The Wisconsin Accounting Examining Board regulates and licenses CPAs in the state. Prospective CPAs must complete 150 hours of college-level education within a bachelor’s degree program or higher, pass both the Uniform CPA Exam and an online ethics exam, and then go on to fulfill one year of public accounting experience.
With most bachelor’s programs consisting of just 120 semester hours of college credit, a master’s in accounting can provide the additional credit hours in advanced accounting coursework required for licensure in Wisconsin.
Licensed CPAs work in public accounting firms with a presence in Wisconsin, including “Big Four” firms Deloitte and Ernst & Young, both with offices in Milwaukee. Other accounting and professional services firms with a strong presence in the state include Jefferson Wells in Milwaukee, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause in Madison, and AXA Equitable Life Insurance in Madison, Wausau and Green Bay.
Wisconsin’s local government agencies also employ CPAs as fund managers who work for the Wisconsin State Department of Administration in Madison or as auditors for the Office of the Comptroller in Wisconsin’s many municipalities.
Find out more about CPA requirements in our step-by-step guide on how to become a CPA in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Accountants: Job Trends and Salary Expectations
According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the number of accounting positions in the state will increase by 5.8% between 2018 and 2028. That impressive level of growth, along with normal changes in the workforce, will open up an estimated 2,600 accounting jobs every year during this ten-year period ending in 2028. Many of those jobs are with local, regional, national and even international public accounting firms, but industry still reigns supreme when it comes to jobs for accountants and auditors here.
From Johnson Controls in Milwaukee and the Kohler Company to iconic American brands like Harley-Davidson and Kraft Foods, it’s the corporate headquarters of Wisconsin-based mega-corporations that do most of the hiring of auditors, controllers, and managerial and staff accountants in Wisconsin.
Financial institutions and insurers are also major employers of accountants in Wisconsin. From Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Milwaukee – the nation’s largest provider of life insurance – to CUNA Mutual Group with headquarters in Madison, the insurance industry continues to be the largest employer of actuaries and other accounting specialists in Wisconsin.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earn a median salary of $67,840 in Wisconsin, as of May 2020.
But this salary stat can be misleading in a big state like Wisconsin, where economic and workforce factors mean wide-ranging salaries for accountants.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The good news is that the BLS also breaks down the earning power of accountants in Wisconsin based on factors like experience, industry, role/title, and more.
Note that the following BLS numbers from May 2020 feature only base salaries and not the salary incentives that are commonplace in the profession, particularly among those in senior and executive roles.
Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks
Financial services represents an industry that many people count on to make their fortunes, attracting some of the best and brightest accounting talent available today. With just a year or two of experience, staff accountants in Wisconsin earn about $33,740, which represents the 25th percentile. Earn a few more years of experience and you’ll earn a salary that’s closer to the median level, which is $41,070.
The most seasoned corporate accountants in Wisconsin earn salaries that are reflective of the 75th – 90thpercentile: $49,680 – $59,300.
A forensic accountant has plenty of specialized training in following and analyzing the numbers, as well as years of experience and the right kind of intuition for this highly sensitive work. Salaries here average about $84,320, which reflects the 75th percentile among all accountants and auditors in Wisconsin.
In Green Bay, forensic accountants earn about $80,600, while those in Fond du Lac earn about $79,420.
Controllers and Other Financial Managers
Corporate controllers do the heavy lifting in accounting departments to keep things organized and to ensure accounting practices are in compliance with both internal policies and outside regulations. The kind of expertise and experience required to ascend to this level is worth plenty to companies, which is why controllers earn some of the top salaries in the profession.
At the median level, these pros earn about $131,200 in Wisconsin. At the 75th percentile, they earn about $168,240, while those at the top of the pay scale (90th percentile) earn salaries that exceed 208,000.
In Eau Claire, the median salary for controllers is $127,110, while in Madison, it’s $134,580.
CPAs and Auditors
Public accounting covers a big scope, from small-town tax experts upstate to major international consultancies with glitzy big-city high-rises serving the largest corporations. In Wisconsin, CPAs earn about $105,780, which represents the 90th percentile among all accountants and auditors in the state.
In Appleton, CPAs earn about $102,960, while in Sheboygan, they earn about $102,220.
Accountants in Executive Roles
CFOs have ascended to the highest rungs of the corporate ladder available to anybody with an accounting background, and they have paid their dues along the way. Almost all will have earned a CPA license at some point during the climb, and they have amassed years and years of highly relevant experience in their respective industries before getting a seat in the C-suite.
That kind of dedication and expertise demands top dollar. In Wisconsin, they earn a median salary of $160,130, while those at the 75th percentile and above earn salaries that exceed $208,000.
Salaries for Accountants and Auditors in Wisconsin’s Cities and Rural Areas
The Milwaukee metro area comes out on top among Wisconsin’s metro and non-metro area, both for its employment level and earning power of accountants.
(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 Wisconsin
In Green Bay, tax preparers at the top of the pay scale often enjoy salaries that exceed the six figures, making them among the state’s earners.
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 Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2018-2028) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.