When you picture an accountant, you might think of a dedicated number-cruncher huddled over a calculator. In reality, today’s accountants are lightyears away from this stereotypical image.
Of course, accountants must still be detail-oriented, trustworthy, and good with quantitative reasoning, but the nature of accounting work has evolved significantly. Because technology now takes care of executing many accounting tasks and calculations, those working in the accountancy profession have assumed more of an advisory role. They offer more strategic recommendations alongside comprehensive reports. And, with more advanced technologies becoming available, the future of the accounting profession will see skilled and tech-savvy professionals leading the way.
Here, we’ll discuss the state of accounting today and the outlook for this field as it relates to job availability, earning potential, and educational requirements. We’ll also highlight some of the top skills and accounting software experience that will help you stand out in the job market.
Accounting Industry Job Outlook
As one of the oldest professions, the accounting industry typically experiences average rates of expansion. There are not dramatic growth spurts as with some newer industries and job titles, but this does not mean that the number of accounting jobs is fixed.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the accounting and auditing field will grow at a 6% rate between 2018 and 2028, which is just about in line with the average across all occupations. This is expected to result in 90,700 new accountant and auditor positions, for a total of 1.5 million jobs across the nation toward the end of the decade.
But this steady expansion is anything but ordinary. The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) highlights accounting as a “Bright Outlook” occupation, meaning that applicants can expect to see a significant number of opportunities over the next few years. Furthermore, many of the software program competencies that hiring managers look for when advertising accounting jobs are considered “Hot Technologies,” meaning they’re very much in demand in the workplace.
Here are a few of the driving factors behind the growth of the future of the accounting profession, according to the BLS:
- Continuing business globalization and international trade, mergers, and acquisitions
- Economic growth and more companies going public
- Increasingly complex regulatory environments and tax laws
- More advanced technologies and the need for high-level strategic thinking
Income for Accountants
In 2012, the median salary for accountants and auditors was $63,550, according to the BLS. However, in just a few years, median annual earnings have jumped up to $71,550 as of May 2019. This uptick signals that the future of the accounting profession involves competitive salaries and increasingly high levels of compensation.
The top 10% of earners made more than $124,450 in 2019, with the highest-earning accountants finding employment in the finance and insurance industries. From a geographical standpoint, the top-earning professionals work in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, as well as New York state and New Jersey. In D.C., the most lucrative location, the annual mean wage for accountants and auditors is a comfortable six-figure salary. Actual earnings will be dependent on your location, industry, and experience level.
Accounting Job Responsibilities
Perhaps the most well-known accounting responsibility is preparing and filing taxes. While tax season is undoubtedly important, the accounting profession is much broader than that. There are many opportunities for specialization within the field.
For instance, in public accounting, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) handle auditing and serve in consulting capacities for government, nonprofit, and corporate clients. Internal accountants are responsible for reviewing the books at their own companies to mitigate fraud and reduce inefficiencies.
Another specialty is forensic accounting, wherein an accounting professional conducts audits and prepares reports that can be used as court evidence. They may also appear as expert witnesses in trials centered around fraud or other financial crimes. Management accountants can work in corporate settings, recording and analyzing financial information, but they can also find government roles where they will maintain agency records and audit departments.
Regardless of the specific accounting firm or business environment, all accounting professionals must be comfortable and proficient with commonly used technologies and professional accounting software programs.
Accounting and Technology
Increasingly, technology is taking over accountancy tasks that used to demand a significant amount of human attention. Now, software programs can quickly track cash flow, balance the books, conduct financial forecasting, and take care of measurement and reporting in real time.
O*NET explains that accounting firms look for proficiency in the following technologies when considering job applicants:
- Accounting and bookkeeping software like Intuit QuickBooks
- Tax preparation programs including ATX Total Tax Office
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems like SAP
- Databases and structured query language (SQL) programs such as Oracle
- Financial reporting and analysis software including RSM Auditor Assistant
Many of these cloud computing programs utilize automation, and some even embrace machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that allow accounting experts to provide even more advanced accounting services. With these types of tools in place, accountants can turn their attention toward doing the tasks that only humans can do well: offering creative, insightful data analysis to help inform strategic business solutions.
In a 2020 op-ed for Accounting Today, Shivani Govil forecasts three major benefits of AI in the future of the accounting profession. First is invisible accounting. When essential but tedious accounting tasks can go in the background thanks to AI technologies, workloads are reduced for accounting professionals, providing them with a wealth of time and information that can be redirected toward strategic efforts.
The second benefit is continuous audit. By constantly monitoring financial data, AI can help prevent accounting errors and minimize the risk of fraud.
The third major advantage is active insight. Advanced tools offering sophisticated reporting and forecasting capabilities can help accountants and business leaders look forward instead of backward, and address financial matters proactively instead of reactively.
The adoption of cloud computing technologies means that the future of the accounting profession may be populated with more remote workers. With just a computer, accounting professionals can work from home. Even today, FlexJobs notes that qualified job candidates have many remote accounting job opportunities to consider.
The Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, PWC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG — have led the way in offering job location flexibility. Additionally, the movement of smaller firms toward telecommuting has made accounting one of the most highly represented occupations on FlexJob’s list of the Top 100 Companies with Remote Jobs in 2020.
Of course, throughout their accounting practice, professionals must always adhere to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAPs) regardless of the type of technology they utilize or where they work. These accounting standards will always be present throughout the future of the accounting profession. For this reason, it’s essential to build a strong foundation of accounting knowledge in addition to technology skills.
Education and Training for Future Accountants
To become an accountant, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. An online Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree is a great starting point for entry into this career. Studies in finance and business administration can also set you on the path toward accountancy. Certain employers may prefer applicants with a master’s degree in accounting or business, but the BLS notes that this is not a requirement for entry into the field.
In addition to accounting education, many professionals earn qualifications such as the Certified Public Accountant license. This credential is a prerequisite for many jobs at CPA firms and other organizations. It requires a certain amount of coursework and a passing grade on the CPA exam, which is produced by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). With sufficient accounting coursework under your belt in an online Bachelor of Science in Accounting program, you very well may be able to earn your CPA qualification without a master’s degree.
But this is certainly not your only option. For example, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) offers an alternative training and professional certification program for anyone interested in becoming a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).
Ready to Prepare for the Future of the Accounting Profession? Start at UAB
If you’re eager to be a part of the future of the accounting profession, remember that candidates with the requisite education and experience will continue to enjoy the job security, upward mobility, and income potential that have been characteristic of the accounting world for many years.
An online Bachelor of Science in Accounting program from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business can help prepare you to enter the workforce, earn a professional certification, and even pursue an advanced degree.
Accounting core classes such as the three-part Financial Accounting sequence and Accounting Information Systems and upper-level core classes including Management Processes and Behavior and International Accounting will prepare you with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the job market, now and in the years to come.
To learn more about UAB’s online Bachelor of Science in Accounting program, contact an enrollment advisor today.