The role of an accountant is very important to the overall success of a firm, whether it is large or small. Their primary concern is to keep accurate records of a firm’s financial position. Accountants are primarily employed by corporations, small businesses, sole proprietors, and government agencies. The four major fields within the accounting industry are public accounting, internal auditing, management accounting, and government accounting.
The challenging workload and love for numbers draw many individuals into the accounting field. Accountants can work in a range of roles that span from broad to very specific. Depending on the role, there are different educational and work experience requirements. Accounting jobs that are more specialized tend to have greater requirements.
In calculating an accountant’s salary, there are many factors that come into play. One of the major factors is education and experience. Accountants who hold graduate degrees are likely to earn more than those with only an undergraduate degree. Certified Public Accountants tend to earn the highest salaries.
Geographical location is also a determining factor when calculating the average salary of an accountant. The states that employ the most accountants are the District of Columbia, Delaware, Colorado, and New York.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for accountants was $59,430 in 2008. The top 10% earned more than $102,380. The middle half of accountants earned between $45,900 and $78,210. The bottom 10% of accountants earned less than $36,720.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a survey and reported that in 2009 the average starting salary for candidates with bachelor’s degrees was $48,993 and $49,786 for candidates with master’s degrees.
Accountants typically receive standard health, medical, and life insurance benefits. They also receive standard 401(k) and annual leave benefits. Accountants in high-level senior positions usually receive additional benefits, such as an expense account and the use of a company car.
Job Description and Outlook
Accountants are responsible for ensuring that a firm’s financial records are properly accounted for and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Majority of accounting work involves analyzing and reporting financial data.
Public accountants generally perform a broad range of functions, including tax activities, consulting activities for clients, and auditing activities. Public accountants, often times, ensure that their clients or the firm for they are working is in compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. There are also public accountants that specialize in forensic accounting. This role involves investigating, interpreting, and reporting white-collar crimes.
Accountants that work as internal auditors analyze and implement existing and new internal controls. This job is very important within a firm because, if done correctly, it effectively minimizes fraud and corruption within the firm. They also review companies operations to ensure that they are in compliance with internal and federal operational standards.
Management accountants perform a number of activities including budgeting, cost management, and asset management. They are often called cost accountants, and their primary duties often include costing out a job, fixed and variable expenses, and company assets.
Government accountants work in the public sector. They can work in any level of government, including local, state, and national government agencies. Their primary roles are to examine the records of government agencies. They also examine private entities that are subject to government regulation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employment opportunities for accountants are expected to grow at a faster rate than the average for all occupations though 2018. The changes in regulation, an increase in the number of businesses, and increased accountability for protecting stakeholders will continue to spur job growth.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Educational Requirements
Most accountant positions require that individuals seeking employment possess at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Many colleges and universities have combined undergraduate and graduate degree programs, so students will meet the minimum college course hours required to obtain a Certified Public Accountant license.
Junior accountant positions can sometimes be obtained by junior college or business school graduates. Depending on employer requirements, accounting clerks and bookkeepers also have the chance to obtain junior accounting positions.
Most public accountants are required by law to become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). The certification is mandatory for an accountant to file a report with the Security Exchange Commission. There are no other certifications that are required for accountants, however, it is often times recommended that accountants seek certifications and licenses that compliment their accounting roles. Obtaining certifications and licenses often times lead to higher salaries and better positions.
There are several professional associations that offer accountants the ability to become license professionals.
- The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) prepares and offers the exam for the Certified Public Accountant license.
- The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant license.
- The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) offers the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) license.
- The IIA also offers the Certified in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA) license, the Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP) license, and the Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) license.
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