Career Overview: Certified Public Accountant

What They Do

Accountants analyze data relating to costs and profits in order to ensure that businesses and organizations are running efficiently and cost-effectively. Certified public accountants (CPAs) are accountants who have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and have met the specific state and local requirements required to operate. A CPA can work in a variety of industries and have a range of responsibilities. Some specific career paths for CPAs include technology, government and insurance. Governmental organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sometimes hire CPAs to inquire into potential financial criminal activity. This is called forensic accounting.

 

The main task of a CPA is to work with a business’s financial documents, such as tax forms and balance sheet statements. This allows them to either disclose this information or consult with the organization concerning tax advantages, business decisions and other financial topics. CPAs generally have their own businesses or work for accounting firms. It’s important to note that CPAs are required to sign documents that publicly traded companies submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission. This includes annual and quarterly reports. A CPA can also work with technology companies and developers in order to consult them on computerized bookkeeping systems.

Career Growth

Because CPAs have the ability to set their own terms of employment through opportunities like consulting as well as part-time and full-time work, their career paths can go a number of different ways. An accountant can find employment in many different industries, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that these positions will grow at pace with the national average over the next several years. Because of the health of the small business sector, changing financial regulations and the complexity of both federal and international tax systems, highly skilled CPAs continue to be in demand.

Salary Potential

The BLS reports that certified public accountants make an average of $63,550 a year. However, the average salary of a CPA depends on the industry or field where he or she works. A CPA working for a finance or insurance company, for example, makes more than $66,000 a year, while one who works for a government agency (such as the FBI) makes around $61,000. Most CPAs work for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services. These accountants make an average annual salary of almost $64,000.

Education Required

CPAs who have earned a master’s degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), are offered higher starting salaries than colleagues who have only a bachelor’s degree. Generally, CPAs can expect their salary and position to rise in four to six years of employment. Many certified public accountants start their careers after they have earned a bachelor’s degree in fields such as business administration, accounting and finance or economics. However, many employers look for CPAs that hold MBAs as well as have at least a few years of accounting experience. Course work that can be applied to a career as a CPA includes managerial accounting, managerial economics, financial management, organizational behavior, and international accounting and reporting.

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