What Can You Do With a Master’s in Accounting?
Technology has always played a disruptive role when it comes to long-standing fields like accounting and finance. However, the accounting field has proved to be resilient and consistent throughout a broad range of innovations. From the invention of the calculator to the creation of full suites of accounting software, the field tends to navigate technical evolutions well. Even with the shift toward artificial intelligence and more automated processes, accounting remains a strong area for establishing a career.
Accountant ranks no. 13 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Business Jobs list, while several other professions that tap into core accounting skills also made it into the top 10, including financial advisor and financial manager.
One reason the accounting industry is standing strong may be the economic changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The volatile shifts in supply chain operations, employment numbers and consumer spending, not to mention the irregular government-provided relief efforts, demanded the attention of experts with an aptitude for thinking beyond quantitative analysis. That expertise continues to be vital as people adjust to a changed economy. As Deloitte reported, accountants must now be more precise in their financial predictions, despite many lingering uncertainties.
Master’s in Accounting Careers
With all these changes in mind, your first step toward securing a stable career in this profession is to learn the opportunities available and map out the skills you need to pursue them.
In many roles throughout finance and accounting, the same core skills are important, but they are used in different ways. For example, a financial analyst uses their quantitative skills to identify market trends and guide investment decisions, whereas a business accountant uses similar skills to guide their organization’s financial reporting processes and improve data accuracy. Some of the most common competencies in the sector include core accounting tasks such as budgeting, tax preparation and financial modeling. In light of more sophisticated automation technology, soft skills related to strategic planning and business communication are also increasingly important to the field.
For many accountants, graduate education is the ideal path for acquiring the varied skill set needed for success. In 2019, 25% of new hires at U.S. accounting firms held a master’s degree. Career database Burning Glass also shows demand for accounting master’s degrees has risen consistently among employers. In 2011, roughly 329,000 jobs explicitly requesting or requiring a master’s degree were posted. That figure increased to more than 700,000 jobs in 2019.
Five rewarding jobs that a master’s degree in accounting can prepare you for include:
- Tax Director
- Forensic Accountant
- Financial Analyst
- Chief Financial Officer
Average salary: $151,859, per PayScale
If you’re interested in a high-level position that keeps businesses compliant and utilizes your critical thinking skills, tax director may be the job for you. These individuals oversee an organization’s tax strategy, looking for ways to minimize financial burden while ensuring all documents and returns are accurate and complete.
As a tax director, your daily responsibilities may include:
- Completing tax returns
- Auditing financial records or collaborating with independent auditors
- Coordinating financial documents with third parties
- Supervising accounting staff
Per PayScale, employers often seek candidates with a master’s degree in accounting or similar credential and look for abilities such as:
- Financial analysis
- Tax preparation and compliance
- Strategic planning
- Writing and interpersonal communication
Planning and communication are particularly important, and such skills can be difficult to develop if you’re not given the right opportunities. A master’s program takes you beyond the basic tax preparation techniques and shows you how to apply this knowledge in a collaborative, forward-thinking manner. Doing so allows you to help your clients or employer better meet their goals, making you both an integral part of these processes and increasing your opportunities for career advancement.
Average salary: $73,560, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Misconceptions about auditing abound. However, this is a profession that boasts impressive flexibility, and one where professionals can find opportunities in virtually any industry. If, for example, you love classical music, you can be an internal auditor for an instrument manufacturer. If you enjoy exploring new cities, you can work for a consulting firm that sends you directly to clients’ offices across the country.
Today’s auditors go beyond crunching numbers — a process that is now being automated — and are more likely to use critical analysis and strategic planning to advise businesses on crucial financial decisions. One new trend in internal auditing is adapting agile methods (a particular approach to project management), which leads to results that better match stakeholder needs and more efficiently address business risks.
Job duties for auditors can include:
- Maintaining financial records
- Reviewing financial statements for accuracy and compliance
- Ensuring compliance with financial/tax regulations
- Identifying financial and fraud risks
- Identifying and proposing business improvement opportunities, such as ways to reduce costs or increase profits
Here again, we see how jobs in the auditing industry are expanding beyond the basic concepts of validating financial records and checking processes for compliance. To identify risks and opportunities, effective auditors must be able to do the heavy lifting of complex accounting work and explain their recommendations to stakeholders who aren’t finance or accounting experts. As such, successful auditors need a mix of hard and soft skills, including:
- Critical thinking and business acumen
- Customer service
- Project management
- Tax preparation
Average salary: $70,450, per PayScale
As a forensic accountant, financial records are your crime scene. This job combines accounting, auditing and investigative methods to determine the source of suspicious financial activity. “Forensic” is an important word in this job title, as the results of these investigations must be suitable for use in a court of law. These specialized auditors often work to solve white collar crimes like embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering and insurance fraud, and they’re employed in areas such as insurance, finance, government and law enforcement, including the FBI.
A forensic accountant’s job duties can include:
- Collecting and analyzing financial data
- Summarizing findings via reports or graphics
- Serving as witness in a court setting
In addition to skills typical of a standard accountant, forensic accountants should be adept at data analysis and fraud investigation. They should also be able to summarize their findings in a way that can be understood by a judge and jury.
Keep in mind that forensic accountants may be required to review evidence outside of traditional financial documents, including emails, texts and direct messages. As such, they face technological evolutions from two fronts: the accounting sector and the legal sector. As a forensic accountant, you’ll be required to search for evidence in a manner that maintains the accused’s legal rights and keeps sensitive or irrelevant information private. AI is an incredibly useful tool in this regard, allowing investigators to filter through millions of electronic documents to identify and manually review only the relevant evidence.
Average salary: $83,660, per the BLS
There are many types of financial analysts — fund managers, risk analysts and portfolio managers among them — but they all help individuals and businesses make strategic investment decisions. Often specializing in a specific industry or market, financial analysts must understand a broad range of macro and micro market trends, demographics and the current and future effects of various investment decisions.
A financial analyst’s job duties are varied but can include:
- Examining and evaluating financial data
- Meeting with company decision makers
- Offering financial or investment advice
- Research analysis and reporting
- Studying trends in investing, business and economics
These duties require the ability to analyze a large amount of quantitative information (such as market sizes, earnings results and forecasting) within the context of a similarly large amount of qualitative information. Consider, for example, the regulatory considerations caused by the massive power outages in Texas or the market shifts resulting from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown and ransom recovery. Both situations required analysts to adapt quickly to sudden, large-scale events in order to keep any financial losses incurred as minute as possible. The latter situation was particularly difficult to anticipate and thus prepare for, given the unexpected ransomware attack that caused the shut down and the belief that bitcoin was impervious to government action.
As such, financial analysts must be able to employ the following skills with particular agility:
- Collaboration and communication
- Financial modeling, planning and reporting
- Researching and Interpreting vast amounts of quantitative and qualitative information
- Responding to unexpected or volatile situations
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Average salary: $136,602, per PayScale
If you’re excited about the challenge of leading an organization’s financial strategy and overseeing a broad range of business functions, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is a role to consider. This position requires a blend of skills that span accountancy, finance, business leadership, communication and negotiation. As such, CFOs often have multiple credentials, and this is a popular job for graduates with a master’s in accounting.
Tasks a CFO might perform include:
- Reviewing financial reports
- Developing budgets and tax strategies
- Overseeing and implementing processes
- Overseeing employee benefits
- Managing the legal, accounting, treasury and tax departments
Skills required include, but are not limited to:
- High-level accounting, financial analysis and reporting abilities
- Management and leadership
- Communication and collaboration
- Short- and long-term strategic planning
Such skills are vital as CFOs balance different, often competing organizational priorities. They must allocate limited budgets across various teams, each of which are important to the company and its objectives. With other members of the C-suite, CFOs collaboratively shape larger strategic decisions like what products to expand, what markets to enter, and even which finance and accounting software their organization uses. As such decisions and priorities become increasingly shaped by rapid technological advances, CFOs must rely heavily on the skills above in order to ensure objectives are met.
Earning a master’s degree in accounting
Automation is changing what businesses and clients need from their accounting and finance teams. Rather than data entry and reporting, accountants must now prioritize the things that AI can’t do, navigating varied tax regulations and drawing on qualitative insights to inform decisions rooted in quantitative analysis. This change in focus will require a shift in talents, forcing professionals to address what Gartner calls the “finance’s skills gap.”
Two key areas of this skills gap involve:
- Technology, data literacy and analytics: Financial leaders must be able to use, read and draw insights from rapidly emerging technologies and the vast amounts of data they provide.
- Interpersonal skills: With accountants and analysts increasingly acting as financial advisors, they’ll need to collaborate across departments to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business. They must also be able to communicate in a way that encourages adoption of their ideas.
Regardless of which specific technologies come to dominate the field of accounting, their ability to help accountants go beyond the numbers will likely be the main proof of their success. With less time spent on manual data entry, accountants are freer to help their clients or employers operate more efficiently. Those who acquire the skills to do so will be best prepared for the most engaging and lucrative accounting careers.
About DePaul’s Online M.S. in Accounting
DePaul’s online M.S. in Accounting is designed to be both practical and forward-thinking. By developing the practical skills to be successful as accountants from day one, our graduates can immediately advance their careers or enter into highly competitive jobs. Our program is taught by faculty who have achieved the highest levels of education in accounting, finance and law, and are experienced accounting practitioners themselves.
In addition to building proficiency with high-demand accounting skills such as auditing, our program curriculum offers students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and knowledge of accounting principles. This empowers our graduates to take on more strategic roles within their organizations, offer more value to their clients and adjust to industry disruptions like those caused by technology.
We leverage our connection to industry leaders and promote an environment where students can find mentors, build their networks, leverage leading CPA prep services and graduate with skills they can use to push themselves further.
To learn more about DePaul University’s online MSA program fill out the fields below to download a brochure. You can also call 1-800-950-0232 to speak to one of our Admissions Advisors.
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