In Pursuit of Profit
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We hear this question every day from business owners: “How much should I pay an accountant?”
Unfortunately, there is not a single right answer. Like any other occupation, an accountant’s salary is determined by a variety of factors. There are the usual variables like location and years of experience, but there are also unique determiners for accountants like professional licenses and accounting focus area. And then there is the ongoing war for talent to consider, which has made the topic of compensation even trickier!
If you want to know how much to pay your accountant, use this accountant salary guide to inform your compensation discussions and help you to make smart accounting recruiting decisions:
Obviously, more experienced accountants are going to make more than their less experienced counterparts, but how much is a gray area. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to experience thresholds for accounting roles. An Accounting Manager at one company may only have 5-7 years of experience in accounting and oversee a small team of bookkeepers and staff accountants, while an Accounting Manager at another company may have 20+ years of experience in accounting and be managing a pool of senior accountants. Therefore, when deciding what to pay your accountant, looking at years of relevant experience is going to be much more helpful than looking at a job title. Accountants with significant experience will expect their salary to reflect the increased knowledge that they bring to the role, regardless of what their job title is currently.
Compensation for accountants will also vary based on licensure. A CPA will typically make more than a non-CPA because they are in higher demand. Since a CPA license is a credential that many companies specifically seek out, CPAs are more highly recruited than other types of accountants. As a result, a CPA will typically make 10-15% more than they would if they did not hold this license. As a result, you should ask yourself whether you really need a CPA before making this a required or preferred hiring criteria.
Depending on the nature of the business, an accountant with industry-related experience may command a premium over an accountant with more generalized experience as well. This is especially true when it comes to industries with more complicated financials and accounting practices, such as manufacturing, professional services, ecommerce retail, SaaS, nonprofit, and construction. The greater the benefit of bringing in someone with knowledge of the accounting practices required for the industry, the more likely you are to need to increase your salary offering to recruit or retain a highly experienced accountant.
But regardless of what an accountant has done in their previous role(s), their compensation must match what they will be doing in their current position. Whether you are hiring an accountant from the outside or promoting someone internally into a new accounting role, there can be variation in what is expected of them. This distinction gets blurrier the further up the organizational hierarchy you go. While differences in bookkeeping and accounting duties are more straightforward, differences between Accounting Managers and Senior Accounting Managers or Senior Accounting Managers and Controllers can be far more nuanced. However, accountants who are being asked to do more advising and strategic planning will require the salary that accompanies these more senior-level responsibilities.
Total Compensation Package
Remember, your accountant’s salary should not be your only consideration. You need to look at the whole compensation package. Total compensation has both financial and non-financial aspects that will affect a candidate’s likelihood to accept a job offer and an employee’s likelihood to stay with the company.
In addition to salary, compensation and benefits can include, but are not limited to:
Recruiting on a Budget
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to pay accountants well. Afterall, they are in a crucial role because they are managing the one thing your business cannot survive without, and they are your main defense against fraudulent activity. However, not every business can afford to pay their account what they are worth. When the numbers simply are not there, companies need to get creative with how they will bridge the gap between what they can offer and what an accountant should be making.
In some cases, bringing a new accountant in at a lower salary level initially with the understanding that frequent or substantial raises is enough to get the right candidate in the door. In other instances, a lower salary can be made up for with a wider range of benefits and perks like additional paid time off or 401K matching to sweeten the overall compensation package. However, based on what we are seeing these days with the highly competitive hiring landscape, these kinds of approaches are far less likely to work with experienced accountants than they are with recent graduates or bookkeepers-turned-accountants. If you are looking to recruit seasoned accountants, they often expect both the salary and the benefits to accompany them.
So, what do you do?
If your budget does not allow for the kind of competitive offer that will bring in top accounting talent, it is time to consider bringing in a “fractional accountant.” This is an outsourced accountant that works on your accounting needs as well as other clients’ needs simultaneously. A fractional accountant may fill an ongoing part-time role, do short-term project work, or serve in an interim engagement.
Using an outsourced accounting service allows you to only pay for the amount of work you need done when you need it, which reduces waste when your accounting needs are not especially complicated. Additionally, outsourcing the work eliminates the need to pay for employment-related expenses that accompany hiring full-time employees, like payroll taxes, paid time off, and health insurance. As a result, the ongoing cost of an outsourced accountant is typically significantly lower than employing an accountant in-house.
Outsourced accountants also do not need to be convinced to stay with the company, so there is no need to offer the kinds of compensation increases that regular employees typically expect (for example, periodic raises or performance bonuses). This means that what would normally be a variable cost becomes a fixed cost, which makes cash flow management much easier. As such, outsourcing is a great approach for small businesses, startups, and cash strapped companies.
When you need to hire a fractional accountant, contact us! We have a team of experienced accountants ready to serve your needs, big or small.