Steps to Becoming an Accountant in California

Since the California Board of Accountancy fully integrated the protocols of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), it 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, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young) have offices here, as do other leading firms such as Mayer Hoffman McCann and Moss Adams.

Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in California.

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 EDD, there were 168,800 accountants and auditors gainfully employed throughout California in 2018. By 2028, this number is expected to climb to nearly 181,800. A 7.7% employment growth rate in combination with existing accountants leaving the workforce means approximately 17,650 positions will be available annually during the ten-year period leading up to 2028.

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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

According to the BLS, accountants and auditors in California earned a median salary of $79,030 as of May 2020. 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.

Keep reading to learn more about how salaries in this field vary significantly depending on specialty areas of practice, credentialing options, and more.

Note that the following base salaries from the BLS don’t reflect bonuses and other incentives that can add substantially to the figures shown.

Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks

Corporate staff accountants, bookkeepers, and accounting clerks new to the profession earn about $38,420 in California, which represents the lower 25th percentile. Those with a handful of years of experience can expect to earn about $48,920, with represents the median salary in California, while those in senior positions and with significant experience earn between $60,370 and $70,850, which represents the 75th – 90th percentile.

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants bring a truly specialized skillset to the profession that is valued throughout the legal profession. While these professionals work for accounting firms, consulting firms, and even law enforcement agencies, many are hired on a contract basis, so nailing down an accurate salary is often difficult in this field. However, based on their highly specialized knowledge, these pros are among the highest paid accountants. In California, they earn about $103,450, which represents the top 25th percentile among accountants and auditors.

Controllers and Other Financial Managers

Controllers and other financial managers play a vital role in maintaining the highest level of integrity when it comes to accounting practices in all large businesses. In California, these professionals earn a median salary of $145,830, while those in the 75th percentile earn upwards of $202,440.

CPAs and Auditors

CPAs specializing in tax services who have the experience required to fill senior management and director level positions in major accounting firms are among the highest paid in the profession.

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.

According to the BLS, these pros in the Los Angeles metro region earn a salary of $131,240, while those in the San Diego metro area earn about $137,360, both of which represent the top 10% among accountants and auditors.

Accountants in Executive Roles

Naturally, corporate executive positions held by CPAs and others with backgrounds in accounting are going to be among the highest. Even those with salaries at the median level in California earn more than $208,000 annually.

Accountant and Auditor Salaries in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas of California

The BLS highlights salaries in different cities for a broad classification of accounting and audit professionals:

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

Area Name
Employment
Annual median wage
Bakersfield
1660
71180
Chico
310
64510
El Centro
220
62970
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers
1930
71420
Fort Smith
470
59920
Fresno
1970
63260
Hanford-Corcoran
180
62350
Hot Springs
140
54780
Jonesboro
200
55300
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
2880
62330
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
61740
74900
Madera
180
67320
Merced
240
64440
Modesto
910
71290
Napa
630
80220
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
1800
76960
Pine Bluff
110
57240
Redding
360
54740
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
6110
71560
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade
11660
77130
Salinas
690
93430
San Diego-Carlsbad
11570
76390
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
24510
90460
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
15360
95580
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande
720
67680
Santa Cruz-Watsonville
530
82310
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
1180
77190
Santa Rosa
1730
84100
Stockton-Lodi
1130
65020
Vallejo-Fairfield
650
81660
Visalia-Porterville
680
68890
Yuba City
210
66770

Salaries for Tax Preparers in California

The BLS 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 median wage
Bakersfield
110
31380
El Centro
70
29520
Fresno
420
-
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
2670
67800
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
160
30010
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
760
29290
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade
340
42760
Salinas
40
36120
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
850
56390
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
510
88020
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande
-
46860
Santa Cruz-Watsonville
60
75980
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
80
63780
Santa Rosa
130
46290
Stockton-Lodi
50
65660

 

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth data for Accountants and AuditorsFinancial ManagersBookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks, and Chief Executives. Figures represent state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2021.

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 (2018-2028) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.