Understanding the Professional Role of an Accountant
Accountants perform very important functions in corporate, government and personal financial matters. Most people are very familiar with accountants during tax season, but they may not be familiar with the many other duties accountants may have. While it is true that tax season is often the busiest time of year for accountants, they have a variety of other responsibilities that keep them busy all year long.
Individuals who are good at number-crunching and who have an interest in financial matters may be a good match for accounting careers. Most accounting jobs require at least an associate’s degree in finance, while higher-paying positions typically require a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.
What Do Accountants Do?
The daily responsibilities of an accountant may vary significantly, depending on where they work and what level of education they have. However, most accountants perform the primary task of examining and preparing financial records. Additional responsibilities may include some or all of the following:
- Reducing costs and suggesting ways to improve profits and financial efficiency
- Examining financial statements for accuracy
- Performing overviews of financial operations to identify areas that need improvement
- Organizing and storing financial documents
- Ensuring that taxes are properly filed and paid on time
- Keeping all accounting systems and books up-to-date
- Making sure that all financial records are in compliance with local and federal regulations
- Auditing financial systems and documents
Accountants are expected to consistently review corporate or business financial systems and records. Regular reviews help to ensure that the business or organization is being financially responsible and operating within the confines of the law.
What Level of Education Is Necessary to Become an Accountant?
Most employers require their accountants to have at least an associate’s degree. Robert Half International states that the most frequently requested certification required by employers is a Certified Public Accountants certificate (CPA). In order to obtain a CPA, individuals must take a national exam and receive a license from the board of accountancy in the state where they reside. It is important for individuals who are interested in receiving a CPA to check the requirements for their state. Most states require CPAs to receive a certain amount of continuing education on an annual basis in order to keep their license active.
Some jobs with accounting degree requirements accept employees with associate’s degrees for entry-level positions. Higher-level accounting jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in business administration with a focus in finance. Some may require a combination of a master’s degree and a CPA.
It is possible for entry-level accountants to advance in their chosen field without pursuing higher education, but it may take some time to rise up naturally through the ranks. Some companies or organizations allow entry-level accountants to move to senior positions over a period of several years. Those who have a natural knack for accounting may eventually become partners or managers in their firms. Others may open their own successful accounting firms.
What Career Options Do Accountants Have?
There are many different career options that accountants can pursue, depending on their education level, experience, and area of expertise. Many accountants choose to specialize in certain areas, while others pursue more general training and education in a variety of financial matters. Common areas of accounting specialization include risk management and assurance services.
It is most common for accountants to work in office settings, although some may be able to find work-from-home opportunities. Most accountants can be categorized into four main types:
- Management Accountant
- Public Accountant
- Internal Auditor
- Government Accountant
Management accountants typically need both a bachelor’s degree and a CPA. They are responsible for analyzing and recording financial data for their clients. The information they compile is intended for internal use only and is not open to the public.
Public accountants fulfill a wide range of responsibilities, including tax preparation, auditing of financial processes and systems, and financial consulting. Clients of public accountants may include individuals, corporations and governments. A bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance is typically required for those who wish to become public accountants.
Internal auditors assess funds and perform risk management duties for businesses and organizations. They use the information gleaned from their assessments to suggest ways to improve financial processes and avoid or eliminate fraud and waste. Those who wish to become internal auditors typically need to receive a bachelor’s degree and CPA certification.
Government accountants need to have at least a bachelor’s degree. They are responsible for examining government records and maintaining financial documentation. They also conduct audits of individuals and private businesses that are subject to taxation and government regulations.
According to the 2014-2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for auditors and accountants through 2022 is expected to be 13 percent. This is about as fast as the average growth for all occupations. This projection may not reflect local job conditions or short-term economic circumstances and is not a guarantee of job growth. An accounting salary will vary by title, education level, and location.
Recent, high-profile public and corporate financial scandals have brought new interest to the accounting field. As stricter financial laws are put in place, it is important for both new and established accountants to keep up-to-date with changing regulations. Tighter laws and lending standards may lead to increased audits and demand for quality accounting services.
Individuals who are naturally drawn to numbers and are skilled in the area of financial management may be a good fit for accounting careers. Associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and CPA programs are available for those who wish to pursue entry-level or senior-level positions in government, corporate or personal accounting fields. Similar careers include financial advising, budget analysis, bookkeeping, teaching and financial management.