How to Become an Accountant (With Career Opportunities)
Updated August 7, 2023
Accountants have many career opportunities, in finance, business, and industry. Understanding how to become an accountant can help you plan your education and experience. If you plan on working as an accounting professional, becoming familiar with the timeline and requisite steps offers significant benefits. In this article, we discuss the process of becoming an accountant and explore the different opportunities in the field so you can choose the ideal route for your future.
How to become an accountant
Accountants retain value in any economy, and understanding how to become an accountant in Canada can help you plan a course of action. The following steps outline how to develop a career as a Chartered Professional Accountant, a credential that has nationwide recognition:
1. Using the undergraduate approach
There are two approaches to becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant in Canada. The first, and most common, is to obtain an undergraduate program in a relevant field. Some institutions offer specific accounting degrees, but because the CPA board focuses on competencies rather than the degree itself, many students declare in a different field. Common approaches include business administration, economics, and political sciences, where the student majors in accounting or mathematics.
By reviewing the core competencies for CPA certification, you can take the requisite courses during your third and fourth years of university. Similar to taking requisite courses for medical or law school, students can focus their credits in a way that aligns with professional accounting. The six core competencies include:
Strategy and governance
Audit and assurance
2. Using the experience approach
The other route the CPA accepts is a workforce application that sets forth a range of specializations in which you require a minimum of eight years of relevant experience in one of the six accounting core competencies. The application requires a comprehensive resume that serves as a proposal letter, highlighting community involvement and specific, accounting-related work experience. The CPA application includes the provision of official transcripts for any formal education, such as college or technical training.
As part of the application process, the candidate supplies three reference letters, from the current employer, a character reference, and a member of a colleague within the CPA organization. The program also requires that the candidate possess the enabling areas of competence, which the applicant can outline in a personal statement, along with details on desire, commitment, and a capacity to perform the job to a high standard of excellence. The CPA outlines these five aptitudes in its competency map:
Professional and ethical behaviour
Problem-solving and decision making
Teamwork and leadership
3. Obtain the CPA requisite work experience
Just as there are two routes to becoming an accountant, the requisite work experience differs for each. Using the eight-year experience approach requires proof of employment and references to detail your specialized knowledge. There are pre-approved programs that employers offer, enabling the student to obtain the requisite experience within 30 months, after post-secondary graduation. The experience for audit and public accounting only through the pre-structured programs. If you choose to focus elsewhere, you can gain experience working in any accounting capacity and ensure that you meet the following five elements:
The candidate requires a minimum of 30 months' professional accounting experience during which time the professional develops.
CPA candidates' experience requires appropriate supervision by someone in good-standing with the CPA.
The prospective CPA records its experience and knowledge at regular intervals, either monthly or quarterly.
Candidates meet with the CPA mentor a minimum of twice yearly to analyze progress and identify areas of strength and those for improvement.
Ultimately, the CPA mentor assesses your experience and provides a letter of reference to the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.
4. Take a preparation course
There official course through Chartered Professional Accountants Canada provides a preparatory course, entitled the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP). The program uses modules to encapsulate different learning topics, diverging into core, elective, and capstone modules. To complete the course, first you take a minimum of two core modules and two elective modules. The two capstone modules contribute significantly to the final examination as they require a cumulative knowledge of all aspects of accounting. The PEP course provides an evaluation on the first capstone study, but the second case study applies to the actual certification exam.
5. Undergo the CPA evaluation
The Chartered Professional Accountant evaluation is a three-day, in-depth examination that assesses the practical and theoretical knowledge of the candidates. The test occurs twice a year, between the chosen Wednesday through Friday period in May and September. The first day covers the first module in the training, the Capstone case study. Next, the examiners test the knowledge of the prospective accountant using the CPA Competency Map. The third day involves a thorough analysis of the case studies, with a view to testing the practical abilities of the accountant.
Once you pass the examination and register as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), you become an official member and your name appears on the registry. To maintain your good standing, the standard of practice is to keep your insurance and fees paid, usually an annual matter. This credential allows you to provide the full suite of services as an accountant across Canada, whether as a sole proprietor or a part of the business.
The field of accounting is diverse, with opportunities for those at any level of experience, allowing the professional to either gain the requisite hours for a CPA credential or choose to focus on a certain type of accounting. Some of the many opportunities include:
Accounts payable deals with the company's bills and invoices. These professionals manage liability accounts and handle everything from payroll to utility payments. Accounts payable specialists handle any outgoing funds and ensure that they reconcile with the actual amounts owing. Many accounts payable positions accept those with an undergraduate degree and can provide opportunities to gain experience to help you work towards career goals.
Accounts receivable handles any incoming payments for a business, including reconciling outgoing invoices with the payments the company receives. Most accounts receivable positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree and provide a practical introduction to common business and accounting practises as you gather experience. Professionals with accounts receivable work with many types of accounting software, providing valuable, up-to-date data about the technology the industry uses.
Bookkeepers can operate businesses independently or join a company that provides financial services to clients. Most bookkeepers have accounting education with a minimum of an undergraduate degree being the most common requirement. These professionals maintain general ledgers and balance sheets, providing the most current information possible. Some bookkeepers focus on making reports while others contribute to analysis and strategy. Because bookkeepers work closely with company management and executives, it can provide the requisite experience to qualify for the CPA credential.
Financial accountants are professionals who record, summarize, and report all types of a company's transactions. This position is common in larger companies, where in-depth financial processes are common. The accountant creates financial statements and reports on the plethora of financial undertakings of a medium or large organization. Most financial accountants have a CPA credential, and many offer mentorship for graduates pursuing this career. The four most common reports include:
Cash flow statements
Statement of retained earnings
Tax accountants are mid to senior-level professionals, usually possessing a CPA designation. These finance professionals work with clients to create a capital structure that reduces the business' tax burdens as much as possible. The process of tax accounting includes filing the taxes for a company and ensuring that the information is accurate. Tax accountants can contribute to the application of the accounting by doing the actual report making. Alternatively, as the accountant advances and specializes in tax, the professional can contribute to financial strategy of a company.
Management accounts provide financial advice and data to assist companies in improving processes and increasing profits. Because of the fiduciary responsibility of the accountant to the client, these professionals require an official designation in the accounting field. The accountant works directly with management and executives to provide insight into all financial aspects of the business. It helps companies during restructurings, mergers and acquisitions, and rebranding efforts.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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