CPA Career Paths: 12 Financial Careers and Job Descriptions
Updated September 24, 2023
A Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) is a type of certified professional who works in financial management. There are many different areas for specialization when working as a CPA. Understanding the different CPA career paths can help you decide which career to pursue. In this article, we explain what a CPA is, share 12 different career paths, and list skills helpful for work as a CPA.
What is a CPA?
A CPA is a type of licensed financial advisor who provides individuals, businesses, and public organizations with advice and expertise on achieving their financial goals. The Charted Professional Accountants of Canada offers this certification for accountants. This designation can give you the finance and business knowledge to prepare you for work with private businesses, public businesses, and government organizations.
A CPA prepares and interprets financial reports and then communicates this information to government organizations and stakeholders. Becoming a CPA requires you to earn a bachelor's degree, complete the CPA Professional Education program, pass the Common Final Examination, and participate in a minimum of 30 months of supervised work experience. Some common CPA tasks include:
Preparing and filing taxes
Completing and analyzing financial reports for a company
Ensuring compliance with local, provincial, and federal tax agencies
Managing payroll and accounts payable
Leading a company's financial department
Managing a company's financial activities, such as general accounting and cash flow
CPA career paths
The following is a list of possible CPA career paths:
1. Tax accountant
National average salary: $60,901 per year
Primary duties: A tax accountant typically works for a business, with the primary role of preparing and submitting tax forms. They also analyze the company's financial information and share their expertise with other departments, helping to oversee the organization's financial practices. Tax accountants regularly look for ways to lower taxable profits by analyzing spending and strategizing how to increase tax write-offs.
2. Internal auditor
National average salary: $81,394 per year
Primary duties: An internal auditor, also known as an audit officer, is responsible for ensuring that the company complies with regulations. They do this by examining a company's financial reports and tax documents to ensure that calculations are correct and follow the relevant provincial and federal regulations. Internal auditors may also provide recommendations on how the company can improve its accounting processes and reduce its financial risk.
3. Budget analyst
National average salary: $68,237 per year
Primary duties: A budget analyst is responsible for overseeing a company's spending and ensuring that they are using funds appropriately and efficiently. This includes comparing the company's budget with the spending reports. They may also make recommendations about funding for different departments and perform cost-benefit analyzes to make recommendations for running the company efficiently and effectively.
4. Finance manager
National average salary: $91,809 per year
Primary duties: A finance manager oversees a company's complete finances and works to ensure its financial well-being. This includes performing audits, evaluating financial reporting methods, and implementing new financial procedures in both the accounting and finance departments. Finance managers help to make financial decisions for the company and create financial forecasts to provide advice for company executives. They also perform day-to-day financial operations for a company including payroll, invoicing, and accounts payable.
5. Financial accountant
National average salary: $61,052 per year
Primary duties: A financial accountant manages the accounting and financial areas of an organization. They provide financial expertise to senior managers and perform analyses of costs and revenue. Financial accountants produce reports on costs, margins, and expenditures, and manage tax and inventory data. They then analyze this data to help organizations make decisions.
6. Public accountant
National average salary: $70,097 per year
Primary duties: A public accountant helps companies, organizations, or individuals manage their finances. Their duties can include analyzing financial data to ensure that it complies with provincial and federal regulations and communicating this information to their clients. Public accountants also audit taxes and file tax forms, plan financial policy, and prepare and review financial statements.
7. Forensic accountant
National average salary: $50,315 per year
Primary duties: A forensic accountant examines financial records for possible evidence that lawyers can use in court. This may include looking for inaccuracies in financial records, providing litigation support to assist with court proceedings, developing visual aids, and attending court as an expert witness. Forensic accountants can also work with companies to prevent fraud.
8. International accountant
National average salary: $62,174 per year
Primary duties: An international accountant works with companies that do business in other countries. In addition to general accounting duties, international accountants have a thorough understanding of tax laws in other countries and work to ensure that companies are following the accounting regulations in the countries where they operate. International accountants may also assist with mergers and acquisitions of foreign companies, guide foreign clients in making financial decisions, and provide suggestions for how a company can improve its revenue through international business.
9. Corporate accountant
National average salary: $63,966 per year
Primary duties: A corporate accountant is typically a member of the head office of a corporation and reports to the finance manager or finance controller. They perform daily finance operations, such as bookkeeping, processing taxes, managing payroll, expenses, and accounts receivable. Corporate accountants are responsible for managing the company's budget, both for the corporation as a whole and for each division. They also run reports and manage the corporation's bank accounts and cash flow so that they can assist in financial decision-making.
10. External auditor
National average salary: $28.37 per hour
Primary duties: Unlike internal auditors, external auditors typically work for an external firm and perform a complete audit once a year. They do this by analyzing a company's financial reports and records to ensure that they are accurate and comply with regulations. They then make recommendations to the company to help strengthen its financial health and provide reports that stakeholders can use to guide their decision-making.
11. Information technology (IT) CPA
National average salary: $56,849 per year
Primary duties: An IT CPA earns a Certified Information Technology Professional credential (CITP) to provide more specialized support as a CPA in the area of IT. This credential helps individuals understand compliance and operational requirements within the IT industry. Along with general accounting practices, IT CPAs perform IT audits and help companies manage digital risks.
12. Financial controller
National average salary: $84,094 per year
Primary duties: A financial controller is responsible for managing all of the accounting operations at a company. This includes preparing a company's financial reports on a monthly and yearly basis. They also work to create budgets and financial forecasts, ensuring that reporting is accurate and that the company is managing financial risks.
Related: What Is a Financial Controller?
Skills for a CPA
Several skills can be helpful for individuals working as a CPA. These include:
CPAs use their knowledge of financial practices to assist their clients. Because the economy regularly changes, regulations and financial practices also change over time. It's important for a CPA to stay up to date on any changes in regulations. CPAs can maintain their financial expertise by continuing their education and maintaining their chartered status.
Stakeholders in a company often rely on the expertise of a CPA to make financial decisions. It's the CPA's responsibility to gather data, interpret it, and present their findings to executives in an understandable way. Strong communication skills, both written and oral, are therefore important. These strong communication skills can also help to increase your client's trust in you.
Organization and time management
Working as a CPA is a data-heavy job, which means that it's important to stay organized to ensure that information is accurate. The ability to stay organized is also important when you manage other accounting or financial professionals at a company to prevent possible bottlenecks. CPAs often manage both day-to-day accounting operations and long-term financial planning, so time management is helpful to prioritize tasks.
CPAs require good analytical thinking skills to understand the highly technical data they often deal with. Having strong analytical thinking skills can also help you look at the overall financial health of a company and make predictions on how it can improve its financial situation long term. You may also use your analytical thinking skills to apply industry-specific knowledge to data sets.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.
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