CPA for Corporate Finance

Hey All,

I have a question about corporate finance and its relation to the CPA. Long story short I'd like to know if the CPA is a necessity for a successful career in corporate finance.

I am a finance major at a university in Ohio. I've considered several career directions and interviewed (and am interviewing) for a few corporate positions. However, I am aware of the fact that most corporate analyst positions are actually accounting focused and have noticed in passing that most upper level cf positions strongly suggest a CPA designation.

The finance curriculum at my school involves accounting but to my knowledge I won't graduate with all the courses required to sit for the CPA. In terms of my interests I've enjoyed learning about topics like capital budgeting, project analysis etc. but journal entries/GAAP just don't pique my interest as much. Not to say I don't appreciate the importance of accounting or I'm not good at it. I've gotten A's in my acc courses and enjoyed managerial quite a bit actually. But financial, again, doesn't do it for me.

Corporate Strategy/Dev is something that sounds great but obviously these aren't entry level positions and I've read people usually end up there from IB and consulting. So is corporate finance without a CPA a dead end road or can you move up by pursuing an MBA with a cf focus? I'd appreciate your advice, comments, or maybe if I have a misconception of anything you could help me out. Thanks guys!

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Comments (10)

Best Response
Dec 3, 2013 - 9:56am

I actually came up in a similar situation to you, so hopefully I can provide some relevant insight from my experiences.

I spent a couple years in F500 FP&A before transitioning over to Corp Dev, and I think that there are a couple different aspects on a the prospect of becoming a CPA, depending upon the company and your situation:

1) Getting a job -- Sitting for (and passing) the CPA is going to guarantee an employer a baseline level of intelligence, mechanical accounting knowledge, and willingness to work. In that light, it is probably going to increase your chances of landing MOST corporate finance jobs as your first job out of school, and for a little while thereafter.

2) Establishing/Signaling a Path -- Something I've noticed is that there are seemingly two types of CPAs: a) CPAs who were born to be CPAs and look at everything through the lens of an accountant, and b) Finance professionals who recognize accounting as the language of business and who therefore dedicated the time to becoming fluent. As you're deciding where you want to go and how you want to get there, you need to be conscious of the signals you're sending with your resume and achievements -- they are indications of where and how you have chosen to spend your time in development, so they are an integral part of your brand and story.

My general advice is that if you want to be in FP&A, Treasury, Corporate Accounting, Tax, etc. then you should definitely consider working towards your CPA, as it is going to be a solid point of differentiation coming out of school and well into the future. That's not to say that you shouldn't pursue it if you're looking to do something else more geared towards Corp Dev/Corp Strat/Consulting/IB/etc. -- it just needs to be a managed portion of your story -- because people hiring into those types of roles don't hire "accountants," in my experience.

All that said, if I had a little brother studying business/finance, I would advise him to work towards either the CPA or CFA L1 while he is in school, especially if at a non-target, as it will provide useful, practical knowledge and serve as a leg-up against the competition.

Hope that helps, and again -- this is just one young guy's opinion.

Dec 3, 2013 - 10:00am

Hemminza:

Hey All,

I have a question about corporate finance and its relation to the CPA. Long story short I'd like to know if the CPA is a necessity for a successful career in corporate finance.

I am a finance major at a university in Ohio. I've considered several career directions and interviewed (and am interviewing) for a few corporate positions. However, I am aware of the fact that most corporate analyst positions are actually accounting focused and have noticed in passing that most upper level cf positions strongly suggest a CPA designation.

The finance curriculum at my school involves accounting but to my knowledge I won't graduate with all the courses required to sit for the CPA. In terms of my interests I've enjoyed learning about topics like capital budgeting, project analysis etc. but journal entries/GAAP just don't pique my interest as much. Not to say I don't appreciate the importance of accounting or I'm not good at it. I've gotten A's in my acc courses and enjoyed managerial quite a bit actually. But financial, again, doesn't do it for me.

Corporate Strategy/Dev is something that sounds great but obviously these aren't entry level positions and I've read people usually end up there from IB and consulting. So is corporate finance without a CPA a dead end road or can you move up by pursuing an MBA with a cf focus? I'd appreciate your advice, comments, or maybe if I have a misconception of anything you could help me out. Thanks guys!

You definitely don't need a CPA to move up in corp fin. Your career likely won't stall out if you don't get the CPA. Often times the case is that you will want to have an MBA or CPA (or both) to continue to progress from the manager level and above. The CPA will probably only be "necessary" for controllership positions, and even then, if you are a high performer without one, the company will pay to get you eligible/to take the tests, if they want you to hold that position. Just to note, high performers often have a mix of finance and accounting positions as they move up the ladder, so that they are well rounded.

Dec 6, 2013 - 9:01am

When you say that "high performers ofter have a mix... so that they are well rounded.", can you give an example of what you would define as a high performer and what that mix of positions might look like? -Thanks

Dec 6, 2013 - 9:41am

teddy1:

When you say that "high performers ofter have a mix... so that they are well rounded.", can you give an example of what you would define as a high performer and what that mix of positions might look like? -Thanks

A high performer isn't necessarily something that can be defined, but in general it is someone who consistently rates above expectations during evaluations, is well known/well liked, and has good connections. Basically it's just someone who finds ways to stand out and has managers that will go up to bat for them when it comes to promotions, opportunities, etc. Corp fin, as is most careers, is very much political when it comes to promotions.

So an easy example....FLDPs will usually do 1-2 finance rotations and then 1-2 accounting rotations. Then they will go into a finance or accounting role.

Example path: FLDP (mix of both) -> FA (finance side) -> SFA (finance side) -> manager (could be either finance or acctg) --> other mgr roles or plant controller (heavy acctg with some finance)

Basically, what I'm trying to get at, is if you are a high-performer, expect to hold both finance and accounting heavy positions in most companies. For example, controller positions are very accounting heavy, but are often roles that are staffed by high-performers, and those with potential to make it into upper-level mgmt positions.

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Dec 3, 2013 - 5:10pm

Sorry to hijack, but I'd appreciate any perspectives on CPA + Big 4 experience ---> corporate finance. I've looked at quite a few sfa job postings, and they usually ask for experience in budgeting/planning, something you don't really get in audit. I'd like to get the accounting experience from Big 4, but not so much that I'm being forced into financial reporting or internal audit roles later on. I'm strongly considering an MBA in a few years (for a number of reasons), but any other input would be appreciated.

Dec 5, 2013 - 5:31pm

the first question is, do you have the job? if you do, then your personal work performance will dictate a lot of your advancement within your team and company. thing is, if you are ever applying for an internal transfer or any external job opportunities, the cpa or mba will be very beneficial. having one or the other, or even both, is a good way to check the box and make sure you are eligible for every and any opportunity. it's very easy to weed people out for not having a finance/accounting related designation. it will obviously vary company to company, and even department to department, but where i work, the cpa is very common in the finance department.

Dec 13, 2013 - 8:37am

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