Accounting Manager Career Overview

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Updated September 26, 2022

Read this guide for a thorough accounting manager job description, including necessary skills, areas of expertise, and salary data.

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An accounting manager ensures organizations' financial records remain accurate while meeting reporting deadlines. They establish internal controls and guidelines for preparing transactions that comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). They may even coordinate the budget preparation process to ensure financial reporting accuracy.

According to the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), approximately 75% of finance professionals supervise key accounting functions. Businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions employ or contract accounting managers in part- and full-time positions. Accounting managers frequently collaborate with other team members and department heads.

Professionals who thrive in these roles enjoy working independently. They are also detail-oriented, organized, and mathematically proficient. Responsibilities may eventually expand to include supervising staff, overseeing budgeting and forecasting, and developing accounting procedures.

Experienced accounting managers may also shift from day-to-day operations to more strategic tasks, such as analyzing financial data and advising senior management on financial decisions.

Read on to discover more about this profession, including key skills, common job titles, and typical duties.

What Is an Accounting Manager?

While specific job duties may vary, accounting managers typically oversee the work of accountants, review financial statements, and prepare reports for senior management. The accounting manager job description also usually includes duties related to compliance with relevant laws and regulations. With this in mind, they may develop and implement internal accounting policies and procedures.

Common responsibilities for account managers include:

  • Establish and Monitor Financial Systems: Accounting managers create, monitor, and evaluate financial systems within their organizations. They collect, analyze, verify, and report financial information to document firms' financial performance and position companies to make well-informed financial decisions.
  • Meet Financial Objectives: Accounting managers recommend forecasting requirements, draft annual budgets, and project expenditures to prepare periodic statements and meet financial regulatory requirements. They analyze general ledger variances and suggest corrective action for management's approval to meet annual accounting financial objectives.
  • Achieve Operational Objectives: These professionals develop action plans, audit operations, and propose efficiency improvements. Skilled accounting managers lead the accounting team to provide accurate, timely data and recommendations.
  • Monitor Revenue and Expenses: An accounting manager ensures companies' financial wellbeing by tracking revenue and expenses, consolidating and analyzing financial data, preparing special reports, maintaining internal controls and other best practices, and reporting activity to internal and external customers.
  • Lead Accounting Staff: Included in the accounting manager's purview is recruiting, hiring, and supervising accounting staff. They also conduct performance evaluations, coordinate training programs, and identify training needs.

Key Hard Skills for Accounting Managers

  • Financial Statement Preparation: Accounting managers prepare financial statements, which provide insights into the financial health of a company. These insights allow businesses to make strategic decisions about resource allocation. This skill also transfers to other accounting specialties, such as tax preparation and auditing.
  • Microsoft Excel: There are many ways accounting managers leverage Microsoft Excel to streamline data. Some duties include automating repetitive tasks, creating sophisticated financial models, and streamlining data analysis.
  • Knowledge of U.S. GAAP: Accounting managers must understand GAAP and its implications. For instance, GAAP guides the recording and preparation of financial statements, ensuring they are accurate and complete. GAAP standards also guarantee disclosures properly describe a firm's financial position and performance.
  • Financial Close Experience: Financial close completes all financial transactions for the month, quarter, or year to ensure financial statements accurately represent the reporting period. The financial close process also uncovers errors or discrepancies recorded in the financial statements before publication.

Key Soft Skills for Accounting Managers

  • Management: Management and supervisory skills allow managers to plan and organize work, set priorities, and delegate tasks. Additionally, these skills help leaders communicate effectively with team members to resolve conflicts and make decisions aligned with company priorities.
  • Communication: Successful accounting managers effectively communicate financial information to employees, shareholders, and other interested parties. Communication skills allow these professionals to simplify complex financial concepts, build relationships with key stakeholders, and prepare concise financial reports that accurately reflect organizations' financial health.
  • Eye for Detail: Accounting managers must accurately track and record financial transactions, using a keen eye for detail to find and correct discrepancies. This information helps companies make important financial and operational decisions. Thus, it is essential that financial transactions and reports are accurate.
  • Organizational Skills: Organizational and time management skills help accounting managers track and prioritize ongoing projects and tasks. With these abilities, accounting managers can effectively launch, monitor, and evaluate accounting operations and deliverables.

Accounting Manager Areas of Expertise

Accounting managers can specialize their careers in specific industries. For instance, they can work in healthcare, finance, or retail. Each of these sectors requires a particular knowledge base and skillset tailored to the industry. We explore common areas of expertise below.

Taxation

Taxation accountants prepare and file tax returns. They also track tax payments and refunds. Relevant skills for this specialty include knowledge of tax laws and regulations, as well as experience in accounting and bookkeeping.

These professionals work in public and private sectors. Entry-level taxation accountants file individual and corporate tax returns, while senior-level workers often perform more complex tasks, such as auditing tax returns and representing clients in tax disputes.

Taxation accountants typically report to a supervisor or manager, and can advance to positions such as tax manager or tax director.

Common Job Titles

Auditing

Auditors examine financial records to ensure accuracy and compliance with regulatory standards. These professionals need attention to detail and analytical skills to identify errors in posted accounting transactions. They must also communicate effectively with clients and management to explain audit findings and recommend improvements.

Auditors typically work in office environments, traveling to client sites when needed. Entry-level professionals conduct financial audits and provide recommendations for improvement.

An auditing manager leads a team of auditors and oversees larger and more complex projects. Auditors typically report to a manager or firm partner.

Common Job Titles

Financial Accounting

Financial accountant duties include maintaining and reconciling ledgers, preparing financial statements, and managing budgets. Relevant skills include mathematical proficiency, analytical ability, and attention to detail.

These professionals work in a variety of environments, including public accounting firms, corporate accounting departments, and nonprofit organizations. Projects in financial accounting can vary widely, but may include preparing annual financial statements, developing budgeting models, and improving existing systems.

A staff accountant is one example of an entry-level role, while senior positions include controller and chief financial officer.

Common Job Titles

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accountants investigate financial crimes and irregularities by applying accounting, auditing, and investigative techniques. They often work for private companies, law enforcement agencies, and government organizations.

Forensic accountants collect and analyze financial intelligence, often working with electronic data. They conduct interviews, take testimony, and may testify as expert witnesses in court. Entry-level forensic accounting professionals assist senior forensic accountants by completing research, reviewing financial records, and preparing reports.

A forensic accounting manager typically leads investigations and teaches others about fraud prevention. These accounting specialists typically report to a supervisor or manager.

Common Job Titles

  • Securities Commission Forensic Auditor
  • Accounting Manager - Forensic and Litigation
  • Forensic Accountant, Claim
  • Forensic Auditor
  • Director of Risk and Investigations, Forensic Accounting and Advisory Services

How to Become an Accounting Manager

Becoming an accounting manager is a process that requires education and experience. A bachelor's degree in accounting is the minimum educational requirement for most staff accounting roles. However, for accounting manager positions, employers may prefer applicants with a master's degree in accounting or business administration.

Advanced positions like accounting manager often require five or more years of relevant work experience. Some accountants start as entry-level workers and get promoted within their organization, while others apply for managerial positions at other companies after accruing the necessary experience.

In addition to formal education, accountants can earn professional credentials that can help them qualify for advanced roles. The certified public accountant (CPA) licensure, though not typically not required for entry-level positions, may be necessary for managerial roles. In addition to CPA licensure, accounting professionals can pursue credentials like certified management accountant, chartered global management accountant, and certified internal auditor.

These credentials typically require candidates to pass an exam and meet experience requirements. To maintain certification, professionals usually earn continuing education credits.

Through combinations of these factors, accounting professionals obtain the tools and knowledge necessary to join leadership teams in the field.

Accounting Manager Career Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects accounting jobs will grow 7% from 2020 to 2030. Payscale reports the median salary for accounting managers is $76,360 as of August 2022.

Factors that influence accounting managers' income include specialization, location, industry, experience, and education. For example, an accounting manager who works in a large city may earn more than a manager who works in a small town.

Career Spotlight: John B. Dutcher, CPA

Why did you become an accounting manager? What initially interested you about the field?

I became a CPA originally because I knew I was good at math. Like most college kids, that's all I thought accounting and finance were. As I progressed into my career, I had no idea that this field was dependent on relationships with people. I stayed in the field much more because of that, rather than just doing math all day. Luckily, Wiss recognized this strength as well, and here I am as an accounting manager.

People can get an accounting manager confused with a management accountant or account manager. (The latter usually has nothing to do with accounting.) Can you explain the differences?

I prefer to think about the fields each of these positions work in rather than specific definitions. An accounting manager generally is responsible for a team of fellow accountants and may take ownership of a more complicated accounting matter. This can apply in public (audit) or private/industry (controller) sectors. A management accountant takes on more finance-type roles like budgets and forecasting. Lastly, an account manager is much more relationship-based, rather than digging into the numbers. Think of a sales or banking relationship.

What education did you need to pursue this career? How did it prepare you for your current role?

I obtained a BS in finance but also minored in accounting. The minor obviously directly related to the work I'd be performing as a staff auditor and senior-level auditor. However, I believe my major really prepared me more for my role as a manager, at least in terms of client service. I felt I could connect with business leaders and understand their point of view.

What was the job search like after graduating with your degree?

The job market was very much in flux when I graduated in 2010. Originally, I had every intention of pursuing my finance degree and assumed I'd be working somewhere in New York City. However, the Great Recession of 2008-09 had different plans for me. I saw so many friends coming out of college unemployed. I decided to start taking some accounting courses because I knew those friends were still getting a job out of college. I was able to get a position with Wiss and here I am today!

No matter their walk of life, people just want to be able to connect and have an honest conversation with someone.

What was the career path that led you to this position? What do you think helped you most on your journey to becoming an accounting manager?

For the most part, I continued to climb the ranks at Wiss as the years went by. In recent years, I've found my niche in the family office department here and it's been awesome. My ability to connect with clients as well as the teams of Wiss staff has definitely been the most significant impact to my journey. No matter their walk of life, people just want to be able to connect and have an honest conversation with someone, all the while trusting their business or their own career path is being treated faithfully.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

My typical day is pretty diverse, involving different tasks I participate in. Usually, I'm checking in with various seniors or managers on the ongoing assurance engagements I have. At any given time, that may be 10-12 different teams. Between those check-ins, I am reviewing workpapers or participating in an administrative firm meeting. I also have calls or meetings with senior client personnel, lawyers, bankers, and other third-party consultants.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as an accounting manager? Some of the most challenging aspects?

Two of the most rewarding aspects of my position are: The ability to have a real-world impact on my clients, whether it's their business or their family; helping them navigate life-changing events is really satisfying. The other rewarding aspect is helping younger staff at Wiss navigate the trials and tribulations of growing as an accounting professional. It's awesome to see motivated team members and see them grow as professionals.

The most challenging aspect would have to be the juggling of everything that gets thrown your way, even on a daily basis. Prioritizing your work is so important, because that's really the only way you can be an effective leader. Remembering to maintain or improve your work-life balance is so important, too!

What do you think is the most important skill accounting managers need to succeed?

Without a doubt, it has to be communicating clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing. You need to be knowledgeable, of course, but being able to communicate effectively with your clients and teams will give you confidence, as well as others being confident in your abilities.

What advice would you give to students considering your career?

Consider taking an elective for business writing if available. You'd never think you would do so much writing in an accounting/finance field, whether it's audit documentation, memos, or even just emails. It's so important to your professional development to be able to write clearly and effectively. And for those thinking about the CPA exam, it's definitely easier to get it done earlier in your career, rather than later. You will only have more responsibility and important family life events later in life that you won't want to miss!

Portrait of John B. Dutcher, CPA

John B. Dutcher, CPA

John Dutcher is a senior assurance manager at Wiss & Company, LLP with over 10 years of public accounting experience. He has provided accounting and auditing, tax, and business advisory services to privately held businesses in industries such as manufacturing, retail supermarkets, and professional service firms. Additionally, he has provided accounting and auditing services to 501(c)(3) and 509(a) not-for-profit organizations.

John is involved with the employee benefit plan group at the firm and performs many defined contribution and defined benefit plans ERISA audits.

As a senior assurance manager, John's day-to-day responsibilities include managing the engagement team from planning stages through report finalization; supervising; controlling budgets; and identifying, researching, and resolving accounting and auditing issues encountered on engagements. He also conducts educational presentations for internal purposes.

Additionally, he oversees projects such as financial projections, debt refinancing, and other company reorganizations to family-owned businesses as part of his business advisory experience.

Questions About the Accounting Manager Job Description

Is an accounting manager the same as a management accountant?

Management accountants and accounting managers occupy similar roles. The IMA states that management accountants oversee financial operations and advise decision-makers on the financial planning and budgeting process. Examples of management accounting titles include financial analysts, accounting managers, controllers, and chief financial officers.

What are the duties and responsibilities of an accounting manager?

An accounting manager handles the overall management and supervision of the accounting department. This includes overseeing the work of accountants, reviewing financial statements, and preparing reports for upper management. They may also develop and implement accounting policies and procedures.

What are the qualifications for an accounting manager?

Typically, the accounting manager position requires at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, as well as several years of experience working in accounting. Some employers may also require licensure or certification, such as CPA designation.

Do accounting managers make good money?

Accounting managers typically earn higher-than-average salaries. Payscale reports the average annual wage for these professionals is $76,360 as of August 2022. Pay often varies by location, credentials, industry, and experience.

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