Peering into the Future – The Accounting Outlook

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When you picture an accountant, you might think of an impersonal number cruncher huddled over a calculator in a green eyeshade. In reality, most accountants of today are light years away from this stereotype. Of course accountants must still be detail-oriented, trustworthy, and good with numbers, but the nature of accounting work has evolved considerably. Because technology now manages the execution of most accountancy tasks, accountants have assumed more of an advisory role, offering more strategy than figures. Here, we’ll discuss the outlook for the accounting profession as it relates to job availability, earning potential, and educational requirements.

Income and Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for accountants and auditors in 2012 was $63,550 per year, or $30.55 per hour. The top 10 percent of earners made $111,510, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $39,930. The profession experienced average growth in 2012, adding 166,700 jobs for a total of 1,275,400 in the field. The highest-earning accountants tend to work in the executive branch of the federal government or in stock and commodity exchanges. The highest-paid accountants work in New York City; Newark, New Jersey; and Ocean City, New Jersey.

Nature of the Work

While many accountants do prepare taxes for individuals, the profession is much broader than that. Public accountants, for example, handle auditing, prepare taxes for corporations, and offer consulting for government, nonprofit, and corporate enterprises. Internal accounting, including forensic accounting, involves reviewing the books to eliminate fraud and inefficiency. Other specialties include management accounting (recording and analyzing financial information) and government accounting (maintaining agency records or auditing businesses and individuals for the executive branch). Significantly, U.S. News & World Report rates the profession “high” for upward mobility.

Quality of Life

According to U.S. News, the accounting profession ranks about average for stress level but above average for flexibility. Most accountants work full time, but one in five worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Accountants tend to put in longer hours at certain times of the year, such as tax season (January 1 – April 15) and the end of the fiscal year.

Education and Training

Accounting and auditing require a bachelor’s degree in a related field at minimum, and most accountants pursue professional certification, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The CPA credential is a prerequisite for many jobs and requires a passing grade on the uniform exam of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The Institute of Management Accountants offers an alternative certification, Certified Management Accountant, which requires passing an exam, a bachelor’s degree, and two years of experience in management accounting. Certain employers may prefer applicants with a master’s degree in accounting or business administration.

They say you can count of two things in the world — death and taxes. As long as that remains true, accountants with the requisite credentials and education will continue to enjoy the job security, growth, upward mobility, and income potential that they have since the profession began.

An online bachelor’s degree in accounting from UAB’s Collat School of Business can help prepare you to pursue an advanced degree or professional certification.