Generally, an MBA does not advance a career in accounting. Rather, it positions an accountant to leverage his or her accounting proficiency to pursue other careers. Public accounting, to some degree, even eyes the advanced degree with some suspicion.
According to one Big Four manager:
Whenever a staff person mentions an MBA to me, a yellow caution flag goes up in my mind. This is nothing against the degree itself, which clearly adds significant value to the person pursuing it, the kind of broad-based knowledge that should in theory enhance an accountant’s perspective and performance on the job. But in reality, the time spent on an MBA is time spent away from developing the specific accounting knowledge needed in our profession. The MBA is a deep commitment of time and resources – dedicating so much to non-accounting topics is a signal to me that the person is thinking of leaving. What the MBA does is prepare someone to pursue other careers – it should come as no surprise that every accountant I’ve known who has earned the MBA has left the profession.
Nevertheless, an MBA degree can enhance an accountant’s career, particularly that of a nonpublic accountant. One recruiter reports that many financial analyst positions often prefer or even require an MBA degree, as a financial analyst will often be a part of a cross-functional team that demands a comfort level with areas such as marketing, operations and management.
And, despite the suspicions of the manager previously quoted, an MBA degree does not automatically mean the end of a public accounting career.
One Big Four CPA says that her firm even supported her desire to get the degree:
I’ve always enjoyed working at my firm, but I came to a point where I wanted to get a broader perspective on my job, something an MBA could give me. When I broached the subject with my partner, he was enthusiastic (he had always given me wonderful performance reviews) and nominated me for a process in which the firm would finance a full-time MBA for me so long as I agreed to work for the firm off-semester and for a set duration after earning my degree. After getting the MBA, I moved away from auditing (and my partner) and into a risk management role. I think in the view of my old partner, the firm should do whatever it takes to keep its top talent.