An Accounting Degree Doesn’t Always Mean Becoming An Accountant

By Bryce Welker, CPA and CEO of multiple companies, including Accounting Institute of CPAs.

In an era where the contours of traditional careers are rapidly changing, it’s intriguing to note how degrees, once seen as linear and specialized, are now offering a spectrum of different opportunities. One such degree is in accounting.

When most people think of an accounting degree, images of ledger books, financial statements and, of course, accountants may spring to mind. But this degree can be a launchpad to a myriad of unexpected professions and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Accounting: More Than Numbers

At its core, accounting is the language of business. It goes beyond mere number crunching to understanding the financial health and operational efficiency of a venture. With these skills, accounting graduates gain a holistic view of businesses, making them invaluable assets in diverse settings.

This understanding transcends the traditional roles within accounting firms or financial departments. Let’s explore some less predictable avenues accounting graduates venture into:

Entrepreneurship: Many business founders will attest to the importance of understanding the financial aspect of their operations. An accounting background can significantly decrease the learning curve for budding entrepreneurs, enabling them to make informed decisions from day one.

Consultancy: With their proficiency in evaluating financial health and identifying inefficiencies, accountants often transition to consultants, helping businesses streamline operations and optimize profits.

Financial journalism: Who better to report on financial news than someone who understands the intricacies of balance sheets and income statements? Many accounting graduates have found fulfilling careers in journalism, blending their financial know-how with storytelling prowess.

Nonprofit management: Accounting graduates are invaluable in the nonprofit sector, ensuring funds are used effectively and transparently. Their expertise aids in financial management, donor communication and grant applications, helping these organizations sustainably achieve their goals.

Corporate strategy and development: An understanding of financial health positions accounting graduates perfectly for roles in corporate strategy. They play pivotal roles in mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, assessing the feasibility and long-term implications of such decisions. Their unique perspective, blending financial expertise with business acumen, makes them strategic assets in plotting a company’s growth trajectory.

Forensic accounting: Although this is technically still an accounting role, it is a unique one. Diving deep into financial records to investigate fraud, embezzlement or other financial discrepancies, forensic accountants are detectives of the finance world. Their refined attention to detail and ability to interpret complex financial data make them invaluable in legal cases, ensuring justice and safeguarding businesses’ financial interests.

The Interdisciplinary Appeal

One of the strongest suits of an accounting degree is its interdisciplinary nature. An accountant, by training, often collaborates with professionals from marketing, operations, human resources and more. This equips them with a unique perspective and an ability to bridge various business functions.

For instance, in marketing, understanding the return on investment (ROI) is crucial. An individual with an accounting background can effortlessly calculate and interpret ROI, guiding marketing decisions. In operations, cost analysis and financial forecasting become second nature to someone trained in accounting, making them invaluable assets.

The Soft Skills Acquired

In the intricate dance of business, imagine an accountant as the choreographer. Beyond the expected steps of financial analysis and auditing, their soft skills often steal the spotlight. With a flair for problem-solving, they navigate through financial mazes. Their acute attention to detail catches the subtlest of discrepancies, while their analytical skills uncover hidden insights.

When faced with a daunting tax season or ethical dilemma, their adept time management and unwavering integrity shine through. In essence, it’s not just about crunching numbers; it’s the art of telling a compelling financial story that truly sets them apart.

The Power Of Versatility

Another beauty of a degree in accounting lies in its versatility. While it provides a strong foundation for traditional roles such as auditors, tax consultants or financial controllers, it doesn’t confine one to these professions.

For example, Bob Parsons, the founder of GoDaddy, one of the largest internet domain registrars in the world, began his career as an accountant. Some of Parsons’ first successes (and near losses) were in the field of accounting, and it was the software he created during this time that eventually grew his revenue to over $100 million. He eventually sold this software to Inuit.

But this wasn’t a linear process for Parsons. During the early years, he lost $40,000 of his savings. Which brings us to a piece of actionable advice to anyone thinking of pivoting: You have to be willing to invest in and market yourself.

Ways To Get Started

If you’re ready to kick off your journey, you can do so by launching a side hustle or small enterprise tailored to your passions. Your financial skills can be leveraged to craft business plans, oversee budgets and keep an eye on start-up cash flow.

You’ll also want to engage with your local business community. You can do this by offering consultations, writing insightful articles or even volunteering with nonprofits. Other ways to grow outside of the accounting field include exploring courses on corporate strategy and working toward certifications in specialized areas like forensic accounting.

Each step not only enriches your expertise but also paves the way for a diversified career, blending hands-on experiences with continuous learning and networking.

Final Thoughts

In an unpredictable world, the ability to pivot, adapt and evolve is more valuable than ever. An accounting degree, while rooted in principles and structures, surprisingly offers the flexibility to navigate this changing landscape. Whether it’s launching a startup, spearheading strategic decisions in a multinational or penning down financial narratives, accounting graduates find themselves well equipped.

So the next time someone says they’re studying accounting, resist the urge to pigeonhole them into traditional roles. The reality is that their career path could be as varied and dynamic as any, with the added advantage of a strong financial foundation to steer them forward.