Not all accountants are tax preparers or government auditors. If you have a knack for business in a more general sense and want to use your financial reporting skills to help a company succeed, a career in management accounting could be the right choice for you. A bachelor’s degree in accounting can help you get started in this occupation, and attaining experience, certifications and an advanced degree are all options that can help you advance your career throughout your professional life.
Working in Management Accounting
What exactly is the field of management accounting? This specialty of accounting goes by many names, including private accounting, corporate accounting, industrial accounting, cost accounting and managerial accounting, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Being a management accountant does not necessarily mean you have a manager or leadership role, although that is certainly possible. Instead, it means that the financial reports you create are meant for use by the managers of your company. Those in leadership roles look to your work for recommendations on how to improve business.
Management accounting differs from public accounting in important ways. Instead of being an external party who creates financial reports about a client for the government or for the general public, you work in-house and develop financial statements for internal use. The managers of your organization use your analyses to create budgets, plan for business expenses, evaluate performance and managing investments and other assets, according to the BLS.
There are many advantages of working as a management accountant rather than a public accountant who prepares taxes or acts as an external auditor. Management accountants are more likely to work a regular schedule, with less overtime required and generally less stress. You have a steady office environment, whereas a public accountant tends to need to travel frequently to clients’ offices.
Salaries for corporate accounting tend to be somewhat lower than those for public accounting, according to the Association of International Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Accounting Courses for Aspiring Management Accountants
Most management accountants start off their career with a general accounting education. In bachelor’s degree programs in accounting, students take coursework that prepares them for work in private accounting, public accounting and even government and nonprofit accounting. However, some colleges and universities do offer managerial accounting programs at the undergraduate level. These specialized programs still cover the basics of a general accounting program, such as coursework in financial accounting, auditing, financial statement analysis and business law and ethics, but they include a narrower focus on the skills needed for a career in managerial accounting. Specialized courses for this major might include corporate finance and investment, budget preparation and reporting, planning and forecasting, cost management and internal controls, performance management, decision analysis and risk management and a capstone project or experience in management studies.
While a broad knowledge of business is important for any accounting professional, it is particularly important for management accountants to have a thorough background in business. Without this knowledge, corporate accountants would not be able to interpret the financial statements they produce in ways that allow them to make meaningful, actionable and sound recommendations to a company’s managers help them improve the operations of the business. Students in an accounting program typically need to complete core studies in foundational business subjects such as marketing, finance, operations management, organizational behavior, business policy, economics, and management information systems.
Some accountants start out with a bachelor’s degree in business administration that includes a concentration in accounting. While this path offers students a broad business background, it is typically less focused on the technical and analytical accounting skills.
Certifications and Advanced Degrees for Management Accountants
As you gain experience in the field of management accounting, you can also see significant salary increases and potentially move into senior-level or leadership roles. One benefit of a career in management accounting is that you can often get promoted without having a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, while public accountants may need this credential to advance their career. However, attaining new certifications or going to graduate school can give your career a boost.
Attaining the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential from the Institute of Management Accountants is one way to prove your worth as a corporate accountant. Candidates who have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of two years of management accounting experience can get certified by passing a two-part exam. The CMA exam covers topics such as financial statement analysis, risk management, working-capital policy, capital structure and valuation issues, the BLS reported. Though they are not public accountants, some management accountants choose to earn the CPA designation.
There are also master’s degree programs in management accounting specifically, if you are interested in going to graduate school. These programs are often offered online, and some management accounting master’s degrees can be completed in as little as 12 to 15 months. Coursework in a graduate program in management accounting might include studies in controllership, advanced auditing, corporate financial management, federal income tax of corporations, international accounting and advanced financial reporting.
Another graduate school option for management accountants is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, which can be valuable if you aspire to attain a role as a senior manager.