As a current or aspiring firm CPA, have you considered potential jobs after public accounting? You are in the perfect position to pivot to a new role.
This article will highlight 5 alternative career paths for CPAs to consider when they explore new opportunities. See how the skills you’ve gained will help you transition into your next career stage.
- Corporate banking
- Buy-side financial analyst
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Corporate accounting / finance
Starting your CPA career at a public accounting firm
It’s not surprising that accounting students gravitate toward big four accounting firms. It’s a safe choice; these are the options that have been at your fingertips, as firms have a major recruiting presence on campuses.
If you followed this path, you’re off to a great start! An entry-level auditing or tax role at a large public accounting firm teaches you valuable skills. Plus, when studying for the CPA Exam, most large firms will either pay for your CPA Review course or reimburse your expenses.
Working at a firm helped you meet CPA work experience requirements, and you gained significant experience working with large corporate clients.
Is it time to consider a change?
After a few years at a firm, you might start to feel some growing pains, such as:
- The hectic lifestyle doesn’t feel sustainable
- Promotion gets harder
- Most of your peers have left
- You don’t have a career goal of becoming a partner
You’re not alone. This is the time when many CPAs consider their next career move. Let’s look at how to leverage your firm experience and change your career trajectory.
5 CPA jobs after public accounting
1. Corporate banking
At first glance, corporate bankers and accountants have very different personality types. Corporate bankers tend to be outgoing, while accountants tend to be more reserved. Don’t let this sort of oversimplification deter you – many accounts would make successful corporate bankers.
Skills that will help you in corporate banking
The technical skills you developed at a public accounting firm are highly valued in the banking industry. Your strong understanding of financial statements and general market conditions will help you evaluate the credit quality of prospective borrowers.
Beyond understanding financials, corporate bankers are also required to make a compelling argument to internal management. Does it make sense to extend credit to a specific borrower? Making the case requires strong technical knowledge, writing abilities and verbal persuasion skills.
Public accountants have all the technical skills to be successful in this role. Additionally, the prospect of developing new skills in a different environment could re-energize your career.
How to transition to corporate banking
The easiest way to make the transition from accounting to banking is by looking for credit analyst roles within a corporate banking group at a bank (or one of the larger non-bank lenders). In this role, you will gain exposure to all aspects of the deal structuring process, from origination to closing. You’ll also be exposed to monitoring and evaluating these deals as their financial performance changes.
The difference between successful credit analysts and those that never get promoted often comes down to accounting. You have abilities to verbalize important nuances in a company’s business and explain the relationship between business conditions and financial statement impacts. These skills will win you favor among the relationship managers who originate new business.
Credit analysts will get promoted to either relationship managers or loan officers. The relationship managers are responsible for generating new business opportunities for the bank. Loan officers are responsible for deciding whether the bank will commit capital to that transaction.
Credit analysts are the bridge between those two roles as they document the transaction and present the final product to loan officers as part of the decision-making process.
2. Buy-side financial analyst
The world of investment management is highly competitive and can be challenging to break into. However, with public accounting experience, you have credibility and knowledge that can give you an edge over candidates without an accounting background.
Skills that will help you as a buy-side financial analyst
As a buy-side financial analyst, your financial analysis and accounting skills are critical. If you already have a strong understanding of how to prepare financial statements, your ability to anticipate how future events will be translated into the next quarter’s earnings are invaluable.
How to make the transition to buy-side financial analyst
If you’re serious about trying to break into this industry, you might also want to consider pursuing the CFA charter. Although taking another series of challenging tests might be the last thing you want to do, your accounting background will be a major benefit in studying.
Plus, accounting is frequently considered the hardest section on the CFA exam. If you already have a CPA and a few years of public accounting experience, this section will be much easier for you.
If you look at some of the prominent portfolio managers of large mutual funds, it shouldn’t come as a shock that they hold both the CFA charter and the CPA designation.
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Sometimes when you’re at a career inflection point, choosing a very different path could be exactly what you need to break out of that rut. When most people think about the FBI, they associate it with career field agents that resemble traditional law enforcement officers.
You might be surprised to discover that CPA’s are some of the most highly valued employees in the FBI.
Skills that will help you in the FBI
In order to successfully prosecute criminals, the FBI is required to compile evidence and prove very challenging and complex financial cases. This frequently involves analyzing and auditing large amounts of business and financial records.
How to transition to the FBI
A CPA with a background in public accounting has the perfect skill set to tackle this type of role. In addition to providing you with a very different work experience, you also have the opportunity to experience a different type of pride in your work product that can only come when you know your contributions have made a major difference in preventing harm to innocent victims.
Be prepared for a lengthy application process if you want to make this transition. If you are selected for an interview, you will have to provide extensive documentation and go through a background check. However, if you have the patience to go through the screening process, you might be rewarded.
4. Corporate accounting / finance
After spending a few years in public accounting and enduring the extra hours required during tax season, you might be ready for a role that requires fewer hours and less stress. Start exploring opportunities in the corporate world within an accounting or finance department.
Skills that will help you in corporate accounting
Since the function of corporate accounting is similar to a firm, your skill set will overlap. Expect a smooth transition into these types of roles.
As a public accountant, you have a unique advantage because you’ve already handled a variety of companies as clients. You might move directly to work for one of your clients or find a similar company.
For instance, if you’ve worked in retail auditing, you will become a desirable candidate for accounting at a retail company. Tap into the specializations you developed at a firm.
Transitioning into corporate accounting / finance
The best way to make this move is to keep your eyes open for opportunities and network with your client contacts. You’ll be able to get a sense of which firms are growing and might offer the best chance for advancement.
If you already have a professional relationship with your future boss, you will already know whether you would like to work for this person or not. That’s the easiest way to avoid any unpleasant surprises when you start working for a new company.
5. Financial planning
Ready to start working for yourself? Although it requires some extra risk and a few lean years, the satisfaction of being self-employed could change your life.
Skills that will help you in financial planning
Many people associate financial planning with investments. However, tax planning is just as important. It’s also an in-demand skill – many people prefer to pay for tax planning than do it themselves. Consider leveraging tax services to get easy leads.
If you already enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to maximize deductions, you’re in a great position!
After providing excellent tax services to those clients, it would be natural to offer additional financial planning services as an upsell.
Generating leads and building your practice
One of the best ways to transition into financial planning is by joining a firm with that focus. This in-between step can fully prepare you to open your own business.
After a few successful years, you could make the leap to opening your own independent firm or you could stay within your existing firm and build your business with the benefit of a large brand name.
Ready to change your CPA career path?
Deciding when and if you should make a career change is an important decision. Ultimately, you’re the only one that can make the best decision for your career. By holding the CPA, you have put yourself an enviable, high-demand position with many promising career paths at your fingertips.