Finance Salaries in Wisconsin: Dairyland Dollars and Financial Foresight

published on 27 January 2024

Finding satisfying financial careers can be challenging for many, especially recent graduates.

However, accountants in Wisconsin can unlock promising salaries by developing specialized expertise and leveraging regional hiring demand.

This guide examines accounting pay ranges across the state, highlights in-demand qualifications, and provides insider tips to maximize earning potential even with automation disrupting the industry.

The State of Accounting Salaries in Wisconsin

Wisconsin's economy relies heavily on manufacturing, agriculture, and dairy production. This economic makeup leads to steady demand for accounting and finance professionals to manage financial operations. As a result, accounting salaries in Wisconsin tend to be competitive.

Average Salary Ranges for Accounting Roles

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual salaries for accounting and finance roles in Wisconsin are:

  • Controllers: $117,000
  • Financial analysts: $76,000
  • Accountants and auditors: $73,000
  • Bookkeeping clerks: $40,000

Salaries can vary based on factors like location, experience, firm size, and specialty. Metropolitan areas like Madison and Milwaukee tend to offer higher compensation compared to rural parts of the state.

Top Industries Hiring Accounting Talent

Major Wisconsin employers hiring accounting talent include:

  • Manufacturing: Kohler, Harley-Davidson, Oshkosh Corp
  • Healthcare: Epic Systems, Marshfield Clinic
  • Finance and insurance: Northwestern Mutual, Acuity Insurance
  • Dairy producers: Saputo, Foremost Farms

There is high demand for professionals with expertise in GAAP standards and financial reporting to support growth.

Projected Job Growth and Demand

The job outlook for accounting is positive in Wisconsin. According to Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, accounting roles are expected to grow 6% through 2026. Ongoing demand is fueled by steady economic growth, complex regulatory environments, and an aging finance workforce nearing retirement.

Key Regional Markets for Accountants in Wisconsin

Madison

Madison is home to the state capital and the University of Wisconsin's flagship campus, making it a major hub for government and education jobs. This steady demand drives competitive salaries for accountants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants in the Madison metro earn an average salary of $73,930 per year.

With its concentration of state and local government agencies, Madison offers many opportunities for government accountants and auditors. These roles often require specialized expertise in areas like fraud examination or financial forensics. The city also has a thriving technology and life sciences sector, leading to demand for accountants with industry-specific experience.

Major employers like Epic Systems and American Family Insurance have fueled strong job growth in accounting over the past decade. This trend is projected to continue, with a 10% increase in accounting positions expected in Madison through 2026.

Milwaukee

As Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee offers accountants their choice of corporate or public sector roles. Accountants here earn above-average salaries, with the BLS reporting an average of $74,520 per year.

Milwaukee is home to the headquarters of several major companies in fields like insurance, utilities and manufacturing. Top employers like Northwestern Mutual and Johnson Controls generate steady demand for financial reporting, payroll, auditing and other accounting specialties.

The metro area also has major medical centers, universities and government agencies that hire large numbers of accountants and auditors. With its diverse mix of industries, Milwaukee offers varied opportunities for accounting professionals at all levels of experience.

Green Bay

While smaller than Madison or Milwaukee, Green Bay offers a low cost of living and several growing industries for accountants. According to the BLS, accountants here earn an average salary of $70,500.

Green Bay is a manufacturing hub and home to one of Wisconsin's largest paper producers. The region's manufacturing base leads to high demand for cost and plant accountants. Major local employers like Schreiber Foods, Humana and Schneider National also have large finance teams.

In addition to manufacturing, Green Bay's economy centers around agriculture, healthcare and tourism. The metro area is expected to see a 12% increase in accounting jobs through 2026, providing a healthy job market.

Other Notable Cities

Secondary markets like Wausau, Eau Claire, Appleton and La Crosse offer additional accounting opportunities across Wisconsin. Though salaries are moderately lower, these regions provide a lower cost of living at about 9-13% below the national average.

Wausau in particular has seen a surge in insurance industry investment, with companies like Church Mutual and ACUITY doubling their workforce over the past decade. This drives increased hiring of financial reporting accountants, analysts and auditors.

Smaller metros also benefit from growth of regional healthcare networks, universities and niche manufacturing specialties. Accountants who desire leadership opportunities at smaller companies may find these markets offer better upward mobility.

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Qualifications and Specializations in High Demand

CPAs command higher salaries than non-certified accountants in Wisconsin. However, both remain in high demand as companies seek to strengthen their finance teams.

CPA vs Non-CPA Salaries

CPAs earn approximately 20-30% higher salaries on average compared to accountants without certification. Becoming a licensed CPA requires passing the Uniform CPA Exam and meeting experience requirements. Given the additional credentials and expertise, CPAs often take on senior and leadership roles.

Public Accounting Experience

Wisconsin corporate financial managers prefer hiring accountants with 2-5 years of public accounting experience at firms. This provides exposure to GAAP, audits, taxation, and financial reporting. However, public accounting salaries tend to be lower than industry roles.

Accounting Automation Skills

Proficiency with leading accounting software and ERPs like QuickBooks, Oracle NetSuite, Workday Adaptive, and Microsoft Dynamics is in high demand. Understanding RPA and data analytics tools also commands higher compensation as companies automate more manual tasks.

Salary Negotiation Tips for Wisconsin Accountants

Leveraging Job Offers

When negotiating salary, having multiple job offers to leverage can give you added bargaining power. Prepare counteroffers by researching the average pay rate for your position and experience level in Wisconsin. Highlight aspects that make you uniquely qualified for a role and push for the higher end of the pay scale. Time offers strategically and use competing bids to negotiate better compensation with your preferred company.

Highlighting Specialized Expertise

Play up niche skills, credentials, and work experience that set you apart. For example, expertise in dairy industry accounting principles or familiarity with Wisconsin's tax codes can justify higher salary requirements. Provide specific examples that showcase your specialized value, like experience streamlining financial reporting for manufacturers or dairy cooperatives.

Accounting for Cost of Living

Research Wisconsin's cost of living compared to national averages to back up requests for higher pay. Key aspects are housing, transportation, healthcare, and taxes. For example, point out that Wisconsin's overall cost of living is nearly 5% below the national average, so adjusting for that would keep your real income on par with salaries offered in other states.

Asking About Bonuses & Benefits

Look beyond base salary by negotiating terms like signing bonuses, 401K matching contributions, profit sharing, flexible work arrangements, extra vacation days, and performance incentives. Prepare talking points on bonus structures that would motivate you to boost the company's bottom line. Sell yourself as an asset the company can invest in via strong benefits to yield a high return.

Future Outlook for Accounting Pay in Wisconsin

Automation and AI Disruption

Emerging technologies like automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning have the potential to disrupt certain accounting roles and skills in the future. As software becomes more advanced at handling routine tasks like data entry and report generation, demand may decrease for some entry-level accounting positions.

However, these technologies are also creating new opportunities for accountants to provide more strategic insights and advice. Accountants with specialized expertise not easily replicated by technology, such as tax planning, auditing, and financial analysis skills, are likely to remain in high demand.

There is still uncertainty around the pace and extent of automation in accounting. While basic and repetitive tasks are most vulnerable in the near term, continual advances in AI mean higher-level skills could eventually be impacted as well. Proactive reskilling and staying current with new technologies can help Wisconsin's accounting workforce adapt.

Remote Work Opportunities

The rise of remote work unlocks new possibilities for Wisconsin-based accountants to access higher salaries through out-of-state employers, without needing to physically relocate. With leading companies hiring remote accounting staff from anywhere in the U.S., local professionals can leverage their expertise to earn coastal-level compensation.

This trend helps make accounting a particularly recession-resilient career path in Wisconsin. Even if local economic factors limit in-state salary growth, remote opportunities provide income stability and career advancement potential.

While full remote roles are increasing, most jobs likely involve a hybrid approach. Having some physical presence maintains collaboration and culture, while remote work provides flexibility and expanded talent access. This balance enables Wisconsin accountants to earn higher wages from beyond the state, while still contributing value to local communities and economies.

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