Accountants are financial reporters. They produce accounts and profiles of companies’ or organizations’ financial conditions, activities and management. Investors, managers, government officials and the public often base decisions or actions on the accuracy of accountants’ work. The accountant job description reveals a host of duties, skills, education and certifications required to fulfill the role of accurately relaying information. Accountants will find themselves in strong demand due to the complexity of laws, regulations and methods by which organizations collect and process information.
Job Overview: What Does an Accountant Do?
Accountants fashion and review financial records and information and ensure that organizations and individuals follow laws and manage funds and businesses properly.
Public accountants usually furnish their results for use by governmental entities and investors. On the managerial side, the accountant job description involves duties such as evaluating current budgets and preparing future ones. Auditors focus on ensuring the reliability and security of information collection and processing and compliance with laws and standards on these subjects.
Law enforcement agencies and private parties may turn to accountants, too, needing them to investigate evidence and render opinions regarding fraud or other financial misconduct.
Accountant Job Duties
- Prepare balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements and other financial statements for company management, investors and other users of the information;
- Examine the financial statements to ensure accuracy and compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
- Prepare clients’ tax returns and also ensure proper and prompt payment of taxes owes by clients.
- Audit company or organization records, including ledgers, checks and other financial documents for potential mismanagement of an organization or its funds, fraud or other criminal activity.
- Review an organization’s accounting, data collection and information technology systems to determine their efficiency and reliability.
- Calculate and estimate costs of sales, production and other business activities included in the accountant job description.
- Determine methods to reduce overhead and other expenses.
Accountant Essential Skills
Math Skills. Accountants deal extensively with numbers and must perform numerous math operations and calculations. This is a vital skill included in every accountant job description.
Analytical Skills. Accountants must be able to determine instances of financial mismanagement or misconduct by spotting errors in how financial statements are prepared, the absence of supporting documents or irregularities in receipts and checks. The ability to analyze financial data also helps accountants know what cost-reduction or other organizational improvement measures to recommend.
Communication Skills. Since clients, investors, management and government regulators will rely on their work, accountants must clearly present, whether orally or in writing, their findings and regulations. Forensic accountants must succinctly testify about their investigations and opinions to juries and judges. Communication skills also include listening to and comprehending questions, fact scenarios and responses to reports and findings.
Organizational and Management Skills. The accountant job description includes the ability to prepare accurate reports and meet deadlines, many of which might conflict. Accountants must be able to know when tasks are due and prioritize them. Organization also helps these professionals delegate tasks, ensure they have and can readily find documents and data.
Becoming an Accountant
Accountants must have at least a bachelor’s degree generally in accounting or business administration. In some positions, an advanced degree is at least a preference as well. A certified public accountant must hold a license issued by a state board. In fact, the licensing standards dictate the required education and testing for the license.
Qualifications & Training
Accountants must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration (with a concentration in accounting) or a similar degree. Many firms may prefer candidates with a master’s degree. With the prevalence of computers and cyber-driven data collection and storage, degrees in information technology can lead to a career as an auditor.
States require certified public accountants to be licensed. By law, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accepts reports of accountants only from Certified Public Accountants.
Educational requirements for a CPA vary by state. Typically, a CPA must earn 150 semester hours. Students can enter a five-year program that combines business administration and accounting. Some states permit experience in public accounting to qualify a candidate to sit for the exam.
CPA candidates take a Uniform CPA Examination, which consists of four parts. Once a candidate passes the first part, the others must be successfully completed within 18 months. After becoming licensed, CPAs must take a certain number of continuing education hours each year.
However, managerial accounts do not require certification or licensing by a state board. The Institute of Management Accountants certifies managerial accounts. Such certification can greatly improve a candidate’s job prospects.
Students in degree programs generally obtain work experience through summer internships with businesses, CPA firms or government agencies. Those seeking entry-level positions with accounting firms, businesses or other employers often must demonstrate strong academic performance and have experience through summer work or otherwise. Some employers will accept bookkeepers and accounting clerks for junior-level accounting positions, which afford opportunities for advancement to higher-level accounting jobs.
Accounting is certainly a full-time occupation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 20 percent of accountants in fact worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. Working hours can increase significantly during the tax return preparation season, typically between late January and April 15. Accountants also work longer hours at or near the end of a budget year to prepare year-end financial statements and plan the next year’s budget.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants earned on average $75,280 as of May 2015. The median wage was $67,190, with the top 10 percent of earners making an estimated $118,930. Accountants who worked in the “Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities” sub-sector had the highest average salary, at $95,540. This group includes firms offering brokerage, trading, investment advice and underwriting for stocks, bonds, futures and other financial products.
Economic conditions, technology and the complexity of tax and other regulations will increase demand for accountants and auditors. For example, businesses and individuals rely on accountants to prepare returns amidst changing and detailed tax regulations. Auditors are needed to ensure that lenders follow tightening underwriting standards and borrowers can show themselves creditworthy. Moreover, threats of cyber-attacks will build the need for internal auditors concentrating or specializing in information technology systems.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment of accounts will grow 11 percent from 2014 to 2024.
In conclusion, within the accountant job description lie duties of ensuring compliance with laws and standards and communicating facts and recommendations to government, business and private parties. Becoming a certified public accountant requires a state-issued license. On the managerial side, a certification is not a legal prerequisite, but can afford advantages in landing a job or higher salary. All in all, job opportunities and the prospects for being successfully self-employed may grow as organizations and individuals face an increasingly complex legal and technical landscape.