What is an Accountant?

An accountant has one of the most important roles in any business, whether it's a large corporation or a small business. Why? Because they keep track and record the flow of money.

Accountants make sure all money transactions are accurate and that all these transactions are legal by following up-to-date guidelines. They can work full-time for a company, or on a contractual basis to do the books or tax returns. They can also work for individuals to help with their financial decisions, tax returns, or other money-related issues.

What does an Accountant do?

Accountants use numbers and financial statements to paint a picture of the health of a company, organization, or individual. By using their skills in math, accounting, law, and finance, they analyze profits and losses. They provide information that investors and business owners need in order to see how a company is doing over a period of time. This information forms the basis of a company's report and legal filing reports.

An accountant monitoring and recording the flow of money for a business.

Here are some of the duties that an accountant may have:

  • Determines payroll requirements; maintains payroll data; prepares and processes monthly payrolls
  • Interacts with internal and external auditors in completing audits
  • Explains billing invoices and accounting policies to staff, vendors, and clients
  • Prepares and reviews budgets, revenue, expenses, payroll entries, invoices, and other accounting documents
  • Analyzes and reviews budgets and expenditures for local, state, federal, and private funding, reviews contracts and grants
  • Prepares profit and loss statements and monthly closing and cost accounting reports
  • Analyzes revenue and expenditure trends and recommends appropriate budget levels, and ensures expenditure control
  • Compiles and analyzes financial information to prepare entries to accounts, such as general ledger accounts, and document business transactions
  • Supervises the input and handling of financial data and reports for the company's automated financial systems
  • Resolves accounting discrepancies
  • Establishes, maintains, and coordinates the implementation of accounting and accounting control procedures
  • Recommends, develops and maintains financial data bases, computer software systems, and manual filing systems

Types of Accounting:

Public Accounting -
This would be an accounting service to the general public, and is thought to be more professional than private accounting. Certified and non-certified public accountants can provide public accounting services.

Private Accounting -
This would be accounting that is limited to only a single firm, where an accountant receives a salary on an employer-employee basis. This term is used even if the employer is in a public corporation.

National Income Accounting -
Rather than the usual business concept, national income accounting uses an economic or social concept. This type of accounting provides estimates of a country's annual purchasing power.

Fiduciary Accounting -
This type of accounting is done by a trustee, executor, or administrator. The job is to keep the records and prepare the reports, which may be authorized by or under the jurisdiction of a court of law.

Fund or Governmental Accounting -
This type of accountant works for non-profit organizations or branches of government. The double-entry system of accounting is used, the same as conventional accounting. Special funds accounting is also used.

Forensic Accounting -
Forensic accounting looks at issues that result from actual or anticipated disputes or litigation. Forensic accountants often have to give expert evidence at a trial. All of the larger accounting firms have specialist forensic accounting departments and within these groups, there may be even more sub-specializations. Some forensic accountants may just specialize in insurance claims, personal injury claims, fraud, construction, or royalty audits.

Investment Accounting -
Investment accounting, portfolio accounting or securities accounting - all synonyms the describe the process of accounting for a portfolio of investments such as securities, commodities and/or real estate held in an investment fund such as a mutual fund or hedge fund.

Are you suited to be an accountant?

Accountants have distinct personalities. They tend to be conventional individuals, which means they’re conscientious and conservative. They are logical, efficient, orderly, and organized. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if accountant is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of an Accountant like?

There is no typical workplace for an accountant in the sense that just about any business has an accountant or uses the services of one. A bigger company may have an accounting department that employs many accountants. Or, there may be only one accountant at a branch office, who might report to a supervisor at the regional or head office.

By using numbers and financial statements, an accountant is describing the health of a company, organization, or individual.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is some good advice for accounting students?

Attending class, completing homework assignments, maintaining good grades, working a job, and trying to squeeze in a social life are all things that need to be managed responsibly. Someone interested in getting a degree in accounting needs to be self-motivated and self-disciplined.

Strong math skills, calculations, data analyzing, spreadsheets, general ledger applications, income tax, cost accounting, fraud prevention, auditing.... all are subjects that will be taken. If you don't find these interesting, then the accounting profession may not be for you. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable spending fifty to seventy hours a week scrutinizing data and calculating numbers.

If you aspire to get to a senior level position one day, such as CFO or a partner in a firm, then developing interpersonal skills and having the ability to develop strong networks early on will be essential to your success.

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What are the various accounting designations?

The following are accounting certifications and professional designations in the United States: Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Financial Manager (CFM), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Enrolled Agent (EA), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM).

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What is it like being an accountant?

When you think of an accountant, perhaps you visualize someone fairly geeky who does nothing but crunch numbers all day, his or her hand a blur on the adding machine.

That image is a thing of the past. These days, accounting is more of a team effort, and you are likely to start out as a junior member of a team. You may be responsible for preparing company financial statements, auditing a client's financial statements, or perhaps spending one-on-one time with clients and helping them with their unique accounting issues.

Being an accountant in today's world means having the ability to cooperate and communicate with other people, as well as having excellent detective and problem-solving skills. The tasks involved in this career are much more diverse than many people think.

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What is the difference between an accountant and an auditor?

While both an accountant and an auditor are responsible for the accounting processes of a company, there are some differences between the two professions.

  • An accountant is usually an employee of the company for which they work, and the work done by an accountant is done on a daily basis.

  • An auditor, on the other hand, is responsible for reviewing the work of the accountant on a quarterly or annual basis, and is often hired from an outside firm to do so.

In summary, an accountant will create the financial statements for the company, and the auditor will look the financial statements over to make sure they are accurate.

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Auditor

What is the difference between an actuary and an accountant?

Actuaries and accountants both work with the same information, both handle financial data, and both generate statistics. Yet each will perform different business functions, and will serve different purposes.

The majority of actuaries are employed in the insurance industry, and deal primarily with risk. They will provide the statistical probability of a future event occurring (such as accidents or natural disasters), and advise managers on how to reduce any likely financial impact of adverse events. They also advise insurance companies how much to charge in premiums and which customers to insure.

Accountants work with individuals or organizations, handling monetary transactions by recording financial information. Their job may also include financial analyzing and reporting, preparing tax returns, auditing accounts, and/or acting as consultants on a wide variety of financial matters. Their duties are typically broader than that of an actuary.

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Actuary

How difficult is it to become a Chartered Accountant?

The chartered accountant designation is given to accounting professionals in many countries around the world outside of the USA. The equivalent to a chartered accountant designation in the United States is the certified public accountant.

Acquiring the required knowledge and developing the skills that are needed in order to be successful can be tough, detailed, and demanding. In order to juggle all the responsibilities of classes, study, work experience, and other commitments, it is extremely important to be focused and organized.

In the end, employers will value the skills and training you have, and this will give them confidence that you will deliver what's required in the workplace.

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Is accounting an art or a science?

Accounting can be considered an art because it requires creative judgment and skills. In order to perform accounting functions well, discipline and training is required.

Accounting can also be considered a science because it is a body of knowledge, but since the rules and principles are constantly changing and improving, it is not considered an exact science.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) defines accounting as: "the art of recording, classifying, and summarizing in a significant manner and in terms of money, transactions and events which are, in part at least of financial character, and interpreting the results thereof".

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Is it worth it to study accounting?

Accounting as a career can be quite interesting if you like analytical work. If your goal is to have a steady career with job security, and where you will be a valuable asset to someone else's business, accounting is a good choice. There are great job opportunities, impressive salaries and a strong demand for accounting skills.

If you take all that into consideration, then the answer to the question - Is it worth it to study accounting? - is yes. However, if you prefer to be on the front line, making decisions and/or creating something exciting, you may want to look at a different career.

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Are Accountants happy?

Accountants rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 7th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

While this strikingly low happiness metric among accountants may not be simple to categorically explain, some aspects of the work do paint a picture of long hours and high pressure, brought on by the exhaustive and potentially overwhelming responsibility of preparing and examining other people’s and corporations’ financial records.

Should I become an Accountant?

The bean counter stereotype that once characterized the accounting industry is no more. While fluency in the language of numbers is valued in a career focused on finances, the contemporary accountant and CPA need to to be good at more than just math.

Those that do well in the field also have advanced interpersonal and communications abilities and organizational skills. They are detail-oriented and able to analyze large amounts of data – qualities that are very important for those that need to work with analyzing and translating complex fiscal information, keeping impeccable accounting records, and preserving financial stability to avoid potential legal issues.

People who pursue this career path generally have an investigative mindset; they enjoy digging for the source of an accounting discrepancy and feel rewarded when they resolve such mysteries. They are also interested in technology and typically love a structured work environment that offers a considerable degree of predictability.

What are Accountants like?

Based on our pool of users, Accountants tend to be predominately enterprising people. Next on their interest archetype scale are ‘conventional’ and ‘investigative.’ These three characteristics align perfectly with the work that accounts do.

Accountants must understand how businesses and enterprises work. They must abide by the conventions and regulations of financial reporting. And they must consistently use their analytical skills to investigate budgets and accounting discrepancies.

Accountants are also known as:
Chartered Accountant Chartered Certified Accountant Certified Public Accountant Chartered Management Accountant International Accountant Chartered Professional Accountant Certified Management Accountant Certified Practising Accountant Public Accountant Certified Public Practising Accountant Chartered Public Finance Accountant Incorporated Financial Accountant