How to Become a Financial Accountant

| Terrisha Buckley Modified on March 23, 2022

How to Become a Financial Accountant

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Financial accountants compile, record, and report businesses' transactions in financial statements. Financial accountants generate reports like balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. They are also instrumental in preparing taxes and disclosing an organization's financial health for regulation.

Good candidates for this profession are typically very analytical. They are also known for having great communication skills and adeptness in building a professional network. Business awareness is also important to have.

Generally, a bachelor of science in accounting or a related field is required plus three years of experience. A master's degree and further certifications may increase your competitive edge and lead to opportunities for advancement.

Steps to a Financial Accountant Career

While being a mathematical genius is not required to be a financial accountant, employers typically expect a college degree. Prospective financial accountants have a fairly straightforward path toward their careers:

  1. Earn a Bachelor's in Accounting or a Related Field: The first step is to earn a bachelor's in accounting, finance, economics, mathematics, statistics, business studies, or business management.
  2. Complete at Least One Internship: During your undergraduate education, it is strongly recommended to complete at least one internship before graduation.
  3. Gain Experience: After graduation, you should begin working in the field for up to three years.
  4. Pursue an Advanced Degree and Licensure: Pursuing a master's degree and sitting for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam could help advance your financial accounting career.

Alternative Path

  1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree: If you are pivoting to this career and already have a bachelor's degree, you are still able to sit for the certified management accountant (CMA) exam.
  2. Gain Experience: Gaining experience benefits you in two ways, it fulfills the requirement for most job postings for up to three years of experience and helps to fulfill the experience requirement for the CPA exam.
  3. Enroll in Additional Accounting Coursework: If you are pursuing a CPA, there are credit hour requirements that must be met prior to sitting for the exam. Depending on your location, pursuing a master's degree may suffice.
  4. Take the CPA Exam: Gaining the CPA credential will help with gaining employment and in career advancement.

Education Requirements for a Financial Accountant

Generally, financial accountants are expected to have a bachelor's in accounting or some related field such as finance, economics, or statistics. After that, accountants may complete several years of entry-level experience.

Certain degrees may allow a potential financial accountant to stand out from the rest for employment and possibly increase their odds of advancement. For instance, while a bachelor's degree is required, a master's degree may lead to faster employment and job advancement.

If you are looking to become certified as a CMA or a CPA, you should ensure that your coursework satisfies the minimum requirements to sit for these exams. For example, a degree in a relevant business field will better satisfy the requirements than a degree in another field.

For efficiency, it may be helpful to compare the course requirements for your degree to the requirements for any certifications you may pursue in the future. Additionally, a concentration in financial accounting may better prepare you for a career in financial accounting or analysis. This allows you to be very specific while still maintaining some career flexibility.

This is a possible first step in pursuing a career as a financial accountant. A more advanced degree is required.

Required Credentials for Financial Accountants

Technically, a financial accountant is not required to have additional certifications beyond education and experience. However, many professionals find that gaining additional certifications helps with gaining employment opportunities and career advancement.

For those seeking additional certifications there are a few options to consider:

  • CMA: This certification signifies expertise in financial accounting and decision-making. The CMA is also a great option for those that do not have an accounting background, which is helpful but not required.
  • CPA: The CPA is one of the more rigorous certifications. An accounting background is required, including relevant coursework and experience. Specific licensure requirements vary by state.
  • Charter Financial Analyst (CFA): This certification is one of the most respected and difficult of the financial designations. It measures expertise in accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis.

While none of these certifications are required, many accountants have at least one of these. The CPA and CMA are considered complementary. About 1 in 3 CMAs in the U.S. are also CPAs.

Optional Certifications and Degrees

The minimum requirements for a financial accountant are a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field and up to three years of experience working in accounting.

Many financial accountants either have or are in pursuit of a master's degree in accounting and additional certification such as the CMA, CPA, or CFA designation.

Gaining additional certification and advanced degrees may help a candidate stand out more when they are being considered for job opportunities. These credentials could even give the candidate priority for a salary increase and/or career advancement.

All of the certifications take place after completing a bachelor's degree. A CMA does not require an accounting background but is recommended. This license requires continuing education to maintain the credentials.

A CPA requires an accounting background including course and experience requirements. A master's degree following a bachelor's degree in accounting typically meets these requirements. Renewal is stipulated by your state board of accountancy.

A CFA license requires intensive hours of study followed by a rigorous exam. The renewal process for this is stipulated by the CFA Institute.

Required Experience for a Financial Accountant

A financial accountant is required to have up to three years of experience. This experience can be fulfilled as a part of their undergraduate education via an internship. These accounting internships can be paid or unpaid.

Aspiring financial accountants can gain experience by working as financial clerks, as bookkeepers, or in other positions in companies' accounting departments. As every business requires an accountant's services, opportunities can vary via in-house or through a firm.

Depending on where you are applying, education and experience requirements may fluctuate.

Aspiring financial accountants can gain experience by working as financial clerks, as bookkeepers, or in other positions in companies' accounting departments.

Nevertheless, additional education and certifications may help you stand out among other candidates.

Should I Become a Financial Accountant?

Becoming a financial accountant can be highly rewarding. For those who have great communication skills, attention to detail, and an analytical mindset, this may be a long and fulfilling career.

Financial accountants can find work opportunities within the public and private sectors. Some drawbacks include working in a high-stress environment, especially around tax season. Additionally, sitting for long periods of time can lead to health concerns.

Additional challenges include obtaining a bachelor's degree and optional certifications. While degrees do require an initial investment, this credential allows graduates to pursue financial accountant roles.

The accounting profession allows you to work for a variety of companies and organizations. With that in mind, you can work in many locations. Some accountants also use their skills for nonprofit organizations on a voluntary basis.

The Job Hunt

Applying for accounting jobs may seem overwhelming at first, but there are some resources to assist you. As a future financial accountant, networking is a great skill to develop. Many students take advantage of collegiate career fairs and internships as potential employment prospects.

Some additional options include these job boards:

Accounting.com: This job board is updated often to include jobs from entry-level to senior employment within many different locations.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants: This job board is targeted to those with the CPA designation.

Robert Half Talent Solutions : Robert Half matches job seekers in the accounting profession with recruiters and businesses.

Upward Mobility

As you pursue your financial accountant career, there will be opportunities to pivot or advance in the field. These pathways involve advanced degrees, like a master's degree or additional certifications such as CMA, CPA, and CFA.

Some options for career advancement for financial accountants include:

  • Management Accountants: Also called managerial accountants or corporate accountants, management accountants work within organizations to assist company leaders with financial decisions.
  • Financial Analysts: Financial analysts offer expertise on how to invest assets. They frequently review the numbers and create detailed reports to provide the best financial advice to the company.
  • Auditor: Auditors work with clients to review financial reports and other documents for accuracy and compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Accounting Manager: Accounting managers oversee the work performed by accountants, bookkeepers, auditors, and other accounting professionals.
  • Financial Controller: Financial controllers typically work in the private sector in a supervisory role. Depending on the size of the company, they can do more hands-on tasks or focus on financial analysis and management.

Questions About the Financial Accountant Career Path

What degree do you need to become a financial accountant?

The minimum requirement to become a financial accountant is a bachelor's in accounting or a related field.

How long does it take to learn how to be a financial accountant?

With the combination of the required bachelor's degree and experience, it may take a minimum 6-7 years to become a financial accountant.

What certifications do you need to become a financial accountant?

There are currently no certifications required to become a financial accountant. Additional certifications such as the CMA, CPA, or CFA are helpful in gaining employment and advancement.

Are financial accountants in demand?

Financial accountants, like all accounting professionals, are in demand with a positive outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that accountant jobs will grow by 7% from 2020-2030.


Featured Image: AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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