Average Salary of an Accountant

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 21, 2021

Accounting is an important aspect of any organization. Accountants help both individual and businesses record and understand financial transactions. In this article, we explain what an accountant and a chartered professional accountant (CPA) are, the average salary for accountants and requirements to become a CPA in Canada.

What is an accountant?

Accountants are professionals who record the financial transactions of businesses and individuals. Accountants also perform auditing services by analyzing transactions and identifying any discrepancies. They produce different types of reports such as balance sheets, profit-and-loss statements, and tax reports. Accountants are well-versed in finance, making them suitable to advise on topics such as business structure, tax changes, and invoice management.

Here are the primary duties and responsibilities of an accountant:

  • Preparing asset, liability, and capital accounting entries

  • Documenting financial transactions by entering transactional information into accounting software

  • Recommending financial actions after analysing accounting options

  • Summarizing financial status by collecting information

  • Maintaining account controls by recommending procedures and policies

  • Guiding clerical staff in preparing financial reports

  • Reconciling financial discrepancies in books of accounts

  • Preparing payments after verifying documentation

  • Maintaining financial security by adhering to internal controls

  • Complying with national and local financial legal requirements

  • Maintaining professional knowledge by attending educational conferences and courses

What is a chartered professional accountant (CPA)?

Chartered professional accountants are professionals who completed additional certification beyond their accounting degree. They need to meet all the requirements set by the national certifying body, Certified Professional Accountants of Canada.

The CPA designation came into being following the merging of three different accounting designations, namely Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and Certified General Accountant (CGA). CPAs perform various accounting duties in different environments, including private companies, non-profit organizations, and government entities. Some CPAs also work in private practice. Some services offered by CPAs include:

  • Tax planning

  • Business valuations

  • Fiscal control

  • Preparation of tax documents for businesses and individuals

The CPA designation shows that you're a skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced accountant. It prepares you to move beyond the numbers and exhibit business leadership. There are several advantages of becoming a CPA, such as:

  • Higher salary: CPAs earn higher salary than regular accountants because of the nature of services they offer to their clients.

  • Job security: CPAs are in high demand over accountants and non-CPA financial professionals. The qualification also allows them to work in Canada and internationally.

  • Career growth: CPAs enjoy much flexibility career wise and can work in various industries. They can therefore switch from one industry to another much more easily.

Read more: How To Negotiate Salary (With Examples)

The CPA designation itself is not a job title, but qualifies you for more advanced accounting positions. CPAs take on various roles within a company, such as:

  • Chief executive officer (CEO)

  • Chief finance officer (CFO)

  • Treasurer

  • Budget director

  • Auditing manager

  • Comptroller

CPAs often sit on an organization's board of directors because of their broad experience in business and finance matters.

Average salary for an accountant

Accountants work in different fields. Some work as an employee for one business, while others work as freelancers or consultants and take on several clients. Accountants may also work for accounting firms, in government, and non-profit organizations. The average salary of an accountant is $55,459 per year.

Related: Gross Pay vs. Net Pay: Definitions and Examples

Average salary for CPAs

Chartered Professional Accountants earn higher salary owing to additional training and expertise. The average salary of CPAs is $65,289 per year. The exact salary depends on your years of experience, area of expertise, and the job's location, among other factors.

Requirements for chartered professional accountants

Accountants need to fulfill certain academic and experience conditions in order to become chartered professional accountants. There are various routes one may use to become a CPA. Here's the most common academic route and the complete list of requirements for becoming a CPA in Canada:

Get an undergraduate degree

You need to get accepted into and complete a four-year undergraduate degree program in Canada. The program must have the relevant concentration of business and accounting courses. If you're undertaking a degree in a non-accounting subject, you can enroll for CPA preparatory courses offered by the Chartered Professional Accountant Canada. The CPA preparatory course comprises 14 courses. 6 non-core and 8 core courses that build on each other. The courses are as follows:

  • Introductory financial accounting

  • Introductory management accounting

  • Economics

  • Statistics

  • Business law

  • Information technology

  • Intermediate financial reporting 1

  • Intermediate financial reporting 2

  • Advanced financial reporting

  • Corporate finance

  • Audit and assurance

  • Taxation

  • Intermediate management accounting

  • Performance management

To pass the non-core courses, you need to score a minimum of 50%. The pass mark for the core subjects is 60%. You can take the courses any time of the year, in-person, through online learning, or a self-study mode.

If you do not have a degree, you can still become a CPA. This route requires you to provide proof of relevant working experience of at least eight years in any CPA technical competency area. You also need to undertake CPA preparatory courses, submit three reference letters and a personal statement.

Enroll in the CPA Professional Education Program

The CPA Professional Education Program is an accounting graduate-level program designed for accounting professionals who work full time. The program takes two years to complete on a part-time basis aims at enhancing the ability of accounting professionals to apply their knowledge, attitudes, and values in a professional context. The program comprise six modules with candidates required to take two core modules, two electives and two capstone modules.

The core modules you can select from are:

  • Financial reporting

  • Strategy and governance

  • Management accounting

  • Audit and assurance

  • Finance

  • Taxation

The core modules focus on developing competency in management and financial accounting.

The elective courses cover the following areas:

  • Assurance

  • Performance management

  • Tax

  • Finance

The elective allow candidates to focus on their areas of interest and specialization. Assurance and tax modules are mandatory for candidates pursuing careers in public accounting.

Gain experience

To become a CPA, you need to complete relevant practical experience. There are two routes to gaining the requisite experience: a pre-approved program offered by employers and the experience verification that enables a candidate to show competence and experience gained at an employer of choice. The following elements must support practical experience requirement using either route:

  • Must complete a minimum of 30 months

  • Gain supervised experience learning from an established CPA

  • Detailed reports to be recorded at regular intervals

  • Candidate needs to discuss progress with a CPA mentor semi-annually

  • Experience must be assessed by the CPA profession

The licensing regime of a province or regional body supersedes the general requirements of the practical experience. Candidates should therefore note the respective provincial regulations.

Pass the common final examination

The Common Final Examination (CFE) requires candidates to show depth and breadth of their abilities. The exam takes 3 days and a maximum of 5 hours each day. The objectives of the CFE include testing a candidate's ability to apply critical thinking, professional judgement and decision-making skills.

Take continuing professional development courses

CPAs need to undertake regular Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses in order to keep their credentials active. CPD courses cover topics such as:

  • Taxation laws

  • International accounting standards

  • General business areas such as marketing

  • Ethical decision-making

All CPA must also meet the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) standards. The IFAC standards require one to undertake 20 hours of CPD annually and 120 hours every three years.

To grow their career, CPAs may also do the following:

Attend conferences: CPAs may attend conferences and symposiums to exchange ideas and grow their networks in the field.

Enroll for courses: CPAs may also enroll for in-person courses that encourage hand-on learning

Online learning: CPAs may take part in online courses, podcasts, webinars and virtual classrooms and learn diverse topics such as taxation laws, financial reporting requirements and other accounting topics.

Professional development resources: CPAs may also enhance their professional growth by reading and reviewing relevant resources such as books, journals, conference proceedings, and other educational materials.

Read more: 5 Personal Development Tips to Progress Your Career

International credentials

If you have accountant training from outside Canada, you can become a chartered professional accountant after an evaluation of your academic and professional credentials. CPA from Canada can also work overseas on the strength of reciprocity agreements and memorandums of understanding. You can conduct research to identify exactly which locations have agreements with the CPA of Canada and other international accounting bodies.