The value of any job depends on a number of factors, but salary is often one of the primary considerations. In an age where the demand for accountants is greater than the supply, it’s important for companies to offer competitive salaries to hire and retain qualified workers.

In this post, we’ll explore some of today’s accounting and CPA compensation trends. We’ll look at the average salaries for accountants and CPAs, while also examining the overall trajectory for those who are working in the field.

Accountant Compensation Trends 2021

According to the independent website payscale.com, the average accountant can expect to make $51,882 per year, though this figure can vary by geography and company.

As we’ll see later, this salary range can increase dramatically with the addition of specialized skills and areas of professional responsibility. A senior accountant, for example, can expect his or her salary to jump up to around $75,000, while a manager can expect his or her salary to climb to $90,000 or above.

CPA Compensation Trends 2021

Because of their specialized training, CPAs can expect to earn $68,491 per year, based on industry averages. For this reason, many accountants become CPAs, both for the increased salary as well as the expanded opportunities that certification provides.

Skills that Increase Compensation

Accountant compensation trends are influenced by the skills that employers look for in a potential hire. What kinds of skills can influence compensation?

Specialized Certification

CPAs typically have a wider range of opportunities as a result of their increased skill set. CPAs may also stand out to employers that are looking to pare down their stack of resumes, helping a candidate to leap-frog to the front of the line.

Technical Skills

Because of an increased reliance on automation, many companies expect their financial employees to possess a basic set of technical skills, including:

  • Computerized financial modeling/forecasting
  • Cloud-based payroll systems
  • Data analytics
  • Cybersecurity
  • Electronic medical and health records
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems

Students opting to enter a career in accounting should be aware that these skills can greatly influence their eligibility for today’s top positions.

Internships and continuing education can be invaluable resources in helping you adapt to new expectations and professional demands.

Soft Skills

While technology has been a powerful ally in the business world, it can never truly replace the need for basic human judgment. Financial professionals should therefore expect to demonstrate a set of “soft skills” that can influence their chances of being hired, while also influencing the compensation they receive.

These skills include:

  • Flexibility to work alone or in a virtual team
  • Customer service skills
  • Communication skills (both written and verbal)
  • Demonstrated problem-solving ability
  • A commitment to being a lifelong learner

Accountant compensation trends reveal that your skill set will go a long way toward helping you achieve the position you desire. It can also impact the compensation package you can expect to receive.

Which Accounting Positions Pay the Most in 2021?

If you’re looking for a six-figure salary, you may want to plan your career path from the get-go. Some positions provide a clear path toward greater compensation, as long as you know what to look for.

High-Paying Financial Positions

There are some positions in which midpoint salaries tend to be over $100,000 per year. These positions include:

  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Treasurer
  • Vice President of Finance
  • Director of Finance
  • Director of Accounting
  • Director of Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Controller
  • Divisional Controller
  • Tax Director

These jobs demand experience, but many companies create a clear path for advancement as a way to attract new hires.

High-Paying Areas of Specialty

Sometimes, your area of expertise can have an impact on the compensation you receive. For example, those who find a niche in tax services or audit/assurance services may find that their specialized skills allow them to be more sought-after than those who have generalized experience.

Check out this article on Ten States Where Accounting Professionals Salaries Go Further.

New Trend: Interim Professionals

One of the latest developments in accountant and CPA compensation trends rises from the destabilization of the industry itself. Recent setbacks and the viral pandemic have led many companies to consider hiring freezes as a means of cutting expenses.

But these cost-saving measures don’t eliminate the need for financial professionals. To meet their ongoing demands, many companies have adopted a new approach. By hiring interim professionals for specific financial tasks (e.g., auditing, tax prep, etc.), companies take care of their books without adding a full-time, long-term staff position.

Whether this trend can be expected to continue is a matter of speculation and debate. But with more outsourcing than ever before, some accountants may find more stability by working for a private accounting firm, managing a portfolio of clients.

One thing remains clear:  The need for accountants is not going away. Those who are considering a new career may wish to consider the stability provided by the accounting profession.

Looking to learn more about accounting and CPA compensation? Controllers Council is a national community and platform of Controllers, Accounting and Finance professionals focused on accounting best practices, information and resources, recognition and networking. Membership has many features and benefits to propel your career and expertise, and to be an active participant in our exciting community. Discuss topics like accounting and CPA compensation and more in our forum. Become a member today.

Additional Resources

Flexibility Today and in the Future: Planning Your Bounce Forward in 2021

Salary Trends in Accounting and Finance (Accounting Careers Consultants)

A Deeper Look at CPA Evolution

5 Questions Controllers Should be Asking Their CFOWebinar Tuesday, October 26

As key financial leaders within the organization, Controllers are increasingly tasked with improving the efficiency of operations, implementing new technologies and guiding teams toward paperless workflows. To do this effectively, they need to work closely with their CFOs to drive the organization towards executable strategies that maximize the value brought by investment in technology.