Is there time for me to start a second career in Accounting?

I’m 38.

As it happens, I’m in a position to grab a new professional degree for super super cheap. One of the possibilities is Accounting. It’s from a school I know is well regarded. (Not “big 4” as I see the phrase used here and there–but all over the place the only comments I see about it from people who graduated from the place are positive–they universally report that employers look on it positively.)

It’s not a question of “can I get the certifications”–I have no doubt that I can.

And I have accountant friends (yes I’m asking them these questions too) and from what they describe of their work, it definitely sounds enjoyable to me. So it’s not a question of “would I stick with this?”

Rather, it’s a question of, suppose I do grab the degree and certification–what next?
Are there pathways into the field for people hoping to take up accounting as a second career?

As it happens, I’m an educator–does this expand my options at all in the accounting field?

What I’d really really love to do (besides teaching) is what I guess you might call “forensic accounting”–going into other people’s books and auditing them and finding problems and things. Is this particular side of accounting harder to get into or anything? Doesn’t make or break the deal, I’m just curious.

Well, if you are going to work till 65, that’s 25 years to build a career. One can certainly build a lot of career in 25 years.

It is definitely not too late.

Mr. Lee graduated with a degree in Secondary Ed that he never used (jobs like that were very scarce back in 1983). So he went to tech school and became a programmer.

Eventually he decided he wanted to do something else. At age 33, he started night school to get an Accounting degree. It took him about 3 years. He was able to transfer his credits from his original degree so he only had to take certain classes. Had he been able to take a full load of courses, it would’ve taken him two or maybe three semesters.

He found work right away, stayed at a couple of jobs till deciding what kind of accounting he really wanted to do, then got the job he has now, where he’s been for 12 years. He never had a problem getting an interview. With his educational background plus life experience, he had a lot to bring to the table.

So if you want to change fields, don’t be deterred by worries that your Accounting degree will be useless. As Mr. Lee says, They’ll always need bean counters.

I’m not an accountant, but I’ve worked in the advisory consulting arm of a couple of the big accounting firms.

“Big 4” typically refers to the 4 largest professional services/audit/tax accounting firms: Ernst & Young (or just EY), KPMG, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (or just PwC). There used to be 6 of them back in the dat, but after a couple mergers and the failure of Arthur Andersen, now there are 4. Apparently a merger or failure does not open up a new slot for the next biggest firm to slide into.

After the Big 4, you have the next tier of accounting and consulting firms like McGladry, Grant Thornton, BDO and so on.

Typically entry into accounting requires an undergrad degree in accounting. After than, most accounting firms will want you to get a CPA.

Going into other people’s books and auditing them is “Audit”. “Tax” would be helping them prepare their annual tax returns and minimize their tax exposure.

“Forensic accounting” (which is related to what was my specialty for 6 years, forensic consulting) involves investigating fraud, anti money laundering, other investigative type work. I don’t know if it’s particularly “hard” to get into, but it generally requires a foundation in general accounting. There are also certifications you can get like the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF).

All the major accounting firms have forensic accounting practices.

As my husband is graduating with his degree in accounting in May at the ripe age of 39, I’m going to come down on the side of “definitely not too late”.

It’s not too late, depending on what your income and life balance requirements are. It also matters what you hope to achieve is - in both of those areas.

If you want to only work 40 hours a week, but need to provide $200K in income to support a family and are not willing to travel, I’d say that’s a no. If you are flexible in those areas, then you have more to work with.

In my state of CA, being an active CPA also satisfies the minimum requirements to teach accounting at, last I checked, the collegiate level. So if you have an interest in both accounting and want to continue teaching, that can be an avenue. Though I would say a CPA with little to no industry or public accounting experience probably wont be sought after for teaching positions.

This would also apply to forensic auditing - it’s a specialty within the general field so it’s not like you would easily start in that arena. You’d have to gain experience first, then move towards that as you build your resume.

The typical path for a college level person getting into accounting would be -

[li]graduate with an accounting degree[/li][li]pass CPA exam[/li][li]Work at a Big 4 company as a staff auditor - getting shit on regularly[/li][li]after 2-3 years, promote to senior auditor - still getting shit on[/li][li]after 2-3 years, promote to audit manager - shit everywhere - getting shit on, shitting yourself[/li][li]after 2-5 years, promote to senior manager - mostly doing shitting now[/li][li]after 2-5 years, promote to Director - no more getting shit on - only doing shitting[/li][li]After indefinite years, promote to partner - profit[/li][/ol]
The exam can be passed before you graduate, or after you start working - many folks do that. Most will not promote until you are certified, which is the exam, plus all the other requisite steps.
You can exit the audit track and go to private industry anytime and the leveling is about the same if you go into a large-ish company. You’ll go in a little higher if you go into a smaller or mid size company.

Largish companies will have their own internal audit groups, but most will not have forensic auditing in house. That means if this is your passion you’ll likely target staying at a Big 4 or other type of public accounting firm that specializes in this so other companies can hire yours for you to do the work.

38 is fine - but your younger peers will have more energy, more time, and lower standards so they will outcompete you in competitive firms unless you are willing to work.

Just 40 hours would be awesome, but I’m just looking to make like $50,000 to $60,000.

I would say yes, plenty of time.

Keep in mind that accounting jobs are often very specialized by industry, which means bringing knowledge of your past industry will make you valuable in that area of accounting. It sounds like that might not be your main interest, but accounting in the education field is definitely a specialized area where knowledge of common practices and the culture would put you at an advantage.

For that matter, plenty of accountants are also educators. Even if not in the classroom training sense, at least in the sense of explaining to clients how payroll should be run, how income needs to be categorized, how they can save on taxes, why they should manage cash flow a specific way, and so on. The ability to communicate with and educate non-accountants is a valuable skill. Not every accountant has it.

No! No! No! You don’t understand. I’ve been a chartered accountant for the last twenty years. I want a new job. Something exciting that will let me live.

What area are you in? That will have a big impact on wages obviously. Forensic auditing would earn quite a bit higher, hence why it’s a specialty.

Well the big question is what kind of future does accounting have? While it’s true that accounting at the top is always going to involve humans, to me there is a strong possibility that the accounting currently done by run of the mill accountants is going to be computerized. For example traditionally small business used an accountant to do their taxes. I think small businesses are increasingly using Turbotax, etc and skipping the accountant. Does anyone know?

I don’t think Frylock is talking about tax preparation. Corporate accounting and public accounting are different animals.

Assuming the OP can find someone willing to hire a 40-year-old. I don’t mean to be a downer, but the OP ought to be conscious that there are a lot of new accountants graduating in their 20s every year, and the number of firms willing to take a look at him is necessarily going to be narrower than it would be if he were that age. (I say this as a 48-year-old, myself).

I believe that at the big accounting firms, life for a new accountant is much like the life of a new lawyer at a big law firm, with long hours, little control over one’s schedule, and dull, repetitive work. Such places may also send their new people on travel for long stretches (for audit interviews, etc.), although I imagine that has been lessened by the increasingly electronic nature of the work. The assumption among the partners at a place like this is that the new people they throw at matters like this have the boundless energy of the young and minimal family obligations, and it can be difficult to thrive if one doesn’t fit that mold. The OP might want to consider smaller and perhaps more specialized workplaces.

It kind of depends on the type of job someone does as an accountant.

If you are the “process this pile of papers that the computer didn’t know how to handle” guy, then you really are in danger. As computers get better and smarter, your job is on its way out.

However, accountants do a lot more than that. That computer system had to be designed by accountants, and they must be involved in testing how it operates and verifying its work. They are involved on a continuous basis to monitor and verify the system as-is, and also because laws change every day and thus no computer system is ever static.

As an example, the IRS Repair Regs have a whole section aimed at UPS and FedEx. If they take an alternator out of truck A, repair it and put it back in car B, they have to record several transitions during that process. Recording those means tracking an inventory of car parts, not just cars. This kind of record-keeping isn’t even possible without a computer, and designing, implementing and auditing this system is a full-time job for many people. The IRS changed those repairs regs at least five times over about ten years, sometimes retroactively. (And trust me, they aren’t done yet).

This isn’t so different from most jobs. The most secure positions are the ones that require expertise in knowledge and not just repetitive process-driven activities.

Yes, you can still get a degree, CPA, and a job. There are some caveats and howevers.

My wife was a late starter. She had gotten a teaching degree years before, and that didn’t work out. She had a succession of number-crunching jobs, and when she got one as a bank teller, the bank had a program that picked up the tab for classes.

The bank, though, rarely promoted women or paid them well. So, when she got her degree, they said they couldn’t afford her anymore.

That’s when she ran into the job market for 39-year-old brand new CPAs. It sucks. The big and middle-size firms had a certain set of requirements that didn’t include her. They want young ones, fresh out of school with perfect grades, who are willing to work long hours for short wages in the hope of moving up later on.

With that category out of the way, you can get a job at a small CPA firm or a small business. You might get more pay than you wouldn’t as an entry-level scut worker at a big firm.

As a public accountant, big or small, count on not seeing your loved ones much from Jan. 1st to April 15th.

I salute anyone who goes back to school past the 30th birthday. The U. will call you an “unconventional student.” Unlike your classmates, you won’t be crippled by the angst of the teen years, such as getting laid by that cute philosophy major, struggling to grow up/fit in, and finding a way to buy booze at 19.

Yes, as 38 is REALLY REALLY young. It is. Seriously.

Unless you are strictly doing personal tax work, I don’t think this is as big a deal as you make it out to be. Many companies have different fiscal year ends than calendar year ends. There is interim work that happens well before year end as well. So both on the private and public side, time shifting peak work times is pretty common.

Clearly you’re younger than I am - I remember when there was the Big 8. My family has worked for 5 of them at one point or another.

Price Waterhouse
Coopers and Lybrand
Ernst and Whinney
Arthur Young
Arther Anderson
Peat Marwick
Deloitte Haskins and Sells
Touche Ross

Andersen destroyed itself (I was working for PwC at the time so you betcha we heard a LOT about the independence rules and so on).
PW and Coopers merged becoming PricewaterhouseCoopers
Ernst/Arthur Young merged becoming Ernst & Young
Deloitte and Touche merged (with each other, then Tohmatsu) becoming Delotte Touche Tohmatsu
Peat Marwick may have merged with lesser firms - they’re called KPMG now.

These firms also have major consulting arms. In the late 90s they were all spinning off the consulting divisions, as independence rules prohibited many business opportunities. Now they all have consulting divisions again - not sure how they are managing that with the independence rules.

Anyway - back to the OP - I think it’s a good time to jump on the career change if you’re truly interested. Your background will definitely give you a different take on aspects of the business that a fresh-outta-college newly-minted CPA won’t have.

Things may have changed since I last associated with the latter category but I got the feeling that newly-minted consultants were expected to put in a LOT of hours. Bear that in mind.

Slight nitpick: At least at Price Waterhouse when I was there (IT consultant, not accountant) Director and Partner were generally exclusive.

As it was explained to me, directors were people who deserved promotion from senior manager, but were unwilling or unsuited for partnership. I did know one fellow who was a director for some years before making partner - I don’t know the dynamics of what was going on there. But the more usual path to partner was direct from senior manager.

A big difference in the two is that you don’t have to buy in to become a director. To become partner you do have to buy into the firm (though you’re loaned the money, and it comes out of your partnership draw / salary). And then you share in the profits. Tax liability is a pain as well - I got the impression the partners had to file state tax returns in every state where they did business (there were people who did that for them).

There was never any real risk of me making either of those levels, so I’m a big vague on all the details :D.

The new guy in my department just graduated (last year) from night school for accounting and he’s 58 or so. We’re in the corporate accounting world. Several people I know up there had blue collar jobs into their 40s before layoffs forced career changes. It’s certainly doable.