Becoming an Accounting Manager

The title of accounting manager is considered a top position in the field of finance. It takes a high level of education and certification to qualify for management careers in accounting, but the long-term rewards can be worth the effort. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accounting managers (categorized as financial managers by the BLS) earned a median salary of $134,810 as of May 2020. Managers with extensive experience, graduate degrees and, more often than not, an industry credential like the CPA, earned salaries that reflect the profession’s top 10%, which was $186,030 as of May 2020.

To be an accounting manager requires a special mix of qualifications. Accounting managers are not only in charge of keeping track of the flow of money, they are often responsible for managing the work of other accountants. Suggested credentials would be a graduate degree from an accredited institute of higher learning, proper and legitimate accounting certification, and at least one or two years of on-the-job experience.

Well-qualified and highly-credentialed accountants can hold a number of management positions within the world of finance. Various titles for accounting managers can include:

  • Budget Director
  • Manager of Internal Auditing
  • Chief Comptroller
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Cost Accountant, and many more.

Professional accountants with the highest qualifications can rise to pinnacle positions, such as CEO (chief executive officer) or corporation president.

As with many other professions, the higher the level of education, the greater the possibilities for career advancement. An inexperienced accountant with an associate degree may be qualified to apply for entry-level jobs; however, a management position in accounting typically demands a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Top executive positions generally require a master’s degree in accounting or even a PhD.

Higher education alone does not suffice to make a career in accounting management. Certifications are a key factor for success, and the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is the number one certification required for a professional career. It is virtually impossible to enter an accounting management position without a CPA license.

To advance within specialty areas of accounting management, such as forensics or tax auditing, CPAs will often seek additional certifications from recognized accounting organizations. One example is the CMA (Certified Management Accountant), a title awarded to qualified candidates by the Institute of Management Accountants. Other specialty certifications can include Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and several others.

Experience is another critical factor for career advancement. In fact, only highly-experienced CPAs can apply for specialty certifications. A few solid years of experience as a trainee or junior accountant makes a good foundation for advancement. Experienced CPAs become qualified for accounting manager positions by completing graduate degrees and achieving specialty certifications.

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for financial managers represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data Accessed May 2021.