Known as the gold standard for competence and considered a remarkable achievement, a CPA license transforms an accountant into a certified public accountant, or CPA. Only licensed CPAs have the opportunity to work in the certified public accounting field, which opens the door to new career pathways and opportunities in the industry.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Role in the Workforce
Individuals, businesses, and government agencies of all sizes and across all industries require the help of a financial expert to track, record, and manage their finances. Given that CPAs have extensive experience as well as advanced accounting skills, it is not surprising that they are in high demand in the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job market for accounting and auditing professionals is expected to grow by about 4 percent by 2032. However, there are concerns about this growth number due to external factors discussed by the 2023 Trends Report by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AIPCA). The AIPCA notes that there has been a steady decline in accountants passing their CPA exam. For example, 2022 has 19% less accountants passing their CPA exam when compared to 2019.
Download your guide to learn everything you need to know about earning a Master’s in Accounting online.
The Difference Between a CPA and a Regular Accountant
An accountant is a professional who has usually earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has the knowledge and skills required to provide basic accounting services to clients. Additionally, it is not unheard of for some accountants to have acquired their career without a bachelor’s degree or have a degree in a non-accounting field. Accountants often work with individuals and businesses to prepare financial records and tax documents.
A CPA is an accountant who has earned additional credentials to receive CPA licensure by a state board of accountancy. In order to be qualified for licensure, an accountant must meet educational and professional experience requirements as well as pass an exam. Once a CPA has passed their exam and earned their license, they are able to provide businesses and individuals with more complex financial services. Rather than simply preparing tax documents and providing basic accounting services, a CPA can audit companies, manage cash flow for clients, represent clients during legal matters related to finance, and offer consulting services related to financial risk management.
Key Responsibilities of a CPA
CPAs play a critical role in the workforce, often maneuvering through complex financial issues and preparing extensive tax documents for their clients.
According to Workable some typical CPA job responsibilities include:
- Maintaining financial records for clients and preparing necessary documents.
- Working directly with clients, which could include businesses and individuals, to prepare tax documents.
- Analyzing documents to identify discrepancies or opportunities for improvement.
- Conducting audits for a company or individual.
- Advising clients about financial decisions to help them mitigate risk and plan accordingly.
Skills Required to Be a Successful CPA
Though the primary prerequisites to become a CPA are passing a licensure exam, education, and experience, there are additional skills that could help a CPA have a more lucrative and successful career. The most sought-after skills among CPAs include:
- Digital literacy and technical skills – CPAs must perform many of their tasks on well-known digital accounting platforms, such as QuickBooks, Drake Tax, and TurboTax. Modern CPAs should be able to effectively utilize the latest technology and adapt to up-and-coming digital tools that will continue to revolutionize the industry.
- Analytical skills – Accounting is more than just looking at the numbers and preparing the books. CPAs also must be able to analyze the figures that they are working with and determine if there are any problematic patterns or trends. The ability to analyze and evaluate financial data is crucial to the success of any CPA.
- Organizational skills – Given the fact that CPAs often work with a wide range of clients and provide a variety of financial services, it is essential that they stay organized. CPAs must be able to efficiently multitask and keep track of many deadlines in order to provide their clients with the best possible service.
- Communication skills – One of the trickiest skills for CPAs to perfect is communication. For CPAs, numbers and financial matters come naturally—but they frequently have to explain accounting principles and financial concepts to their clients in terms that they can understand, too.
- Business acumen – CPAs are often put in positions where they need to offer advice and guidance to their clients, so it is imperative they also have a deep understanding of business practices and operational strategy.
Essential Qualities Every CPA Should Possess
In addition to established financial skills and professional competencies, CPAs should strive to develop these key qualities to develop long-lasting relationships with their clients:
- Professionalism – CPAs are trusted financial professionals and must conduct themselves as such. When working as a CPA, you should strive to treat everyone with respect, maintain a professional demeanor in the workplace setting, and abide by all rules and regulations in the industry.
- Leadership – CPAs should focus on honing their leadership skills, as this allows them to develop better relationships with colleagues and clients. CPAs who understand how to manage, delegate, and actively listen to their team could build a better culture in the workplace.
- Flexibility – CPAs need to expect the unexpected and be willing to adapt if the circumstances change. The ability to be flexible will make you a better CPA.
- Dependability – CPAs must be reliable professionals who show up when they are needed and produce their work in a timely manner.
The Roadmap to Becoming a CPA
Many accountants decide that becoming a CPA is one of their top career goals. If you are interested in earning your CPA license, you should know what steps to take to accomplish it.
Educational Qualifications Necessary for Becoming a CPA
The educational requirements for becoming a CPA may vary based on the state in which you intend to practice, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. A bachelor’s degree in accounting or another related financial field is generally required to become licensed as a CPA.
It is worth noting that, according to Becker, many states require at least 150 hours of college coursework to be completed before taking the licensure exam. Candidates for CPA licensure may choose to take additional college credits beyond their bachelor’s degree program or pursue a master’s degree before attempting to become licensed as a CPA. While not required, a master’s degree could help a CPA become more qualified for leadership positions.
Preparing for and Passing the CPA Exam
The Uniformed Certified Public Accountant Examination (commonly known as the CPA exam) is a uniform test that all CPAs must successfully complete and pass before they are able to become licensed. The exam itself consists of four different sections, and those hoping to become licensed must pass all four sections within an 18-month time period, according to Indeed. The sections include auditing and attestation, financial accounting, reporting, and business environment. Depending on the state where you are taking the exam, you also may have to take an ethics exam.
Preparing for the CPA exam requires intense studying and practice. Aspiring CPAs may find that enrolling in a preparation course offers valuable experience and helps them feel more confident before taking the exam.
Gaining Relevant Work Experience
Most states require candidates to complete a certain amount of professional experience before pursuing CPA licensure. In general, Becker notes that you should have at least two years of professional experience in the accounting field before you take the CPA exam. Some states allow candidates to apply other relevant professional experience in related sectors, but you may need more years of experience in those areas before you can take the exam.
Continuing Education and Career Growth for CPAs
According to NASBA, most states require CPAs to maintain their licenses through continuing education and professional development. This ensures all CPAs stay up to date on the latest industry trends and continue to acquire the most relevant professional skills. Continuing education opportunities also allow CPAs to stay abreast of the ever-changing compliance rules, regulations, and guidelines to which organizations must adhere.
How Does Technology Impact the Role of a CPA?
Technology continues to have a significant impact on the role of CPAs today. The accounting field, like most other industries, must adapt to the latest technological advances in order to stay relevant. Many accounting firms are relying on advanced technological tools (such as artificial intelligence) to improve operational processes and reduce human errors in accounting. CPAs must continue adapting to new technology in the months and years ahead.
Learn More About Degree Programs at Post University
At Post University, we offer a Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree program that provides students with foundational knowledge in the best accounting principles as well as an overview of the ethics required to practice in the field. The broad scope of our skills-based curriculum allows you to gain insight into the accounting field and plan for a career that aligns with your interests. Contact us to request more information and get started.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!
Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s programs and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.