The globalization of the economy has created new possibilities for companies looking to increase their profitability and grow their customer base. However, to capitalize on business opportunities in international and domestic markets, organizations need financial experts who can help inform their decision-making and ensure their investments deliver sound Return on Investment. This is the role of an accounting analyst, an occupation that is growing in demand thanks to the expanding economy and a complex tax and regulatory environment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”). But how do accounting analyst job descriptions differ from other positions in finance, and what steps can professionals take to launch their accounting careers?
Finance vs. accounting
Although there is a lot of overlap between financial analysts and accounting analysts, the positions are actually quite different. Most accounting and finance professionals earn a Master of Accountancy or a similar graduate degree, but the work they perform varies. Each job focuses on separate aspects of money management and calls for distinct certifications, which is why students should consider their personal interests and long-term goals before launching their careers.
Accounting analysts are responsible for analyzing and reporting companies’ financial data on a day-to-day basis, while financial analysts are more concerned with reviewing specific financial decisions. In many cases, financial analysts use reports generated by accountants to evaluate market trends and formulate investment strategies, making their partnership crucial to an organization’s success. Accounting analysts also play a key role in ensuring their companies are compliant with existing tax law and upholding all regulations set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the International Accounting Standards Board and other government or private-sector regulatory agencies.
Accounting analyst job descriptions
Accounting analysts, often referred to simply as accountants, perform a wide array of administrative tasks that allow businesses to keep track of expenses and forecast future performance. Their primary duties involve preparing and examining financial reports with an eye for accuracy and compliance. These reports include income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, capital statements and other important financial documents. Depending on their level of education and years of experience, accounting analysts may also be asked for recommendations to help reduce costs, enhance revenue streams and increase profit margins. According to the BLS, accounting analyst job descriptions typically involve the following responsibilities:
- Examining quarterly and annual financial reports.
- Creating financial statements that detail profits, overhead expenses, and tax deductions.
- Calculating taxes owed and preparing tax return documents.
- Inspecting accounting books and systems to ensure efficient reporting.
- Organizing and maintaining clients’ financial records.
- Assessing financial operations and accounting department performance.
Like with most areas of business, the use of information technology has transformed how accounting analysts work. Professionals in this field rely on software applications like Microsoft Excel, QuickBooks and SAP to create detailed financial records, analyze data, and generate ad hoc reports, according to the Small Business Administration. As such, accounting analysts should have strong computer competencies and an ability to learn new programs quickly, as financial technologies are constantly being updated and improved. Alongside accounting software, professionals should also have some experience with databases such as MySQL, Oracle, Ms-Access, and MS-SQL.
Accounting analyst salary and job outlook
Accounting analyst salaries are heavily tied to a candidate’s level of education, accounting experience, and work history. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for accountants was $70,500 in May 2018, with the highest 10% earning more than $122,840. The lowest 10% earned a median salary of $43,650, which includes entry-level positions open to those with only a bachelor’s degree. Job data from PayScale paints a similar picture, as accounting analysts with less than one year of experience earn an average of $46,590.
More up-to-date wage forecasts were recently released by the global human resource consulting firm Robert Half, which projected that general accountants with one to three years of experience can expect to earn a median salary of $64,250 in 2020. For senior-level accountants and accounting analysts, salaries could range as high as $80,500 over the next year.
In terms of job outlook, the demand for experienced accounting analysts will likely expand as the economy improves and more companies go public. The BLS estimates that employment of accountants and accounting analysts will grow by 6% between 2018 to 2028, which is about as fast as the national average for all occupations. The agency also highlights that candidates who are accredited as certified public accountants will have the best job prospects and may be able to negotiate more competitive pay rates.
How to become an accounting analyst
Since most accounting analyst roles call for a deep understanding of finance, taxation, and legal compliance, many professionals start their career by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting. This enables them to pursue entry-level positions and start building their work history for future advancement. Through their postsecondary education, students learn how to prepare financial statements in accordance with the generally accepted accounting principles outlined by the Financial Accounting Standards Board and other important business concepts, including risk management, and principles in taxation.
After earning their bachelor’s degree and acquiring real-world work experience, accounting analysts often enroll in graduate programs like the online Master of Accountancy at the University of Nevada, Reno. This master’s program provides essential learning opportunities in advanced accounting, tax laws, and financial analysis that are necessary for high-level positions. For example, the online MAcc curriculum at UNR emphasizes technical skills and industry knowledge used by accounting analysts around the world, including business analysis methods, data transformation and SQL, federal taxation and auditing.
Many companies also prioritize candidates who are certified public accountants (CPAs), which requires candidates to pass the 16-hour computer-based test administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, meet the education and experience requirements and get fully licensed. Luckily, the online Macc at the University of Nevada Reno is designed to prepare students for the CPA exam and help them distinguish themselves from other job seekers with similar backgrounds. The program is entirely online and can be completed in as few as two years, allowing you to schedule classes around work and other important life commitments.