics and business management are also the norm, while students, via elective study or formal concentration, may be able to explore specialty topics like forensic accounting or corporate tax law.
In addition to the CPA, various accounting certifications exist to help accountants compete for top prospects. The Certified Management Accountant (CMA), conferred by the Institute of Management Accountants, is the internal accounting equivalent of the CPA and can be obtained by accountants with at least two years of professional experience who pass an exam. Similarly, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) confers the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) on accountants with five years’ experience auditing information systems and passing scores on an exam.
Is Accountancy the Right Career Field for You?
Accounting is potentially a lucrative field, ideally suited to those with high integrity and an eye for detail. The work is sometimes repetitive and always demands precision and mathematical aptitude. Accountants often perform with little to no supervision and must be motivated self-starters who don’t mind working mostly with numbers. Strong business and professional ethics are required, as accountants are regularly entrusted with sensitive financial information and access to large sums.
Anyone interested in becoming an accountant should consider enrolling in a bachelor’s program in accounting. Many top universities now offer hybrid or exclusively online programs for working parents and professionals, putting a rewarding career in a growing field within reach for everyone who loves to work with numbers.