Accounting is simultaneously an ancient and modern discipline in the world of business. Investopedia has traced the history of accounting back 10,000 years to Mesopotamia, where the earliest Sumerian accountants kept track of crops and livestock. Their nascent accounting methods facilitated inventory management and trade, eventually leading to tax systems and more complex financial record-keeping strategies adopted by later civilizations.
Today, accountants are likely to track a business’s revenues and expenses and generate financial reports using high-powered accounting software, but their vital importance to the operations of any business remains unchanged. And, given the critical role of the accounting professional, many jobs in the field come with high compensation levels.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that all accountants and auditors earned a median salary of $71,550 in May 2019, with the top 10% of earners making upwards of $124,450. Of course, actual compensation varies based on location, experience level, job duties, and requirements, and different job titles command different salaries. At the very least, the compensation for the typical accounting job will exceed the average salary across all occupations, which the BLS reported as $39,810 in May 2019. But, for top candidates with outstanding abilities, an accounting career can pay handsomely.
If you’re thinking about earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, here are a variety of different career paths to consider — including some of the highest paying accounting jobs on the market.
For someone with quantitative skills, a deep understanding of business operations, and the ability to share these important concepts with others, a career in higher education may be a good fit. An accounting professor is responsible for designing curricula plans and developing course materials such as lectures, assignments, and exams. They must break down complex ideas and accounting principles into manageable components and guide students through the ins and outs of the finance and the business world. Additional responsibilities may include research and service to the university community. This academic appointment is one of the highest paying accounting jobs, although it also requires additional credentials such as a master’s degree in accounting. Salary.com reported that the average accounting professor earned $125,245 as of March 2020, with some seeing compensation in the range of $200,000 to $270,000 per year.
Accounting software developer
Software developers and engineers can specialize in creating accounting programs capable of performing rapid and complex calculations with large amounts of financial data. This position requires accounting experience and knowledge as well as technical skills in software engineering and computer science. Accounting software developers design and maintain user-friendly programs and applications that finance and accounting professionals can use on a daily basis. The average salary for a professional in the accounting software development field was $81,013 in April 2020, according to ZipRecruiter.
Certified Public Accountant
The CPA role is one of the most well-known accounting jobs. Someone working as a Certified Public Accountant can find employment in a company’s finance or accounting department or work for an accounting firm. They can handle a variety of accounting responsibilities from tax filing and auditing to financial record keeping and more. In some instances, a bachelor’s degree in accounting will enable emerging professionals to meet the necessary criteria for the CPA exam and subsequent certification, although a master’s in accounting may be required in other cases. Certified Public Accountants earn $66,053 on average, according to PayScale’s March 2020 data, but have the potential to make a six-figure salary.
Chief financial officer
While the CFO role isn’t typically available to recent graduates, it can be one of the highest paying accounting jobs for professionals with the right amount of work experience, business acumen, and ambition. A chief financial officer is a senior-level executive who oversees all financial activities. They lead a company’s finance department, overseeing financial reporting and tax filing, maintaining compliance with applicable laws and industry regulations, and participating in strategic planning and policy development. Compensation can vary dramatically based on the CFO’s industry and type of employer. PayScale placed the average annual salary of a CFO at $133,300 in March 2020 while Salary.com reported potential earnings between $224,082 and $558,671.
The corporate controller position is another important business leadership role and in some cases will report to the CFO. The controller generally manages a company’s financial activities, organizing and overseeing accounting and reporting processes as well as the management of investments and other assets. It is common for someone to begin as an accounting clerk role and eventually reach the controller position. PayScale reported in April 2020 that the average salary for a corporate controller was $98,080.
A financial analyst or budget analyst is focused on helping companies grow their profitability. Professionals in this role can work at banks, insurance companies, mutual or pension fund management firms, and other businesses in the finance industry. They analyze commodity prices and data from financial statements and review revenues, expenses, and tax regulations to forecast future earnings and make recommendations on how to mitigate risk while maximizing growth. Financial analysts often ascend into senior management or executive positions and can command salaries to match. PayScale reported the average annual salary for this role as $60,574 in April 2020, with the highest earners making around $81,000 per year.
Financial managers are important in a business’s decision-making process. They may supervise finance department staff and bookkeepers, monitor financial performance, find ways to reduce costs and boost profits while observing market behaviors, and ensure compliance in all transactions, tax documentation, and other record keeping activities. This profession can include more specialized job titles such as risk manager, credit manager, and insurance manager. The median annual salary for all financial managers as of May 2019 was $129,890, according to the BLS.
Forensic accountants pore over a company’s financial records, searching for any errors or irregularities that may indicate potential fraud or embezzlement. A forensic account’s findings can be used as evidence in court, and these professionals are often called in as expert witnesses. This is a highly specialized role that requires investigative skills and meticulous attention to detail. According to PayScale, jobs in forensic accounting can offer compensation between $46,000 and $111,000 per year. The median salary in April 2020 was $68,089.
The internal auditing process ensures that a business’s daily operations are compliant and seamlessly run. It’s the responsibility of internal auditors to help protect companies’ assets by mitigating risks, which range from fraud to financial mismanagement. Because of their role as an impartial watchdog, internal auditors often perform their duties autonomously and report directly to the CEO of a publicly traded company. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an internal auditor was $62,840 in April 2020.
Professionals working in managerial accounting use a company’s internal financial statements and ongoing activities to predict future profits and losses. A management accountant’s financial reporting and forecasting help internal stakeholders such as upper-level executives make informed, evidence-based decisions, which guide the future course for the company. According to ZipRecruiter’s April 2020 report, management accountants earn an average of $58,263, with the top earners making between $87,000 and $111,000 per year.
Tax accountants prepare and file tax reports for individual, corporate, or government clients. It is their responsibility to ensure compliance and find ways to minimize their clients’ tax liabilities. Someone in this profession must keep abreast of ever-changing tax laws, educate their clients on the potential tax implications of future business activities, and help develop long-term strategies. Tax accountants earn $66,719 per year on average, according to Indeed’s April 2020 assessment.
Prepare for a career in accounting with an online degree from UAB
An online Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business can help prepare you for any of these dynamic careers.
Once you have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a few years of related work experience, you can go on to earn an advanced degree like an online Master of Science in Accounting at UAB. Additionally, you can pursue professional certifications such as Certified Management Accountant, Certified Internal Auditor, or Certified Fraud Examiner. These credentials and a master’s in accounting can help make you more competitive in the job market and improve your eligibility for the highest paying accounting jobs. However, you can enter the field with a bachelor’s degree and start gaining valuable professional experience.
Ready to start your journey with an online bachelor’s degree in accounting? Connect with an admissions counselor at UAB today to find out more about the program and how the Collat School of Business can prepare you for the accounting field.