Should I get my Master's in Accounting instead of MBA?
January 8, 2008 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I am contemplating on pursuing a Master's degree in Accounting. I am hoping to eventually be a CFO of a public company one day, and it seems having a CPA is better than spending additional year or two getting an MBA in Finance or something. I'd very much appreciate any feedback on this!

With the recent change in CPA requirement, I can't take the CPA exam after a few CPA courses. Instead, I think it might be better for me to get a Master's in Accounting to prepare myself for the exam than take college level courses. My question is if the MSA (Master's in Accounting) + the certification(CPA) + law degree is the same as MBA + law degree?

I think MBAs are overrated and I see more and more people with CPA becoming CFOs of public company. I am not sure if that trend will change as Sarbane Oxley evolves, but with the evolution of capital markets, I actually think CPAs will be of even higher demand than now.
On the other hand, I see some people that have all three degrees...MSA, JD, AND MBA, why is that? For management aspect of education? I am sure the school attended makes difference as well, but I am considering top tier schools.
posted by icollectpurses to Education (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I operate at the CXO level professionally, and don't agree with your generalisation that MBAs are overrated. Like any education, an MBA changes your thought process first and foremost and while doing so equips you with the tools needed to understand and adapt to different situations. An MBA is by no means a panacea, however it's not so easily dismissed either.

Folks with all three degrees probably acquired them due to the different aspects / lines of expertise offered. In my own case I took an MSc Quantitative Finance and while doing so had as an elective a Management Accounting class. My eyes were immediately opened to an entirely different class of problems that folks off the trading floor dealt with. I joined CIMA, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and while pursing that qualification decided to take an MBA (still finishing that degree, studying while working is both necessary and a bitch)

Drawing solely from my own personal experience, I've noticed many CFOs with MBAs, I'd say many more than those CFOs who operate solely with CPAs. I've personally known one who noted his CPA on his business card, but NOT his MBA. He did this so folks wouldn't be inclined to try to bullshit him on some arcane accounting details.

Finally, in terms of people at the top with multiple degrees - this just reflects the level of competition for such jobs. When a board makes it's choice between two candidates that are pretty much equal in every respect save education, they'll make the safe (i.e., defendable) decision and go with the hyper qualified candidate.
posted by Mutant at 12:50 AM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I know four Fortune 500 CFOs; three of them are CPAs (undergraduate accounting degree, no master's) and the fourth has an undergraduate accounting degree and and MBA; don't know if he ever got the CPA designation or not. They were in school before the 150 hour requirement to take the CPA exam, which now seems to make getting a graduate degree in accounting a logical step if you have to stay in school an extra year anyway.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:16 AM on January 9, 2008

Please note that the most important aspect of the MBA program is getting to know other people. The network effect is the best way to end up CFO once you have the basic knowledge (CPA) credentials.
posted by ptm at 5:41 AM on January 9, 2008

In my dealings with various CFOs of public and private companies, I can't say I've noticed any definitive trend that would indicate that a CPA, MBA or any particular degree or combination of degrees is the key to success. Also, a CFO's responsibilities can vary dramatically from company to company. In some companies, the CFO is a glorified controller. In other companies, the CFO is a key strategic executive and spearheads the M&A strategy. Just depends on the company and industry. In any case, I don't think early career qualifications have much to do with getting to the CFO job--those qualifications get you in on the entry- and mid-level jobs, but ambition and politicking take over from there. In that sense, I think an MBA is more indicative of someone who has the necessary level of drive and networking ability. But it isn't the MBA that made them that way.

Also, every one I've known in the finance world who also has a JD (and my sample is mostly M&A bankers, to be honest) has told me that going to law school was a mistake. They all thought they wanted to be lawyers and then hated the profession when they got there. And they all strongly suggested that one ought not go to law school if one does not want to become a lawyer. You'll pick up all the legal knowledge you need on your path to the CFO's office.
posted by mullacc at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2008

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