Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Alaska
Becoming an accountant with CPA credentials in Alaska requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum from a college or university recognized by the Alaska State Board of Public Accountancy and a total of 150 semester hours of college credit. However, CPA candidates don’t need to complete all credit hours in order to sit for the exam. If they have completed at least 15 semester hours in accounting subjects they are considered eligible when within 18 semester hours of satisfying undergraduate requirements. One year of public accounting experience is also required prior to licensure. While satisfying the experience requirement, many would-be CPAs also begin working to earn a master’s degree in accounting to fulfill the full 150 semester hour requirement for CPA licensure. While the bulk of on campus programs located in Anchorage, Alaska’s vast space and dispersed population have made the many online educational programs very attractive for CPA candidates.
Almost all of the large accounting firms in Alaska are centered in Anchorage, the state’s financial capitol. “Big Four” international CPA and professional services firm KPMG has offices here where they serve the state’s huge mining, commercial fishing, and petroleum exploration industries.
Still, there is a significant number of independent accountants and smaller accounting firms in the state that service the smaller business that operate within these massive industries. In fact, in a recent interview, Michael Curnow, head of The Alaska Society of Independent Accountants, characterizes the industry as wide open in America’s final frontier. In response to questions related to employment opportunities, Curnow was quoted as saying “There are plenty of jobs up here. We have more work than we can handle.”
Major Industries and Employment Trends for Alaska’s Accountants
Alaska’s economy is based on its major resources: petroleum, timber, fish, minerals, and gold. Gold mining prospects and claims continue to drive a modern era gold rush since the price for a troy ounce quadrupled over the past ten years.
These industries, along with logging and tourism, constitute Alaska’s industrial base, and one of the major industries in which management and cost accountants, auditors, controllers and other accounting professionals and executives find the most opportunities.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development predicts that the number of accountants working in Alaska will increase from 2,040 in 2016 to 2,110 by 2026, which equates to a 3.4% employment growth rate.
Accountant Salaries in Alaska
Like most fields in Alaska, working as an accountant on the last frontier can be pretty lucrative compared to similar positions in the Lower 48. A lot of that money flows from the endless oil fields.
According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce, accountants in Alaska earned a median salary of $75,590 with top earners averaging $124,160 in 2018. But as a general classification that includes accounting professionals at all levels of experience and with different credentials and specialized expertise, it isn’t fully representative of what Alaska’s accountants can expect to earn.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide provides the kind of role-specific information that helps to tell the whole story. Ranges shown represent starting salaries for the 25th and 95th percentile in each category, reflecting differences in specialized skills, experience and credentials. These base salaries don’t include things like bonuses and incentives, which can add substantially to the figures shown here.
Corporate Staff Accountants
In Anchorage, the 50th starting salary offers for general staff accountants with management level experience is $90,344, while those in the 95th percentile earn an average of $139,444. With time in the field comes expertise, which is something employers are happy to pay for (50th-95th percentile):
- 1-3 years experience – $60,884 – $95,254
- Less than one year experience – $45,908 – $68,249
Corporate controllers in Anchorage are offered a starting salary of $116,122 for those garnering salaries in the 50th percentile, and an average of $204,010 for those in the top 5 percent. Controllers in corporate management roles in Fairbanks make anywhere from $85,008 to $191,961.
With their highly specialized investigative skills, forensic accountants in Anchorage working in-house for corporations, for accounting and business services firms on a contract basis command a starting salary of $90,344 at the 50th percentile all the way up to an average of $142,144 for top talent commanding the highest salaries.
CPAs and Auditors in Accounting Firms
CPAs and other public accountants working for business services firms have an exceptional range of possible duties and job titles, which also makes the starting salary ranges highly variable. At the high end, with a CPA in hand, accountants at the director level in Anchorage are looking at salaries that reach well into six figure range, from $128,888 at the 50th percentile to $204,992 for the top 5 percent.
At lower levels, salaries differed notably among tax specialists versus those who specialize in performing assurance services and audits.
Assurance/Audit Services (25th–95th percentile):
- Management – $73,159 – $139,935
- Senior – $52,292 – $99,673
- 1-3 years experience – $42,717 – $81,260
Tax Services (25th– 95th percentile):
- Management – $84,698 – $161,294
- Senior – $59,411 – $110,966
- 1-3 years experience – $46,890 – $89,853
Careful accounting and stringent controls are the name of the game when billions of dollars are involved. International accounting firm KPMG found out the hard way that even as one of the biggest external auditing firms on the planet, they are themselves subject to the scrutiny of outside audits from financial regulators when in 2017 the company was slapped with a $6.2 million fine for mishandling the audit of Miller Energy Resources and the company’s Cook Inlet assets.
Accountants in Executive Roles
Becoming a chief financial officer might take years of experience and connections in high places, but it very often starts with an accounting background, and often CPA certification. In Anchorage, that experience and certification comes with a starting salary of $119,068at the 25th percentile and $488,300 at the 95th, with a 50th percentile of $193,208. Similarly, in Fairbanks they commanded starting salaries within the range of $112,035 and $459,459.
Accountant and Auditor Salaries in Alaska’s Cities and Rural Areas
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows salaries for their general classification for accountants and auditors were relatively similar throughout Alaska. Top earners in Fairbanks, the ones earning in the 90th percentile, had higher salaries than their top-earning colleagues in the rest of the state.
(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)
Tax Preparer Salaries in Anchorage
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics only tracked salaries for tax preparers working in the greater Anchorage area.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of specialty within the field of accounting and auditing – https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ak.htm#13-2011. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data for specific job titles sourced from the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting & Finance Professionals –
https://www.roberthalf.com/salary-guide/accounting-and-finance. All ranges represent starting salaries at the 25th and 95th percentiles unless otherwise noted, with midpoint figures representing the 50th percentile. Experience, specialty area, credentials, and role all influence where salaries might fall within this range. These base salaries do not include bonuses or other incentives.
Job growth projections sourced from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.
All salary and job growth data accessed in May 2019.