A career as an accountant is a good choice for someone with an analytical mindset who enjoys working with financial data. Accountants often work supporting the chief financial officer (CFO) or the company's finance department. They also work directly with individuals to review financial records for tax filing. Trained accountants have opportunities to work at small, medium, and large private companies.

There is also demand for accountants in the public sector and at nonprofits. Finally, accountants can work independently at their own firms or as consultants.

Key Takeaways

  • Accountants ensure all financial records and statements are in line with laws, regulations, and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
  • Accountants must also resolve any discrepancies or irregularities they find in records, statements, or documented transactions.
  • Accountants must often share their insights and reports with people outside of finance; strong communication and interpersonal skills can help an accountant build a successful career.

Job Description

Accountants use their education and experience to create or examine the accuracy of financial statements. Accountants ensure all financial records and statements are in line with laws, regulations, and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). These records and statements may include the balance sheet, the profit and loss statement, the cash-flow statement, and tax returns.

Accountants also document business financial transactions over time. They compile the information needed to prepare entries for company accounts, such as the general ledger. This information is used to make weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual closing statements and cost accounting reports. Accountants must also resolve any discrepancies or irregularities they find in records, statements, or documented transactions. They typically observe established accounting control procedures through an accounting system or software program.

Accountants are often assigned other finance-related tasks in addition to analyzing financial records and statements. Other job duties include monitoring the efficiency of accounting control procedures or software programs. Accountants help to ensure that procedures and programs are up to date with federal and state regulations.

Accountants are also tasked with making recommendations to various departments or C-suite staff regarding company resources and procedures. These recommendations are meant to provide solutions to potentially costly business financial concerns or problems.

In some cases, accountants are responsible for preparing and reviewing invoices for customers and vendors to assist with timely payment. Reconciliation of payroll, verification of contracts and orders, and collecting receivables may be part of an accountant's duties. At higher levels, accountants are involved in constructing company budgets and developing financial models.

In addition to these duties, accountants prepare and file taxes for companies and individuals. They analyze all company assets, income, anticipated expenses, and liabilities to reach a total tax obligation for the year. With both company and individual tax preparation and filing, accountants are expected to provide a detailed analysis. After the analysis is complete, they make recommendations on how to reduce total tax liabilities in the future.

Education and Training

While the field of accounting is vast, most employers require a bachelor's degree in accounting or a focus on accounting courses. Some entry-level accounting job opportunities require only an associate degree. Accountants with management positions often have graduate degrees.

In addition to university degrees, accountants pursue advanced accounting certifications to position themselves as experts in the field. An accountant must meet specific educational requirements and pass a certification exam to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Retaining CPA status also requires meeting continuing education credit guidelines, which vary between states.

The CPA exam has four distinct sections. They are Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). Some of the material covered includes business law, professional responsibilities, auditing, tax reporting, and managerial accounting. Some of the other topics covered are accounting for government, not-for-profit organizations, financial accounting, and reporting for business enterprises. While the exam is the same in each jurisdiction, certification in different states may require additional educational requirements or job experience.

Accountants looking to advance their careers may also pursue other voluntary certifications. These certifications include Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and Certified Bookkeeper (CB). Each designation has various requirements, including past education and career experience. Additionally, these certifications have continuing education requirements that must be met every few years.

Skills

A successful career as an accountant is not based entirely on education and professional certifications. Accounting positions are best suited to individuals who process information in a profoundly analytical manner. What is more, attention to detail is necessary to review financial statements and records. It also helps to know how to use accounting software, such as QuickBooks, and spreadsheet programs, such as Excel.

Accountants must often share their insights and reports with people outside of finance. Naturally, strong communication and interpersonal skills can help an accountant build a successful career.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an accountant was $70,500 per year or $33.89 per hour in 2018. The bottom 10% earned less than $44,000. On the other hand, the top 10% of accountants earned over $122,000 per year.

Individuals who work for medium to large companies may also have access to employee benefits. These benefits often include retirement plans, group health insurance, and reimbursement for childcare. Additionally, many companies provide funds for educational expenses that can improve job performance.

Accountants who work independently or as consultants may have higher annual incomes with a commission or fee-based model. However, they must give up the generous benefits often available from employers.