Accounting Basics: Branches Of Accounting
  1. Accounting Basics: Introduction
  2. Accounting Basics: History Of Accounting
  3. Accounting Basics: Branches Of Accounting
  4. Accounting Basics: The Basics
  5. Accounting Basics: The Accounting Process
  6. Accounting Basics: Financial Statements
  7. Accounting Basics: Financial Reporting

Accounting Basics: Branches Of Accounting

By Bob Schneider

Accounting can be divided into several areas of activity. These can certainly overlap and they are often closely intertwined. But it's still useful to distinguish them, not least because accounting professionals tend to organize themselves around these various specialties.

Financial Accounting
Financial accounting is the periodic reporting of a company's financial position and the results of operations to external parties through financial statements, which ordinarily include the balance sheet (statement of financial condition), income statement (the profit and loss statement, or P&L), and statement of cash flows. A statement of changes in owners' equity is also often prepared. Financial statements are relied upon by suppliers of capital - e.g., shareholders, bondholders and banks - as well as customers, suppliers, government agencies and policymakers. (To learn more on this read, What You Need To Know About Financial Statements.)

There's little use in issuing financial statements if each company makes up its own rules about what and how to report. When preparing statements, American companies use U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or U.S. GAAP. The primary source of GAAP is the rules published by the FASB and its predecessors; but GAAP also derives from the work done by the SEC and the AICPA, as well standard industry practices. (For more on this see, What is the difference between the IAS and GAAP?)

Management Accounting
Where financial accounting focuses on external users, management accounting emphasizes the preparation and analysis of accounting information within the organization. According to the Institute of Management Accountants, it includes "…designing and evaluating business processes, budgeting and forecasting, implementing and monitoring internal controls, and analyzing, synthesizing and aggregating information…to help drive economic value."

A primary concern of management accounting is the allocation of costs; indeed, much of what now is considered management accounting used to be called cost accounting. Although a seemingly mundane pursuit, how to measure cost is critical, difficult and controversial. In recent years, management accountants have developed new approaches like activity-based costing (ABC) and target costing, but they continue to debate how best to provide and use cost information for management decision-making.

Auditing
Auditing is the examination and verification of company accounts and the firm's system of internal control. There is both external and internal auditing. External auditors are independent firms that inspect the accounts of an entity and render an opinion on whether its statements conform to GAAP and present fairly the financial position of the company and the results of operations. In the U.S., four huge firms known as the Big Four - PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tomatsu, Ernst & Young, and KPMG - dominate the auditing of large corporations and institutions. The group was traditionally known as the Big Eight, contracted to a Big Five through mergers and was reduced to its present number in 2002 with the meltdown of Arthur Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandals. (For further information see, An Inside Look At Internal Auditors.)

The external auditor's primary obligation is to users of financial statements outside the organization. The internal auditor's primary responsibility is to company management. According to the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the internal auditor evaluates the risks the organization faces with respect to governance, operations and information systems. Its mandate is to ensure (a) effective and efficient operations; (b) the reliability and integrity of financial and operational information; (c) safeguarding of assets; and (d) compliance with laws, regulations and contracts.

Tax Accounting
Financial accounting is determined by rules that seek to best portray the financial position and results of an entity. Tax accounting, in contrast, is based on laws enacted through a highly political legislative process. In the U.S., tax accounting involves the application of Internal Revenue Service rules at the Federal level and state and city law for the payment of taxes at the local level. Tax accountants help entities minimize their tax payments. Within the corporation, they will also assist financial accountants with determining the accounting for income taxes for financial reporting purposes.

Fund Accounting
Fund accountingis used for nonprofit entities, including governments and not-for-profit corporations. Rather than seek to make a profit, governments and nonprofits deploy resources to achieve objectives. It is standard practice to distinguish between a general fund and special purpose funds. The general fund is used for day-to-day operations, like paying employees or buying supplies. Special funds are established for specific activities, like building a new wing of a hospital.

Segregating resources this way helps the nonprofit maintain control of its resources and measure its success in achieving its various missions.

The accounting rules for federal agencies are determined by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, while at the state and local level the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has authority.

Forensic Accounting
Finally, forensic accounting is the use of accounting in legal matters, including litigation support, investigation and dispute resolution. There are many kinds of forensic accounting engagements: bankruptcy, matrimonial divorce, falsifications and manipulations of accounts or inventories, and so forth. Forensic accountants give investigate and analyze financial evidence, give expert testimony in court and quantify damages.

Accounting Basics: The Basics

  1. Accounting Basics: Introduction
  2. Accounting Basics: History Of Accounting
  3. Accounting Basics: Branches Of Accounting
  4. Accounting Basics: The Basics
  5. Accounting Basics: The Accounting Process
  6. Accounting Basics: Financial Statements
  7. Accounting Basics: Financial Reporting
RELATED TERMS
  1. Accounting Event

    A transaction or change recognized on the financial statements ...
  2. Financial Accounting

    The process of recording, summarizing and reporting the myriad ...
  3. Accounting Standard

    A principle that guides and standardizes accounting practices. ...
  4. Chart Of Accounts

    A listing of each account a company owns, along with the account ...
  5. Accountant

    A professional who performs accounting functions such as audits ...
  6. Forensic Accounting

    Forensic Accounting utilizes accounting, auditing, and investigative ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What are the objectives of financial accounting?

    Learn about the principle objectives of financial accounting, including the furnishing of the financial statements for those ... Read Answer >>
  2. What does financial accounting focus on?

    Learn the main tenets of financial accounting, the guidelines by which it is governed and how outsiders use it to gauge a ... Read Answer >>
  3. What are the main objectives of cost accounting?

    Learn about the main benefits of cost accounting systems, why they are different from financial accounting and why they are ... Read Answer >>
  4. How does financial accounting differ from managerial accounting?

    Learn about the main differences between financial accounting and managerial accounting, including why one is highly uniform ... Read Answer >>
  5. How are the three major financial statements related to each other?

    Learn why investors analyze a company's financial statements, and how the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement ... Read Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between a compiled and a certified financial statement?

    All publicly-traded companies are required to provide financial statements, including a balance sheet, cash flow statement ... Read Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. White Squire

    Very similar to a "white knight", but instead of purchasing a majority interest, the squire purchases a lesser interest in ...
  2. MACD Technical Indicator

    Moving Average Convergence Divergence (or MACD) is a trend-following momentum indicator that shows the relationship between ...
  3. Over-The-Counter - OTC

    Over-The-Counter (or OTC) is a security traded in some context other than on a formal exchange such as the NYSE, TSX, AMEX, ...
  4. Quarter - Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4

    A three-month period on a financial calendar that acts as a basis for the reporting of earnings and the paying of dividends.
  5. Weighted Average Cost Of Capital - WACC

    Weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is a calculation of a firm's cost of capital in which each category of capital is ...
  6. Basis Point (BPS)

    A unit that is equal to 1/100th of 1%, and is used to denote the change in a financial instrument. The basis point is commonly ...
Trading Center