Most accounting students who spend years earning their degree know that a lucrative career awaits them post-graduation day. But which one?
Below are the highest paying jobs in accounting, ranked by median salary. We’ve also included a general job description for each career in hopes that it will help those seeking accounting degrees choose the career path that is right for them. We even threw in the five lowest paying jobs in accounting for good measure.
To determine the highest paying accounting jobs, we first made a list of the 40+ most common finance jobs according to job search websites like Monster and Indeed. We then used payscale.com and salary.com to search for the most up-to-date (as of May 2017) median salaries of each job title on our list, and used that information to narrow our list down to the 30 highest (and lowest) paying jobs in accounting.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
What doesn’t a company’s chief financial officer do? Perhaps that’s why CFOs in the United States average salaries of $308,549 — not including bonuses! While the actual list of what a CFO does is endless, the main responsibilities boil down to three things: controllership duties (reporting accurate financial information to everyone from employees to shareholders), treasury duties (overseeing the company’s capital structure, and deciding where and how to invest), and strategy and forecasting duties (deciding how to capitalize on current industry trends while also predicting future trends).
As part of a company’s senior executive team, the finance director is responsible for anything and everything having to do with the company’s financial stability. Major duties include managing accounting and financial control functions, establishing financial strategies for long-term growth, and taking on various other strategic financial decisions.
Vice President of Finance
Hired by a company’s board of directors, the vice president of finance is responsible for the all of the company’s financial operations. This includes things like developing new policies and strategies, analyzing various performance indicators, and working collaboratively with other senior employees to make recommendations and decisions about things like budgets, investments, and expansions. A successful vice president of finance will also have a working knowledge of taxes, applicable regulations, and negotiation strategies.
A vice president of finance usually hires the financial manager who, like his or her superior, is tasked with overseeing the company’s financial health. The financial manager works collaboratively to develop long-term financial goals, while also writing financial reports and managing investment activities. The average salary for a financial manager in the United States is just over $134,000 — right on par with that of a vice president of finance.
Controllers in a corporate setting is considered one of the chief accounting officers. They are tasked with overseeing and organizing all of a company’s many financial documents, including the general ledger, debits and credits, payroll, accounts payable and receivable, tax forms, and just about any other financial information that comes in paper form. Often, corporate controllers will have an assistant controller working with them. The average salary for a corporate controller working in a mid-sized company (annual sales of between $150 million and $250 million) is just over $119,000.
A financial advisor works with individuals, as opposed to businesses and large corporations. They help their clients choose the right short and long-term investments, while also guiding them in matters concerning tax laws and insurance decisions. Financial advisors must listen to each client’s individual needs and goals, then recommend the right investments to match those goals.
Professor of Accounting
Those with advanced degrees in accounting have the qualifications necessary to teach accounting as a professor. For those with a master’s, this job entails just what you’re probably thinking — teaching various elements of accounting to the next generation of accountants. For those with a PhD in accounting, this career could include research opportunities as well as teaching.
Cost Accounting Manager
Just below a vice president of finance or a financial manager is a cost accounting manager. This person usually runs a specialized accounting group within a company, and is mostly responsible for organizing any financial information related to assets and liabilities. This is a high paying job in the accounting industry with a median salary of $115,320.
Developer of Accounting Software
Just as its job title suggests, a developer of accounting software develops new and improved software for use throughout the accounting industry. In addition to skills relating to computer programming, accounting software developers should have a firm grasp on accounting and all that it entails. Software developers can work for a company or on a freelance basis. Average yearly salaries are about $106,000.
Information Technology Accountant
Information technology accountants combine two interesting disciplines into one well-paying career. These accountants usually work for specific organizations simplifying the general crunching of numbers into digital software programs. Day-to-day tasks include digitizing data, using software to identify errors or inconsistencies, and simplifying digital information for team members or clients.
Credit Analysis Manager
A credit analyst takes on the task of reporting on the financial data of individuals. This almost always includes analyzing credit history, paying habits, annual earnings, and purchase activities in order to do things like close, reduce, or increase a credit line. Credit Analysis managers can work for private companies, banks, or lending firms. The median salary is about $93,000.
F.B.I. Forensic Accountant
As one of the most competitive and sought-after careers in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government forensic accountant is responsible for finding and tracking cases of money funneling or laundering. An extensive knowledge of financial matters is required, as forensic accountants working for the F.B.I. support investigations of everything from counterterrorism, to cybercrime, to public corruption.
In a corporate environment, the assistant controller works directly underneath a corporate controller (the 5th highest paying job in accounting on our list). The assistant controller must have a solid working knowledge of the principles of accounting, as it is his or her job to ensure accurate financial reporting and to keep each and every financial process of a company up to standard.
Like a financial advisor, a financial analyst provides investment advice to companies and, to a lesser extent, individuals. However, much of their job description revolves around research, and most of their day-to-day tasks include analyzing financial statements, market trends, tax returns, and investments. The median yearly income for financial analysts in the United States is $80,310.
Within a company, government agency, or non-profit organization, a budget analyst works to find the best ways in which to distribute money and other resources amongst the different departments and/or programs. Budget analysts working for private companies often have the additional responsibility of figuring out ways in which the company can be more efficient and increase profits.
Those who love both accounting and environmental matters will find a happy medium in a career as an environmental accountant. This job does all that an accountant does, with the added responsibility of measuring a company’s overall cost and economic impact on the environment. To be successful, environmental accountants must have a firm grasp on both financial and environmental regulations and policies as they relate to corporations.
The F.B.I. is not the only entity hiring forensic accountants. In the private sector, a forensic accountant works as a detective to investigate crimes such as fraud or embezzlement. Additionally, they may investigate any assets either party in a divorce proceeding may be attempting to hide. Once a forensic accountant has helped to solve a crime or close a case, they are often expected to speak at any trials as an expert witness. Salaries for forensic accountants vary widely, but the national median is around $63,000.
Certified Public Accountant (C.P.A.)
While a financial planners help their clients reach financial goals through investments, a certified public accountant (C.P.A.) helps companies or individuals deal with the money or income they already have. This includes advising clients on laws concerning taxes and bookkeeping, predicting cash flow, or preparing taxes during tax season.
The job of a risk analyst is to research a company’s investment portfolio to analyze the risk involved in any investment decisions. Once the analyst has a clear picture of the company’s portfolio, he or she analyzes all possible potential losses, then recommends to the company ways in which they can limit their risk through diversification, currency exchanges, or other investment strategies. Depending on whether a risk analyst works for a corporation or as a freelancer plays a large part in salary, but the current median income for risk analysts is $59,647.
Job descriptions for management, or managerial, accountants vary widely, but you can think of this job as being similar to that of a certified public accountant in that it assists with an entity’s current financial situation, as opposed to financial opportunity. Unlike a C.P.A., however, management accountants tend to focus more on things like cost accounting, financial planning, and issues relating to management.
A cost accountant works with a specific company to investigate all financial information from all departments. This often includes collecting, auditing, and adjusting financial information from multiple areas of a company at the same time, in order to advise that company about what is financially profitable and what is just waste. Cost accountants can get a job with a corporation itself, or work for a consulting firm to be loaned out to different companies at different times.
Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Surveillance Analyst
As one of the fastest growing careers in accounting, an anti-money laundering surveillance analyst, or AML analyst, is responsible for monitoring any suspicious activity when it comes to banking and transactions. Usually, AML analysts are employed by banks or other financial entities in order to detect any money laundering activities that could do harm to that company. Daily activities might include using a specialized software to look for inconsistencies in clients’ financial situations, running periodic background checks on clients, and brushing up on any new financial laws and regulations.
A compliance officer is employed by a company or organization, and works daily to ensure that his or her employer is following all guidelines and regulations set forth by the company, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and any other government entity. The median salary for a compliance officer in the United States is just over $55,000.
As globalization continues grow, the demand for international accountants will only increase. The roles of an international accountant are varied, as are the employment opportunities, but generally, an international accountant deals with any and all accounting issues (bookkeeping, budgeting, financial planning, etc.) in a company that deals with overseas investments, property, or business. They are also responsible for keeping up to date with any changes set forth by the Securities Exchange Commission and its Generally Accepted Accounting Principles that guide international business.
While most people associate auditors with the Internal Revenue Service, the truth is that auditors can work for any number of organizations and companies. Either way, an auditor’s job description includes closely examining financial records in order to ensure their accuracy. Come tax season, the auditors assess their organization’s financial operations and ensure that all taxes are paid properly and on time.
Lowest Paying Jobs in Accounting
Corporate accountants are accountants who specialize in business accounting. They usually work to maintain the financial records of a single organization. Specific duties include ensuring their organization is complying with financial laws, regulations, and policies, as well as preparing any and all financial information that the organization may need to make financial decisions.
Every business and company, whether big or small, needs a payroll clerk. It’s the responsibility of this clerk to ensure that company employees are paid accurately and in a timely manner. Responsibilities are usually limited to collecting and summarizing time cards, entering employee-specific information, and tracking pay periods.
Bookkeepers, or bookkeeping clerks, are responsible for organizing a small to medium-sized business’s general ledger (i.e. all of a company’s accounts). Day-to-day responsibilities include recording costs and income, while longer term tasks include putting together financial statements for management.
Like a bookkeeper, an accounting clerk is responsible for tracking a company’s transactions in billing, payroll, purchasing, and accounts payable and receivable. They usually work in larger companies than those of bookkeepers, and are usually tasked with using specialized software to ensure all financial records and documents are accurate.
Billing clerk positions can usually be found with companies associated with sales. The billing clerk is responsible for keeping customer files updated, as well as staying in communication with customers regarding invoices and credits. The billing clerk is most commonly an hourly position, averaging just over $14 per hour, or about $29,000 a year.