Accounting careers beyond tax and audit

For CPAs, varied job choices abound.

Most accounting majors know about tax and auditing, but there are many more career paths open to CPAs. Learn how three young CPAs used their accounting backgrounds to build careers that fit their passions, skills and goals.

Make the numbers mean something as a financial controller

Photograph of Gil AdlerGil Adler, CPA, CGMA, financial controller at New York City-based Blade Aviation, loves being the one with the answers.

“‘Did this product perform as expected? Which region or location is the most profitable and why?’” said Adler, a 2016 graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. “I love giving people the right answer. It’s good news and it’s bad news, but the numbers don’t lie.”

Companies with big ideas need guidance on understanding such aspects of finance as tax, shipping, and labor costs, and how those things can affect the bottom line. As financial controller, Adler helps his company’s leaders understand their financials, and how they contribute to the organization’s success.

Controllers work to ensure companies are operating in the most efficient and effective ways.

“If executives think they are making a 65% contribution margin on a business unit or product, then I can guide them into understanding how they're actually making 50%," Adler said. Then, he suggests ways the company can increase that profit.

What excites Adler most about his career is that executives and board members want to hear from him. As the person most knowledgeable about the company’s financials, he is able to answer all their questions.

Find the facts as a forensic accountant

Photograph of Travis ArmstrongWhen things go wrong, the lawyers get involved. And when cases involve broken contracts and financial malfeasance, lawyers lean on forensic accountants to help determine economic damage as well as fault.

“You’re taking very complex information and you have to distill it down to a story,” said Travis Armstrong, CPA/CFF, CGMA, a forensic accountant and partner at the San Francisco office of CPA firm Hemming Morse. “On the forensic side, you can go an inch wide and a mile deep.”

Forensic accountants often are asked to testify in court, working to explain complicated subjects to judges or juries hoping to save or recoup their clients’ investments.

This can be challenging, because, as Armstrong explained, concepts such as value aren’t always cut-and-dried.

“If somebody wrecks a car, you can easily establish the value because cars are bought and sold every day,” he noted. “But if you’re dealing with a business or a part of a contract, you have to look deeper to understand the net value.”

Armstrong says he particularly enjoys the opportunity to work alongside attorneys using his skills and background as an accountant to build a case that can go in front of a judge or jury.

Help clients build for what’s ahead as a financial planner

Photograph of Sarah LaneSarah Lane*, CPA/PFS, spent several years working in audit and later in tax, but she always felt something was missing.

So she pivoted, getting a degree in student affairs and working as an adviser helping students come to the U.S. But Lane said her CPA license remained an asset, and once she found a way to merge her two career goals, accounting again came calling.

Lane did an informational interview with a financial planner, discovering a career path that let her use her background in tax while applying it in a more holistic way.

“Once I knew this kind of career existed, I knew it was a great fit for my skill set,” Lane said. “It’s a marriage of two of my favorite things: helping people and playing with numbers.”

Now, she helps clients build for their futures through financial planning and wealth management at CLS Financial Advisors in Portland, Ore.

Financial planners help clients look forward to the future, and that involves more than just their finances.

“You have to understand their lives and their goals,” Lane said. “You use your tools to help them reach those goals, and you can only do that if you have developed a relationship with the client.”

*Photo courtesy of CLS Financial Advisors, Inc.

By Matthew Philpott, a North Carolina-based freelance writer.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien.

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