Twenty-First Century Accounting: Facts and Trends

New accountants with a bachelor's accounting degree snagged all-time high starting salaries in 2005, pulling down an average of $44,564, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Why? Corporate accounting scandals have led to changes in accounting law, fueling an even greater need for this already in-demand profession. The changing landscape of accounting reveals other trends:

  1. A BS in Accounting isn't necessary to enter the field.

    An associate's degree in accounting is sufficient for a career as a paraprofessional accountant. With a junior college associate's degree in accounting or a diploma in accounting from a business school, the student with a two-year accounting degree can work for an accounting firm preparing corporate or individual tax returns, keeping payroll records, or auditing. A survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants shows that 96% of mid- to large-sized accounting firms rely on paraprofessionals with associate-accounting credentials. Part time and tax season positions for paraprofessional accountants are likely to continue their rapid growth.

  2. Bachelor degrees pay accounting dividends.

    Now that most states have adopted the U.S. Uniform Accountancy Act, which demands 150 hours of college education to take the CPA exam, fewer students go into accounting. Hence, the current shortages in qualified accountants. As a result, students with a BS in Accounting find themselves in a seller's job market where firms are offering not just record high salaries but perks as well. Students with a Bachelor of Business Administration-Accounting degree can specialize in a hot job field like taxation. With a BS in Accounting and computer training, the student can pursue technological accounting, developing accounting software or designing accounting systems.

  3. Solid salaries aren't the only perks of today's accounting positions.

    CNN reported that top accounting firm Ernst & Young sought to hire 4,500 accounting graduates in 2005, up 30 percent from the previous year. Other powerhouse firms continue to compete for graduates with bachelor's degrees in accounting. Because accountants are fielding multiple offers, accounting firms now offer hiring bonuses to supplement the career-high starting salaries, and benefit packages further sweeten the pot. To make sure young accountants spend quality time at their new jobs, corporations even provide concierge services to run errands.

  4. CPAs can increase their career-power by specializing.

    While the accounting profession is still basically divided into public accounting and auditing, cost or management accounting (keeping corporate financial records), internal auditing (checking for waste or fraud), and government accounting, some new accounting specializations have terrific career potential for CPAs. With some background in business administration, or better yet, a business degree, a CPA can work in assurance services, providing quality control and risk assessment to corporations. Post Enron, forensic accounting and fraud detection are in demand as never before. Environmental accounting has seen a boom, too, since corporation and utilities seek accounting professionals to do environmental compliance audits.

  5. Opportunities for experienced accountants now abound.

    The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, passed to correct the abuses of Enron and similar accounting scandals, has left a trail of opportunities for accountants with a few years of corporate auditing or public accounting under their belts. Salaries in the $70,000-$85,000 range are becoming common for corporate audit managers, pushed by an accounting shortage predicted to continue for at least another decade.

The high demand for accountants remains because the significant drop in accounting enrollments caused by the 30-unit hike in CPA credit requirements has yet to correct itself. Students setting out to get their bachelors degrees in accounting face bright prospects.

"5 careers: Big demand, big pay," by Jeanne Sahadi. CNNMoney.com (Feb 6, 2006).
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (aicpa.org)
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (bls.gov)
"Jobs: Accountants are kings among grads" (money.cnn.com).
"Staffing Issues for the New Millennium--The Emerging Role of the Accounting Paraprofessional," by Ted R. Compton. Ohio CPA Journal 59.3 (Jul-Sep 2000).

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