A State By State Accounting Guide
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Steps to Becoming an Accountant in California

In 2014, the California Board of Accountancy fully integrated the protocols of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), and now requires all applicants for CPA licensure to have 150 semester hours of college credit and one year of accounting experience. Since a bachelor’s degree consists of just 120 semester hours, aspiring CPAs often enroll in master’s degree programs in accounting to earn the 30 additional semester hours required for a CPA license while satisfying the pre-licensure experience requirements.



All of the “Big Four” international CPA firms (Deloitte & Touche, KPMG, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Ernst & Young) have offices here, as do other leading firms such as Mayer Hoffman McCann and Moss Adams.

Top Industries and Employment Trends for California Accountants

Auditors, accounting managers, forensic accountants and controllers are all found in some of America’s biggest banks and publicly traded companies – most of them have a strong presence in California, and many are headquartered here, including such diverse corporate juggernauts as banking giant Wells Fargo and military contractor Northrop Grumman.

As companies look to cut costs and boost profits in an era of tighter regulatory controls, there is a growing number of accountants recruited into the world of business to perform internal audits and management functions. Accountants are no longer relegated to backrooms, and instead frequently collaborate in Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) meetings, both to contribute their insights and to draft GPFFRs (general purpose federal financial reports) for the SEC.

The Employment Development Department (EDD) of California has also noted an increase in the number of highly specialized accountants involved in accounting information system design and IT network auditing for systems management companies like Symantec in Mountain View. In the public sector, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor based in San Francisco employs IT auditors to draft the computerized audit programs used in federal, state and municipal agencies.

California Accountants: Employment Facts

Optimistic occupational forecasts continue to make the Golden State very attractive to accountants. According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 162,000 accountants and auditors gainfully employed throughout California in 2018. By 2026, this number is expected to climb to nearly 179,700. A 10.9% employment growth rate in combination with existing accountants leaving the workforce means approximately 16,640 positions will be available annually during the ten-year period leading up to 2026.

Jobseekers that search for positions in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan division and the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward district can expect exceptional opportunities, as these regions were recognized among the country’s top ten metropolitan areas with the highest levels of employment.

Even with the highest level of employment in the country for accounting professionals as of 2018, the field is still slated for growth in the coming years.

Salary Report for California’s Accountants: General Accounting Professionals and Specialists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for an accountant in California in 2018 was $75,690, while those in the 90th percentile of this occupational category earned an average of $127,520.

But general figures like these for a broad classification of accounting professionals don’t tell you all that much. Accounting is a field where specialized skills and experience equal real dollars, and advanced credentials make all the difference when it comes to landing a job in everything from staff positions to corporate management, and certainly with large public accounting, audit and business services firms.

This overall average from the Bureau covering a broad classification of accounting and auditing professions doesn’t do justice to the wide array of specialty areas of practice, credentialing options, and industry-specific positions in the field, and the equally wide array of salaries they earn.

The 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide provides further detail on the starting salaries associated with specific types of accounting jobs. The ranges reflects differences in specialized skills, experience and how different employers view the role in terms of value added to the organization. These are base salaries that don’t reflect bonuses and other incentives that can add substantially to the figures shown.

Corporate Staff Accountants in Financial Services

Senior staff accountants working for corporations in Los Angeles earned salaries within the range of $84,150 and $154,110. Similarly, in San Francisco, senior staff accountants commanded salaries that reached well into the six figure range at between$89,888 and $164,618, with a midpoint offer of $109,628.

Corporate Controllers

Corporate controllers play a vital role in maintaining the highest level of integrity when it comes to accounting practices in all large businesses. Corporate controllers in LA were offered starting salaries ranging between $140,250 and $265,980. In San Francisco they commanded higher starting salaries of between $148,755 and $370,478 with a midpoint offer of $244,988.

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants in Los Angeles earned between $100,320 and $191,070 in 2019. Even higher salaries are to be found working for corporations in San Francisco, either in house or on a contract basis. Here they earn between $107,160 and $204,098, with a midpoint salary offer of $129,720.

CPAs and Auditors in Accounting Firms

CPAs specializing in tax services who have the experience required to fill senior management and director level positions in major accounting firms in LA are offered salaries of $176,880 at the 50th percentile, and as much as $280,170 at the 95th. CPA licensing is all but a mandate at the highest levels, and highly recommended for those working their way up the ladder in either tax or audit and assurance public accounting.

Starting salaries at different experience levels are impressive for anybody able to get their foot in the door at local accounting firms, and even more so for those with larger regional and national firms, or one of the Big 4:

Assurance/Audit Services:

  • Management - $98,340 - $188,100
  • Senior - $70,290 - $133,980
  • 1-3 years experience - $57,420 - $109,230

Tax Services:

  • Management - $113,850 - $216,810
  • Senior - $79,860 - $149,160
  • 1-3 years experience - $63,030 - $120,780

Accountants in Executive Roles

Naturally, corporate executive positions held by CPAs and others with backgrounds in accounting are going to be among the highest. Corporate CFOs in San Diego earned between $153,988 and $631,508. In Los Angles, CFO salaries were even higher, falling within the range of $160,050 and $656,370 with a midpoint of $259,710. In San Francisco, the earning potential was higher yet, with CFO earning between $170,962 and $701,122, and those in the 50th percentile earning $277,418.

Accountant and Auditor Salaries in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas of California

The US Department of Labor shows salaries in different cities for a broad classification of accounting and audit professionals:

Area Name
Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Bakersfield
1310
70790
Chico
300
62820
Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California nonmetropolitan area
310
64610
El Centro
240
65920
Fresno
1860
63510
Hanford-Corcoran
160
68990
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
61520
84650
Madera
140
68490
Merced
400
73060
Modesto
790
69150
Napa
630
81500
North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area
560
62890
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area
570
68610
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
2090
86590
Redding
350
67770
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
6180
71330
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade
11040
73320
Salinas
690
94710
San Diego-Carlsbad
10940
87070
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
26730
92630
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
13300
91060
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande
950
89930
Santa Cruz-Watsonville
590
80260
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
1330
80640
Santa Rosa
1630
81430
Stockton-Lodi
970
72230
Vallejo-Fairfield
530
81020
Visalia-Porterville
640
68780
Yuba City
130
69070

(This broad classification includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)

Salaries for Tax Preparers in California

The US Department of Labor also shows salaries for tax preparers in different cities throughout California, noting that the median income in the San Jose- Sunnyvale metro area was particularly high:

Area Name
Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Bakersfield
70
34900
Chico
60
35850
El Centro
40
43680
Fresno
340
33150
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
4870
55660
North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area
-
36180
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area
30
-
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
150
-
Redding
40
50740
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
540
42730
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade
330
48040
Salinas
40
62380
San Diego-Carlsbad
670
60020
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
1490
70930
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
740
70060
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
-
54570
Santa Rosa
190
57790
Stockton-Lodi
60
62100
Visalia-Porterville
-
57810
Yuba City
-
37710

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_ca.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 Employment Development Department of California 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.

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