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Career Alternatives for Accountants

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The field of accounting is the epitome of a white-collar job in that a typical working day is spent inside an office poring over spreadsheets and reports. It’s not a job that is thought of as stressful, much less one that can cause burnout to the point an individual starts looking into career alternatives for accountants. The fact is, accounting is often a stressful position because you’re responsible for other people’s money, tax issues, and financial operations.. An accountant has to make sure that their work is accurate, that they’re not placing their employer or client into a precarious position with a regulatory body or the IRS, handle payroll issues to make sure that employees are paid properly, work in groups that have to check each other’s work to ensure that everyone is coming to the correct results, and take responsibility for the reports they generate. It’s a lot of responsibility, and a lot of pressure.

There’s no denying the fact that accounting is a great career, but like all careers, it’s what you make out of it that matters. Working for a major accounting firm is excellent for a resume, but can make someone start looking into career alternatives for accountants after a few years. Fortunately for accountants, there are many alternative career paths available to them. Many of them incorporate a CPAs education and experience, but have core functions that are different from accounting. Many of these career alternatives for accountants have similar income profiles which means an accountant won’t lose out on potential income throughout their working life. 

Jobs for CPAs outside of accounting are plentiful and varied. They offer a career change from accounting, are found in just about every type of industry, but aren’t a total and complete change from the role of an accountant. A job in a field other than accounting gives you the chance to learn a new skill in a field that you find interesting, but decided against for various reasons. Getting burned out in accounting can open the door to a new way of working and even living. 

1. Financial Analyst

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A financial analyst is responsible for forecasting the financial operations side of an organization. It involves examining existing data, looking for trends and opportunities that can help a company grow or earn more revenue, evaluate the outcome of a decision, and identify investment opportunities. This is an excellent alternative career for an accountant due to the fact they already perform this type of work as a general rule. While an accountant doesn’t work exclusively as a financial analyst, they do help individuals and businesses make sound financial decisions that affect future operations. The fact that there is no direct educational role for a financial analyst is another advantage to an accountant who wants to switch careers. An accountant who wants to become a financial analyst is well advised to take the Securities Industries Essentials exam to boost their employability. 

2. Business Analyst

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The function of a business analyst is to examine the existing and ongoing processes of a business in order to determine where improvements can be made. This is a role that can be done as an employee of an organization, or as an independent consultant. An accountant that has experience working in business of any type or size can make the transition into the role of a business analysis with ease as they’re already familiar with how a business operates as a general rule. An accountant turned business analyst has an eye that’s trained to spot production issues, discrepancies, create and monitor quality controls, and analyze the financial information of the organization. The overall purpose of the business analyst is to find room for improvement, tweak what works well, but could use help, and make sure that all areas of the organization are working as they should. 

3. Entrepreneur

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An accountant is well-positioned to start their own business or improve the operation of a small business. Starting a business is more than just a good idea; it’s also being able to handle the financials, know how to file the articles of incorporation, and understanding payroll. Accounts are already taught how to handle these aspects of a business along with having intimate knowledge of how they underpin a business. This knowledge can be applied to a start-up situation, or it can be used to turn around an existing business that’s having issues. Becoming an entrepreneur is not much of a stretch for an accountant who doesn’t necessarily want to open their own accounting firm, but does want to own their own business. 

4. Business and Financial Consultant

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The role of business and financial consultant combines the work of business and financial analyst into what is usually as an outsider or independent contractor position. An accountant can get into this field either by taking advantage of a work opportunity or by working independently. An accountant is well-suited to analyzing how a business operates on the whole and find areas where improvements and changes are needed. Alternatively, the accountant can consult on the daily operation of an organization, or they can go over the financial side of the business to find issues that need correction. Businesses bring in outside consultants due to the fact an outsider isn’t involved in the company culture, has no loyalties to anyone in the organization, and isn’t interested in participating in the company’s operations as a whole. 

5. Human Resources

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An accountant can make the transition into the role of a Human Resources officer with ease due to their legal knowledge involving payroll and employee classification. It’s true there are legal issues that are not normally part of the education of an accountant, but it’s not difficult for an accountant to learn them and become qualified to work in HR. The Human Resources division of an organization needs individuals who are capable of handling complex tax issues, maintaining finances that relate to HR, and provide financial analysis when needed.

This role tends to combine accounting duties with that of Human Resources and may not look like much of a career change on the surface. However, moving into the HR department as an accountant offers the opportunity to keep the accounting education active while not working in the accounting division. 

6. Accounting Information Technology

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Accountants that are also good with information technology can combine the two skills into one position. The role of an accounting information technology professional is akin to that of an IT administrator, but with the added knowledge of accounting software and the demands of its users. An accounting information technology admin has the role of installing and maintaining IT networks, monitoring network security and preventing hacks, helping users with problems, and maintaining software installations and upgrades. The accounting knowledge and skills allow the accounting IT professional to troubleshoot issues that are unique to the field of accounting as well as enable end users to access their accounts and software without issues. 

Another area of accounting IT involves the installation and management of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. An ERP system connects together and manages all aspects of a business involved in production or distribution of products. ERP includes internal accounting as a central part of its function which lends itself well to an accountant with IT skills. An accountant can install an ERP system, maintain the operation, and teach users how to handle different functions. Alternatively, an accountant can work for an organization and maintain the ERP system. 

7. Budget Analyst

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A budget analyst examines existing budgets and creates forecasts for organizations of all types. A budget analyst’s main role is to go through the financial picture of a given organization and figure out where money is coming from, and where it’s going to. When the analyst finds improprieties in the books, they set up flags to inform people in the organization that something is wrong and there’s a situation that needs addressing. The analyst also finds ways to improve cash flows, locates areas where money is being drained unnecessarily, and creates reports that detail the results of changes that were implemented. The budget analyst also monitors all aspects of an organizations finances to ensure that money is being used properly. All the tasks that are performed by a budget analyst are ones that an accountant is capable of doing, making this an optimal alternative career for an accountant. 

8. Chief Financial Officer

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The chief financial officer (CFO) is that of a senior executive who is responsible for the financial condition of the entire organization. All divisions that have a financial aspect or duty report directly to the CFO, and the CFO examines the financial information that’s delivered to them. The CFO tracks the cash flow, monitors the company’s areas of financial strength and weakness, making sure that financial reports are delivered to other executives on a timely basis, and ensures that taxation issues are dealt with properly. The CFO is integral to the success of an organization as they have direct control of the finances, how money gets used, and partakes in decisions that can help the company succeed. 

9. Financial Examiner (Compliance Officer)

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Financial examiners make sure that the financial activities of a financial organization are in compliance with laws and regulations that are used to govern the industry. They also ensure that any transactions in finance and real estate adhere to the rules. A financial examiner may work in risk assessment or consumer compliance in order to ensure that the institution is making loans that are stable and safe and that the financial institution is keeping enough cash on hand to cover unforeseen losses. The consumer compliance division has the duty of ensuring that the financial institution isn’t engaging in discrimination against its borrowers and/or predatory lending practices. 

The core of the role of the financial examiner is that of an auditor. They examine a given dataset to look for discrepancies and patterns that may indicate that people who work for the financial institution aren’t adhering to federal and state guidelines. When a discrepancy is uncovered, the financial examiner has to create a report that details what they’ve found and deliver it to the relevant executive officers in the institution. It’s the ultimate duty of a financial examiner to keep a financial institution from fiscal instability that can cause it to close or be closed by the federal government. 

10. FBI

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At first glance, the idea of an accountant working for the FBI seems a little unusual. The agency has a reputation of law enforcement activities in the U.S., not an accounting firm. The truth is, many accountants work for the FBI in a forensic capacity. Accountants trained in forensic accounting are very capable of tracking money laundering and other kinds of financial misdeeds that signal the fact that illegal activity is going on. The IRS prefers to use investigative methods that will hold up in a court of law, and one of those methods is forensic accounting. Having a clear, undeniable and fully traceable pathway of financial underhandedness that shows criminal activity helps the FBI improve their chances of winning a conviction, and a forensic accountant is often key to finding that information.

An accountant doesn’t necessarily have to have a law enforcement background to work for the FBI or other law agency. However, going to school for forensic accounting practices can make it easier to find employment in the criminal justice field. 

Why Do Accountants Experience Burnout?

The function of an accountant is to analyze data on a daily basis and apply accounting principles, regulations, or relevant tax laws to financial data. It’s a job that requires a lot of thought, the internal fortitude to deliver information that’s not always well-received, coordinating with other accountants and stakeholders, and being prepared to take on a lot of pressure during tax season, fiscal year-end, and other annual events that require putting in a lot of overtime. Accountants are also expected to engage in continuing education in order to stay abreast of changes in the tax code, add specializations to their CPA title, and stay on top of regulations that are relevant to the business. The strain can sometimes be enough to make an individual ask “what can I do with an accounting degree besides accounting?” 

CPA career paths typically follow along the lines of working ones way up the corporate ladder to the C-suite and working as a CFO. The problem with that goal is the fact that there are way more accountants than CFOs. Getting promoted can be difficult if you don’t stand out to your employers, and you might wind up in one of many slower CPA career paths that see you stuck at a lower rung on the ladder. When you get stuck, your income stagnates, and you don’t enjoy your work as much as you once did. This is also another reason why accountants get burned out and start looking into a career change from accounting.

Oftentimes, accountants are expected to put their lives and families aside in order to be available to their employer. The employer may send the accountant to other cities to work on-site at a client’s place of business for the better part of a week, then start the cycle again the following week. Preparing taxes for the annual April 15th deadline can also result in months of long hours that start in January. The pressure doesn’t always let up, and it’s a lot for someone to handle, especially when management is unsupportive. Oftentimes, senior managers feel that junior accountants should be put through the same high-pressure experience they had to go through. The mindset is a combination of making younger accountants prove their worth along with getting the best out of young accountants before they start looking for a better work/life balance. Older accountants that make it through the boiler room atmosphere are just as likely to get burned out for the same reasons. 

What Can I Do With an Accounting Degree Besides Accounting? 

The above profiles list out some of the jobs for CPAs outside of accounting that offer salaries that are commensurate with working strictly as an accountant. However, there are plenty of jobs that offer a career change for accountants that may not pay the same salaries, but offer the satisfaction of working in a field that needs help and benefits from the hiring of a skilled professional. Hospitals, not-for-profits, community organizations, even law enforcement, are all good jobs for CPAs outside of accounting. The overall goal of a career change from accounting is to lower ones stress levels, find a better work-life balance, and recover from the effects of burnout. 

Accounting is something that all businesses require as part of their day-to-day operations. In turn, that opens up opportunities that you might not otherwise have considered, and you can usually find a job that is in line with your other aptitudes while also accommodating your accounting education. For example: you’re interested in helping bring criminals to justice, but you decided not to go into the field of law enforcement. Your accounting degree and experience is valuable to law enforcement operations that use accountancy to uncover criminal operations. Alternatively, you want to become an entrepreneur, or you become aware of a small business that needs guidance from an accountant. Your accounting skills can open the doors to either of these opportunities, enabling you to build more layers of experience that benefit you in the long run. 

Some of the fields that benefit from the knowledge of an accountant range from financial institutions to law enforcement. An accountant can transition to just about any role that requires someone with the ability to create financial reports, analyze financial data, find discrepancies in reporting, monitor accounts receivables and payables, handle payroll, and have a solid understanding of tax laws. However, these roles don’t have to be strictly related to accounting so much as they have accounting duties as part of their description. An accountant can still exercise their accounting skills and knowledge, but not be subject to the pressures of working in an accounting role. The opportunity to expand into other careers while maintaining one’s education in accounting can be exciting, interesting, and rewarding.

Should I Quit Accounting?

Should you quit accounting? Only you can answer that question definitively. Chances are good that you’re asking this question because you’ve reached a point where you’ve had enough, but you’re not sure of the short or long-term effects on your ability to work as an accountant, much less your career options. In the event that the pressures of the job have you questioning your work-life balance and your peace of mind, then yes, quitting the field of accounting is beneficial for your physical and mental health. There is nothing wrong with quitting the career field, nor is there any shame in making a decision to preserve your own well-being. However, you did put in a lot of work to earn your degree and enter into a field that offers steady employment, and that’s something you need to take into consideration when considering quitting the field.

An accountant should do their due diligence before deciding on a career change. Some roles, such as a financial analyst or working for a law enforcement agency, may require the accountant to go back to school to earn a certificate or associate degree that’s relevant to the field they’re looking to get into. Sometimes an employer wants to hire an accountant to get the job done, but having baseline knowledge in the chosen career can be of great assistance in terms of getting employed in a role that’s not strictly based in accounting. After all, you don’t want to leave a field that’s burned you out only to wind up being hired to do the same type of work. 

Making a career transition into an accounting-related field helps you maintain your accounting skills while giving you a fresh set of challenges that aren’t as likely to burn you out. You get the opportunity to build upon your existing knowledge in a different career field and leave behind the strain of a field that pushes individuals to their limits. Ultimately, you’ll always be able to find employment as an accountant if your career change doesn’t work out, but it’s best to keep that as a back-up option instead of a plan. There are plenty of career opportunities that welcome accounting skills, and you don’t necessarily have to go back to accounting if you don’t want to.

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