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5 Surprising Career Paths for CPAs

Aug 28, 2023
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One of the perks of a career as a CPA is that it doesn’t have to be traditional. In fact, CPAs can hold many unexpected roles across diverse industries. If you’re wondering what some of your options are outside of working at a firm or in corporate finance, we rounded up five personas CPAs can adopt and the job roles they fill every day.

The CPA Crime Fighter

Potential Job Titles Include: Forensic Accountant, Forensic Auditor, Special Agent

Maybe they’re not the lead in the next Marvel movie (yet), but CPAs and accountants play a role in helping to bring down financial criminals.

In this role, they frequently work in law enforcement (like the FBI, which has approximately 700+ accountants among its special agents) or alongside lawyers to help with cases of suspected illegal financial activities like embezzlement, money laundering, extortion and other cases of fraud. They spend most of their time deep diving into financial documents and interviewing the individuals involved to assess the situation, helping to determine if fraud occurred, how it occurred and what the financial damages look like. Forensic accountants and auditors can also be used as expert witnesses in court.

In addition to directly helping to solve financial crimes, this type of accountant and CPA can also work with companies and organizations to help solve complex compliance problems, problem-solve financial disputes and accusations, and help assess fraud risk. They can even navigate divorces and bankruptcy cases.

The CPA Environmentalist

Potential Job Titles Include: Environmental Accountant, Sustainability Accountant, ESG Accountant, ESG Consultant

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting is growing in significance for companies—especially those who seek to get capital from investors. Accountants and CPAs are primed to take on a significant role with ESG, flexing their advanced accounting skills to help businesses make a difference in the world while also boosting their financial performance.

Accountants and CPAs are primed to take on a significant role with ESG, flexing their advanced accounting skills to help businesses make a difference in the world while also boosting their financial performance.

But why are accountants ideal for this work? The University of North Carolina explains, “Just as with financial reporting, accountants are being called upon to handle these tasks because of their analytical skills, knowledge of business, and ability to understand and apply reporting standards.”

Because ESG is still new, there are few frameworks or standards, but that’s likely to change. In general, those who work in ESG reporting will cover the three main pillars:

  • Environmental: How a company is managing resources like land and water; sustainability practices like using recycled materials; emissions and pollution risks
  • Social: How a company manages its labor force and its impact on people, including health and safety risks
  • Governance: Corporate behavior, including diversity, anti-fraud and corruption efforts, employee compensation and more

The CPA Leader

Potential Job Title: Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Vice President, President

CPAs are truly leaders of the business world, which is why it’s not surprising to see so many end up in the C-Suite of companies and organizations.

While they’re a natural fit for CFO and many go on to become CEO or president, their organizational skills and business acumen also make them ideal candidates for the COO role.

CPAs are truly leaders of the business world, which is why it’s not surprising to see so many end up in the C-Suite of companies and organizations.

Typically known for managing day-to-day operations, the COO role is going through a shift, growing from one that’s often taken the backseat to CEO to one that’s “a catalyst for technology-driven growth, strategic expansion, and employee empowerment,” explains McKinsey & Company.

This transformation means that the COO is often the critical internal face of the company. Their key tasks often include:

  • Making sure the company’s systems are running smoothly.
  • Developing strategic goals and tracking the data to see their progress.
  • Working with finance teams to develop budgets.
  • Strategizing how to deal with foreseeable risks and disruptions.
  • Managing company culture, including making sure employees have what they need.
  • Engaging with boards, fellow C-suite executives and other stakeholders.

CPAs’ finance skills are integral to many of these roles, helping to set them up for success.

The CPA Educator

Potential Job Title: Accounting Teacher, Business Teacher, Lecturer, Professor

As accounting programs face decreasing enrollments, amazing educators are more important than ever. What better educator to teach the ins and outs of accounting than a CPA?

In addition to teaching the technical skills, CPAs who have previously worked in the profession make fantastic educators because of their real-world experience. They can share with students what the accounting and CPA profession is really like and provide guidance on licensing and other key components of the career.

Just look at our previous INCPAS Board Chair Diane Sturek, CPA, MAcct, who has brought her experience as an accountant and auditor to the classroom at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis!

The CPA Creator & Influencer

Potential Job Title: Podcaster, Blogger, Writer, Content Creator, Founder

Maybe there isn’t a CPA as well known as the Kardashians, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still make their mark as content creators!

There are a growing number of accounting and CPA personalities online, including TikTok personalities who dedicate their videos to sharing more about the career and podcasters like The Accounting Twins, who share their journey to the license.

While many of these personalities are turning to content creation for fun or to build a content-creation side hustle, others are busy building their empires. For example: Riley Adams, a California-based CPA who left a finance job at Google to grow his media company, Young and the Invested, and A'Shira Nelson, an Ohio CPA who has built Savvy Girl Money through blogging, podcasting, and selling digital products and consulting.

If you have a passion for getting creative and sharing your knowledge with others, content creation could be a path for you! It’s also a great way to share why the CPA license has value and can open doors.

Are you a student who is interested in learning more about accounting and the CPA profession? Follow us on Instagram for more content like this! Accounting+ is another great resource for info about careers as a CPA.

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