What Does a CPA Do? (With Salary and Requirements)
Updated September 30, 2022
A career in accounting can be a rewarding path for those interested in mathematics, financial reporting, and business management. The CPA designation is a nationally recognized professional designation that hiring managers seek when looking for financial experts. Understanding the duties and responsibilities of a CPA can help you decide if you're interested in pursuing this career. In this article, we explain what a CPA does, list the average salary of a CPA, explore the skills required, describe the work environment, and provide steps for becoming one.
What does a CPA do?
If you're interested in working in accounting, you might wonder, What does a CPA do? A chartered professional accountant, or CPA, is a financial professional who plays a key role in many sectors, including industry, public accounting, government, non-profit, and education. These professionals have passed the CPA exam and help individuals, organizations, and businesses interpret and communicate their financial data. They assist with managing expenses, investments, taxes, audits, and planning to reach financial goals. The CPA designation is highly attractive to employers, as it's a sign that the individual has received specialized training and has expertise in the accounting field.
The CPA certification indicates an individual has the authority to file a tax return and conduct audits on behalf of an organization. These individuals may work independently or collaborate with auditors, financial planners, and other accounting or financial professionals. CPAs may specialize in areas, such as assurance services, environmental accounting, personal finances, forensics, or valuation. They work in a variety of roles to help individuals and businesses with the following duties:
Performing business valuations
Overseeing financial planning and projections
Completing the filing and planning of corporate and personal income taxes
Planning and executing business purchases and sales
Preparing and analyzing financial information
Providing forensic accounting and litigation support
Completing government tax auditing, policy planning, and financial analysis
Securing government grants and funding for non-profit organizations
Developing annual reports
Managing clients' financial activities, such as cash flow, budgeting, general accounting, and financial planning
Working with clients to minimize tax obligations
Directing a team of accountants or an accounting department
Consulting with clients to identify issues or risks and help them manage their businesses effectively
Analyzing an organization's financial structure and advising on minimizing cost and maximizing profitability
Average salary of a CPA
The average national salary of a chartered professional accountant is $61,572 per year. Pursuing the CPA designation can help you earn more money, as the average national salary for an accountant is $56,154 per year. CPA salaries vary depending on their employer, experience, and location.
Read more: Average Annual Salary for CPA
Required skills for a CPA
Becoming a chartered professional accountant requires certain education, certification, and skills. Here are the specific skill requirements of a CPA:
Leadership: As CPAs are often in management roles, they may be required to supervise a team of accountants, which requires strong leadership skills to oversee and direct the team activities.
Communication: It's important for CPAs to have clear written and verbal communication skills for submitting effective reports and communicating with clients about financial matters.
Ethics: CPAs have high ethical standards of integrity and honesty since they work closely with confidential personal and business finances and are required to uphold their clients' trust.
Project management skills: It's important for CPAs to have strong project management skills to meet strict deadlines, such as filing tax returns on time or submitting fiscal reports.
Technological proficiency: Besides frequently using e-mail, spreadsheets, and accounting software, CPAs may also be familiar with specialized computer and financial programs that can help project and plan important financial activities.
Analytical and research skills: CPAs compile, analyze, and interpret data, including comparing reports and understanding complicated spreadsheets, which require strong analytical and research skills.
CPA work environment
Most chartered professional accountants work in offices, although some may work independently from home. They may be required to travel to court to testify as an expert witness or to businesses to perform audits. Depending on the time of year, they typically work full-time office hours except during tax season, when they may work overtime. The day typically comprises meeting with clients, working on computers, and analyzing paper forms. CPAs use typical office equipment such as phones, photocopiers, fax machines, and specialized accounting software.
How to become a CPA
Here are the steps you can take to become a chartered professional accountant:
1. Earn an undergraduate degree
To pursue a CPA certification, it's important to ensure you meet CPA Canada's prerequisites, which include completing a relevant undergraduate degree. You may complete a degree in accounting, finance, business, or another related field to give you the foundational knowledge to become a chartered professional accountant. Depending on the degree you've obtained, you may be required to complete additional courses to enter the CPA professional education program (PEP). Bachelor's degrees typically take three to four years to complete.
When you apply for the certification, CPA Canada may ask for a transcript to analyze your grades. Focusing on your coursework to achieve high grades may increase your chances of getting accepted into the program.
2. Apply for the CPA professional education program
Once you complete your undergraduate degree in a specific subject area, you can apply for the CPA professional education program (PEP). If you obtained a degree in a subject other than accounting, you can first take the CPA preparatory courses. Each province and territory has its own prerequisites, so it's important to confirm those requirements before applying to the program. If you're required to take CPA preparatory courses, it's essential to only complete the subject area modules you lack to gain entry to the CPA PEP.
3. Complete the training program
The CPA training program offered by CPA Canada meets all International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) standards for education, assessment, and practical experience. It's a national program delivered by provincial and regional bodies across Canada. The professional education program comprises six modules over two years, with participants moving to the next module after successful completion of each module's examination.
4. Gain accounting experience
Alongside the coursework, participants are also required to complete 30 months of accounting experience to complete the program successfully. CPA Canada designed the program to allow students to participate in courses and work in the accounting industry simultaneously. Whether you find your own employer or use a CPA Canada partnership employer, it's important for you to find a mentor for guidance and leadership.
5. Pass the CPA examination
To complete the CPA designation training program, participants are required to complete the common final examination successfully. The examination is a three-day evaluation that tests the participant's abilities and competencies in specific subject areas related to accounting and financial evaluation. The exam tests a student's understanding of all six competency areas of financial reporting, strategy and governance, management accounting, audit and assurance, finance, and taxation. They may also demonstrate depth in two technical competency areas, either financial reporting or management accounting, plus one additional technical competency area.
6. Get and maintain your certification
Once you meet the requirements of CPA Canada, you can earn the CPA designation. To maintain your certification, it's important to complete continuing education courses annually. Although requirements vary by province, it typically involves 30 hours of continuing education. CPAs are also required to pay annual membership fees to maintain their designation.
7. Apply for a position as a chartered professional accountant
Once you've earned your certification, you can start applying for chartered professional accounting positions by looking for relevant postings and submitting your application. You can update your resume to highlight your new credentials by including them at the top of your resume after your name. By listing your designation, you can indicate to hiring managers you're qualified for the position to which you're applying. Further tailor your resume to each job you're applying for to demonstrate your competencies and qualifications for the role.
CPA job description example
Here's an example of a job description for a CPA position:
Profit Dynamic Professional Accountants is looking for an experienced, motivated, and qualified Chartered Professional Accountant to join our fast-paced accounting department. The ideal accountant has strong technical accounting and tax experience, and can plan, manage, and execute financial plans. Proficiency in preparing financial statements, including income tax filings, is essential. The successful candidate can foster excellent client relationships and initiate business development opportunities. A minimum of two to three years of experience working with private clients in a public accounting firm with Canadian tax experience is required.
We are looking for a detail-oriented individual who can manage time and adhere to strict deadlines while working both independently and in a team environment. Strong working knowledge of industry-standard accounting tools and programs is a requirement for the position, although Profit Dynamic offers on-job training for our specific software programs.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries and quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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