By Susan Maphis, Accountingedu contributing writer
Updated August 2015
Since non-certified public accountants don’t need to be licensed in the District, they can immediately enter into practice after graduation from associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs. Among the businesses that employ public accountants to perform corporate payroll and tax preparation services is the Washington based public accounting firm Ayala & Associates.
With certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum, a total of 150 semester hours of college credit, passing scores on the Uniform CPA Exam and a year of relevant work experience in D.C., candidates interested in becoming public accountants can hold the distinction that comes with earning CPA credentials. Since most bachelor’s degree programs consist of just 120 semester hours, aspiring CPAs very often go on to earn a master’s in accounting to acquire the additional credit hours required for a CPA license in the District. CPAs work for some of the world’s largest and most respected professional services and management consultation firms including “Big Four” international CPA firms KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst and Young, all of which have offices in Washington.
For all the obvious reasons, government accounting continues to be an important area of specialization in Washington. Employers of government accountants in the D.C. area are extremely diverse and include federal agencies like the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Non-profit accountancy can be quite similar to government accounting, as it involves the practice of fund accountancy with respect to the use of tax revenue and donated monies. Those interested in becoming accountants focused on the unique needs of non-profit organizations work for the international think tank The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has its U.S. headquarters in Washington or the community development organization NeighborWorks America.
Managerial accountants, financial controllers, internal auditors, cost and capital accountants are also found everywhere in the District, from the large privately held job placement and recruiting firm The Mergis Group; to government contract consultants Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP in Washington; to strategic technological consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton headquartered in McLean, VA.
IT auditors and accounting information systems specialists in the D.C. area work for NASDAQ OMX in Rockville, MD; data company Keane, Inc. in D.C.; and the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association in Arlington, VA.
Forensic accountants trained in fraud investigation are found in both government and private industry where they work for the congressionally established Public Company Accounting Oversight Board or for financial services giant Kearney & Company in Alexandria, VA.
In 2014, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the number of accountant and auditor jobs in Washington DC would rise by 6% in the ten-year period between 2012 and 2022.
The Bureau also reported that the District was home to the highest concentration of accountancy jobs in the country, with approximately 33,500 accountants working in the Washington, DC metro area alone as of 2014.
The Washington DC metro area supports more accounting jobs within government, industry, nonprofits, business, education and academia than almost anywhere else in the United States. From consulting firms such as Hoffman CFO Consulting, academic institutions such as George Washington University, governmental agencies like the Federal Reserve Board, nonprofit organizations like Pew Charitable Trusts, and CPA firms like Tate & Tryon, employers of CPAs and other accounting and auditing professionals are diverse and numerous within The District.
Great employment prospects combine with high-end salaries to make Washington DC a prime location in which to become an accountant. In fact, the United States Department of Labor ranked DC as the highest-paying state for accountants in the country in 2014. At that time, accountants working here earned an average annual salary of $90,220 and an average hourly wage of $43.38.
One of the chief factors currently affecting accountant salaries in DC is experience. For instance, in 2014, an entry-level accountant received an average annual salary of $51,300 (average hourly wage of $24.65), while those with a few years of experience took home closer to $84,400 annually ($40.58 hourly).
The most experienced, and therefore the most valuable accountants in DC often hold CPA licensure. These CPAs, representing the top ten percent of accountants in Washington based on earnings, earned an average annual salary of $138,100 in 2014 (average hourly wage of $66.41).
A recent report on CNN stated that despite the recession and unemployment rates rising across much of the United States, accounting firms are still steadily hiring formally educated professionals. Most of the “Big 4” firms, which either have offices or headquarters in the District of Columbia, are currently hiring. This is great news for anyone in the D.C. area who plans to go into the field of accountancy.
CPAs who work in the D.C. area are encouraged to join the Greater Washington Society of CPAs. This organization provides advocacy, networking, continuing education, career boards and other professional opportunities for accountants of all types working in and around Washington, D.C.