Steps to Becoming an Accountant in Washington
The Washington State Board of Accountancy grants CPA licenses to qualified candidates who have met standardized education, examination, and experience requirements consistent with those outlined in the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA).
Candidates must complete a total of 150 semester hours of credit that are earned within an approved bachelor’s degree program or higher. After graduation, candidates must go on to take the Uniform CPA Exam and gain at least one year of supervised experience before being eligible for CPA licensure. With traditional bachelor’s programs only including about 120 semester hours of college credit, online master’s degrees in accounting have made earning the 30 additional semester hours required for a CPA license in Washington more accessible than ever.
“Big Four” international CPA and professional services firms Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst & Young all have offices in Seattle and are recognized as some of the area’s foremost employers of certified public accountants. The larger local, regional, and national CPA firms with a strong presence in the Emerald City include McGladrey and Pullen, Grant Thornton, Clark Nuber, and Moss Adams.
Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in Washington.
Top Industries for Washington Accountants
The technology and information systems industry has given rise to many companies that got their start in Washington, the most notable of which, of course, is software giant Microsoft. Western Washington remains one of the country’s most significant hubs of IT innovation and e-commerce. Many companies hailing from the Evergreen State with business models that are built around e-commerce are now household names, including online travel planner and booking agency Expedia, online pharmacy Drugstore.com, and Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer. These companies continue to be recognized as economic powerhouses in the state and are the leading employers of managerial accountants who have influence over business decisions that generate many millions of dollars in online revenue.
A number of major players in the financial services industry also call Washington state home. ShareBuilder Corp, the online brokerage arm of ING Direct USA, and diversified financial services company, Symetra Financial, are both headquartered in Bellevue. Local entrepreneurial icon and philanthropist Paul Allen has a venture capital group, Vulcan, Inc., which has offices in Seattle where CPAs specialize in business valuation and investment analysis. Russell Investments, which has individual and institutional clients in 47 countries, is headquartered in Seattle and is recognized as an industry innovator that embraces the Turnkey Asset Management Program (TAMP) model, which draws on the unique expertise of certified public accountants.
Job Growth and Salary Expectations for Accountants in Washington
The future is bright for accountants and auditors throughout the Evergreen State. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, the number of accountant jobs in the state will increase by 16.7% between 2018 and 2028. A combination of new job growth, natural job turnover, and retirements will result in about 5,060 annual job openings in the profession during this ten-year period leading to 2028.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants in Washington State earned a median salary of $77,190 as of May 2020.
But this top-level number from the BLS doesn’t provide specific salary details in a profession that includes a wide array of specialty areas, credentialing options, and industry-specific roles.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
Fortunately, the BLS also takes a deeper dive into what Washington’s accounting professionals are earning and where.
Note that the following May 2020 BLS salaries are not inclusive of salary incentives like bonuses and stock options that can significantly increase accountant salaries, particularly in specialty roles and leadership and executive positions.
Corporate Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks
Among various industry specializations, financial services is one of the more lucrative options for general accountants. In Washington, corporate accountants with just a couple years of experience earn a salary of about $38,900, which represents the 25th percentile, while those with a few more years of experience earn about $47,090, which represents the median level.
The top earners among Washington’s corporate accountants bring home about $56,650 – $65,740, which represents the 75th – 90th percentile.
Forensic accountants are highly trained specialists who are always in demand in both public and private roles. The combination of training and demand leads to relatively high salaries for these pros.
Washington’s forensic accountants earn about $99,640, which represents the 75th percentile among all accountants and auditors in the state. Average salaries are competitive in many metro areas of the state, including Olympia, where they earn about $91,160, and in Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma, where they earn about $104,140.
Controllers and Other Financial Managers
Controllers are counted among the ranks of corporate management in the accounting field, and they are correspondingly well-compensated. In Washington, they earn a median salary of $134,300, while those at the top of the pay scale (75th – 90th percentile) earn anywhere from $170,350 to more than $208,000.
In Seattle, controllers earn even more at the median level, at $146,400.
CPAs and Auditors
Public accounting itself covers an extraordinarily wide range of services in the accounting sector, everything from tax services to audit and corporate assurance. The size of CPA firms can range from tiny one-man operations to Big 4 corporate consultancies with an international presence, dealing with every type of specialization or industry.
Washington’s CPA earn about $127,050, which represents the 90th percentile among all accountants and auditors in the state. They earn about $20,000 less in both the Bremerton and Olympia-Tumwater metro areas, at $107,100 and $104,350, respectively.
Accountants in Executive Roles
At the absolute pinnacle of accounting’s executive ranks is the Chief Financial Officer of a company. Corporate CFOs have years of industry-specific experience and hard-earned credentials like a CPA license, which makes them worth every penny of their compensation. In Washington accounting executives earn salaries that exceed $208,000, even at the median level. Accounting executives in major metro areas like Bellingham and Seattle enjoy salaries that are equally strong, with most salaries exceeding $208,000.
Salaries for Accountants and Auditors in Washington’s Cities and Non-Metro Areas
Median salaries for accountants in Washington State come in strong, ranging from the mid-$60,000s to the lower $80,000s throughout most of the state.
(This is a broad classification that includes accounting professionals in different areas of specialty, with different credentials, and with varying levels of experience.)
Tax Preparer Salaries Throughout Washington
The biggest earners among tax preparers in Washington are in the Seattle metro area, where they earn more than $110,000 at the top of the pay scale.
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth data for Accountants and Auditors, Financial Managers, Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks, and Chief Executives. Figures represent national data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2021.
Job growth projections sourced from the Washington State Employment Security Department and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.