By: Accounting.com Staff
Last Updated: December 2019
Accounting managers manage teams of accountants, ensuring they meet an organization's goals. The position requires several years of experience as an accountant, with some employers preferring candidates with a master's degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earn a median salary of more than $70,000 a year, and those who move into management roles earn some of the highest wages in the profession. Accountants in the top 10% of the field earn over $122,000 per year. This page details how to become an accounting manager and discusses education requirements, relevant professional certifications, and career resources.
What Skills Do You Need to Become an Accounting Manager?
The responsibilities of accounting professionals vary by industry. Public accountants manage tax returns and budget reports, while internal auditors analyze financial documents to uncover errors. Forensic accountants use their skills to investigate fraud and other financial crimes, while managerial accountants evaluate financial documents for businesses. In addition to accounting skills, accounting managers in every industry need strong leadership, communication, and planning skills.
Accountants in every subfield need strong financial analysis skills. These skills let accounting managers effectively manage accountants and set goals and priorities for their division.
Accounting managers act as leaders within their departments, coordinating with executives to discuss the organization's goals and creating plans for staff accountants to meet those goals.
Accounting managers must effectively communicate with executives and subordinates to meet goals and manage their division. Therefore, they need strong verbal and written communication skills.
Accounting managers need organizational skills to manage multiple employees and tasks at the same time. They must oversee their entire division while maintaining organized documents.
To effectively oversee their accounting team, accounting managers need strong management skills. They direct team assignments to ensure the team meets the organization's goals.
At the management level, accountants contribute to their organization's long-term goals by proposing methods to improve efficiency and lower costs, which requires strong planning skills.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Accounting Manager?
Accounting managers must meet educational and work experience requirements to qualify for most positions. At a minimum, accounting managers need a bachelor's degree and several years of professional accounting experience. However, some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree or additional accounting certification.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor's in accounting
Most entry-level accounting positions require a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or a closely related field. Accounting majors complete coursework in accounting, auditing, finance, and business. In addition to accounting major requirements, students complete general education courses and electives. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete.
Step 2: Consider earning a master's degree
Earning a master's degree helps prospective accounting managers stand out in the job market. During a master's program, accountants strengthen their professional skills and gain management and leadership abilities. A master's in accounting or an MBA prepare accountants for management positions; both of these programs typically take two years to complete.
Step 3: Earn a certification
Some accounting managers hold certifications on top of their degrees. The most popular certification remains the certified public accountant (CPA) credential. However, the certified management accountant (CMA) and qualification in internal audit leadership (QIAL) credentials can also help accountants advance into the management level. Depending on the certification, students may need to spend over a year fulfilling requirements.
Step 4: Gain work experience
Accounting managers need work experience before pursuing management-level roles. While a master's degree may count for several years of work experience, professional experience as an accountant provides valuable hands-on training for managers. Many employers require around five years of professional experience, although this may be less for candidates with a master's degree.
Step 5: Pursue accounting manager jobs
After earning a degree, gaining work experience, and becoming certified, accountants can pursue management-level roles.
What Education Do You Need to Become an Accounting Manager?
According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree represents the entry-level education requirement for accountants and auditors. Employers typically look for a degree in accounting or a closely related field. Some accounting programs offer specialized degrees, such as a bachelor's in forensic accounting or internal auditing. Alternatively, accounting majors can often choose a concentration to prepare for a specific career path after graduation.
During a bachelor's program in accounting, students build analytical skills as they learn how to prepare financial documents, conduct audits, and perform other accounting tasks. Accounting majors considering management-level positions can strengthen their training by completing coursework in business, leadership, and management. A minor in business administration may also help prospective accounting managers stand out in the job market.
Some employers prefer accounting manager candidates who hold a master's degree, in addition to experience.
Accounting managers typically complete several years of work experience as accountants before pursuing management positions. However, some employers prefer accounting manager candidates who hold a master's degree, in addition to experience. Students who earn a master's degree in accounting learn advanced accounting skills. Employers also consider candidates with an MBA -- particularly those with a specialization in accounting.
In addition to meeting educational requirements, prospective employers may look for certifications. For example, public accounting manager positions may require the CPA credential.
Accounting Manager Career Development and Credentials
The accounting profession offers multiple opportunities for career development, including certifications that can increase a worker's earning potential. For example, a prospective accounting manager with a background in internal auditing can earn the QIAL credential to advance their career. This section provides certification and licensing information for accounting managers.
Certifications and Continuing Education
Accounting managers can strengthen their job prospects by pursuing certifications and continuing education opportunities. While certifications often remain voluntary, they demonstrate advanced skills to prospective employers. The CPA credential represents one of the most popular accounting credentials. Organizations that employ public accountants may prefer accounting managers with this credential.
Accountants can also pursue certifications in a specialty. For example, the CMA credential recognizes specialists in management accounting, while the QIAL credential represents internal auditing specialists. Each certificate sets its own education, exam, and continuing education requirements.
Credentials and Licensing
Most accounting fields do not require a license or certificate to practice. However, certified public accountants must complete a state licensing process to work as CPAs. The licensure process and requirements vary by state, so prospective CPAs should research the requirements where they live.
Candidates typically must pass the CPA exam, meet initial educational requirements, and maintain the license by completing continuing education units. Typically, CPAs must complete 150 credits of postsecondary coursework; many individuals fulfill this requirement by earning a bachelor's and then a master's degree or graduate certificate in accounting. The CPA exam -- offered by the American Institute of CPAs -- includes four parts and can take up to 18 months to pass.
Learn More About Accounting Manager Careers and Take the Next Step Today
Institute of Management Accountants
Accounting and finance professionals in business can access career development and certification opportunities through IMA. The institute offers the CMA credential and continuing education classes for management accountants.
American Institute of CPAs
AICPA administers the CPA exam and represents current and prospective CPAs. The institute offers career guidance, professional development tools, and continuing education opportunities. AICPA also grants scholarships to accounting students.
Institute of Internal Auditors
The IIA represents internal auditors, including those at the management level. The institute offers the QIAL credential for professionals with executive skills. The IIA also publishes Internal Auditor magazine and hosts conferences with networking opportunities.
National Society of Accountants
A professional association for tax and accounting professionals, NSA provides professional development and educational resources, including webinars and seminars. The society also grants scholarships to accounting students.
American Accounting Association
A scholarly association that admits academic and professional accountants, the AAA publishes research in the field and offers a career center with job openings. The association also hosts an annual conference.