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What does an Accountant do?

Accountants are individuals that are responsible for creating, exploring, investigating, and repairing financial records.  A trained accountant is someone that must be able to ensure the accuracy of any documentation related to taxation and to ensure that such taxes are paid in a timely manner.  Accountants might also examine a financial organization to ensure the flawless and forthright operation of the said business.  Among the myriad duties an accountant has, one must check the accuracy of documents as they are submitted to ensure the information is correct, true, and in compliance with existing legal regulations.

Those who work in the accounting field are responsible for determining the amount of taxes due, tax form preparation, and accounting book inspection, which is performed to ensure a person is using acceptable accounting method. The trained accountant learns how to maintains financial documents and to keep them well organized for ease of reference in case of an audit.  A knowledgeable individual working in this job titles has the know-how and skill to advise those in need of assistance of the best ways to handle financial records, tax filing, and account recording. Accountants can examine how a business is operated to improve the bottom line profit while also advising on how to increase income and decrease expenses. Accountants might find themselves readying reports with financial information for special meetings with individual clients, organization managers, and other heads of business.

Who is an Accountant?

An accountant is someone who might work under several job titles.  Some examples of a job title an accountant might have include Staff Accountant, General Accountant, Financial Reporting Accountant, Cost Accountant, Certified Public Accountant, Business Analyst, Accounting Supervisor, Accounting Officer, or Accounting Manager.  An accountant’s title will depend, not just on the position and responsibilities the individual must fulfill, but also on where the accountant physically works, and the agency, organization, corporation, business, or individual the accountant works for as well.

Likewise, the responsibilities the accountant has are also defined by the source of employment, but the job can be fairly summarized in terms of the reasonable obligations an accountant can be expected to meet. Such obligations include the preparation, examination, and full analysis of financial reports, statements, and related records.  In this way, the accountant becomes fully responsible for ensuring such documentation is meeting the procedural and reporting standards and that it is presenting all information in a true light, free of errors and in its entirety.  Furthermore, accountants often must report regularly to someone above them, whether that is management or the higher constructs of a team.

Accountant Job Description

accountant-job-description

The accountant job description includes a hefty list of responsibilities.  A trained and certified accountant is likely responsible for creating accounts via the use of tables, and to enter in the appropriate entries while continually documenting liabilities and assets.  Knowledgeable accountants may find themselves in a position of advisor where they must educate clients about the regulatory rules pertaining to employees’ healthcare benefits, compensation, data processing system structures, and, for those who think in the long term, both estate planning, annual tax planning, and asset tracking systems.  These same highly qualified individuals are likely to share findings with some company management, especially when it comes to tax strategizing, forecasting of the budget, and the use of resources.

Those trained to work in this field are often required to develop, modify, create, or implement special accounting systems and record keeping tactics, all while utilizing the latest, state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technologies; in this way, the accountant can anticipate the need for continued education in the field to keep abreast of the how the latest technology works in relation to accounting responsibilities. At the same time, today’s accountants ready periodic reports, perform budget analysis tasks, and are necessary comparisons between the budgeted and actual costs of goods/services rendered.

Analysis and appraisal work falls under the job description of the accountant.  Regarding the practice of analysis, accountants may find themselves responsible for giving the clients’ advice about future profits, income, financially-related commitments, expenses of the business, and important trends that should be noted.  Regarding appraisals, an accountant might find him or herself performing evaluations specifically for the purposes of tracking equipment, real property, inventory, and in doing so, he must note and document the location, description and the value of the property in question. Preparation of manuals related to booking and accounting is not beyond the scope of this type of work, and both external and internal auditing services for individuals and businesses are among the chief responsibilities of the professional accountant.  Finally, it may also be the responsibility of the trained accountant to perform survey a business’ operations to determine the company’s needs and to use the data collected to advise the company.

Of course, the job requires the accountant to be familiar with the use of ten key and desktop calculators, computers, photocopiers, fax machines, and scanners. Familiarity with some of the leading accounting software goes a long way and will make the task of recording and calculation easier to manage.  Some of the top programs accountants work with include Summit Software Summit Biofuels Accounting software, Sage CPAClient Checkbook, and Intuit QuickBooks, all of which are some of the leading accounting software applications in the industry. Data analysis, CRM, document, Enterprise Resource Planning, Financial analysis, human resources, information retrieval, inventory management, and medical software familiarity may be required for the job.  The accountant can also expect having to work with Office Suite software on a regular basis as well.

Accountant Duties and Tasks

  • Creating and translating statements and financial records and providing the information to management
  • Financial data analysis
  • Financial report preparation
  • General ledger maintenance
  • Tracking records pertaining to the financial activities of a company or organization, including tax liabilities, profit and loss, and asset records

Skills Required

  • Financial Analysis
  • Financial Reporting
  • Budget Management
  • General Ledger Accounting
  • Data Analysis
  • Financial Applications
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Taxation Preparation
  • Accounts Payable
  • Bookkeeping

Working Conditions

accountant-working-conditon

Accountants typically work in an office environment although there are those who run their own business who make work right out of the home.  Accounting can prove very stressful, especially come tax time and when there are deadlines.  Unusually an accountant position is one where then individual works alone, but there are sometimes when the individual may be called in to work on a team project with other auditors and accountants.  Sometimes the job requires travel too. The job is typically a 40-work week, but during tax time it may be necessary to put in some overtime.  In 2014, on average, one out of five accountants report working at least 40 hours on a weekly basis.

Accountant Salary

accountant-salary

The question as to how much do accountants make has a rather complex answer.  So many factors shape the average accountant salary.  For example, a person’s education and skills will influence the salary one makes to a certain degree.  Additionally, the location where a person decides to work can have a positive or negative impact on salary, depending upon the location; some geographic locations have higher pay rates when compared to the national average, and others have lower pay or even fewer job opportunities.

How Much does an Accountant Make?

Certain skill sets can help an accountant bring in a higher salary.  The ability to analyse finances increases the accountant’s salary up to 6%; and skills in budget management and financial reporting allow for as much as a 4% increase in salary.  An accountant with an understanding of general ledger accounting and financial applications may witness a 3% increase in yearly intake, and if the accountant is good at data analysis, this can lead to a 1% increase in yearly income.

Entry-level accounts are, on average making $45,000 but those in the late career sector, who have 20 years or more under their belt, take home a salary of $53,000.  However, these figures do not consider different locations. Nor does it consider other perks like health insurance or vision coverage.

Location and geography play a huge role in the amount of money an accountant makes per year.  For example, while the national average pay for accountants is about $48,000, the median pay one can expect if working in the San Francisco region is $62,345, which works out to be $14,343 per year over the national average. Ultimately, working in San Francisco allows an entry level accountant to 30% more than an accountant who is working in Austin, Texas at a yearly rate equal to the national average salary of $48,000. Interestingly, one working and living in Houston can make 10% more than the national average or $5,016 more, thereby allowing the individual to generate up to $53,018 yearly.

Seven additional cities end up paying generously over the national average to entry level accountants, and it behooves the future accountant to know where the best-paying jobs are located as some people move to the cities where there are better opportunities to be had. Washington pays 22% more than the national average, which is about $10,622 a year more, at $58,624.00.  The state of New York offers $8,244 over the national average, resulting in a salary of $56,246 yearly.  Chicago has jobs for accountants offering 8% over the national average, as does the city of Denver, San Diego, and Minneapolis. In the latter mentioned cities, the yearly salary is 8% higher than the national average so accountants make $3,771 more or about $51,713 per annum.  In cities like Dallas, the accountant can make as much as 5% greater than the national average, and in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, the accountant makes about 3% more than the national average, and the city of Atlanta just over 1% the national average as well.

Just as there are cities promising higher salaries for the hardworking accountant, there’s also cities that offer well below the national average. St. Louis, for example, has a median pay of $46,671 for the entire year.  The latter salary is $1,331 below the national average at the time of this data collection.

Entry-LevelMid-CareerExperienced
$45,000$51,000$53,000

Accountant Employment

accountant-employment

In viewing the amount of positions spanning from 2010 to 2014, there has been a steady increase in the position of accountant. In the year 2014, professional accountants filled as many as 1.3 million positions. The leading industries employing accountants include manufacturing, management of enterprises and companies, insurance and finance, government agencies, payroll services, booking services, tax preparation, and accounting services.  The largest sector employed 26% of the individuals in the industry, with the remaining sectors hovering between 6 and 8% each.  From 2010 to 2011, there was a growth of 12,600 jobs with an increase from 1,072,490 to 1,085,150.  In 2011 to 2012, there was a substantial increase in accountant jobs: As many as 44,190 more jobs were available with an increase from 1,085,150 positions in 2011, to 1,129,340 positions in 2012.  A year later, another 38,990 jobs were available, and between 2013 and 2014, the growth rate continued but slowed substantially to 18,980.

Year20102011201220132014
Jobs1,072,4901,085,1501,129,3401,168,3301,187,310

Of the current accountants in the field, about 8% are within their first year of the job.  The largest section of workers is those with five to nine years of experience with the group being about 43% of all active workers.  About 17% of all accountants have ten to 19 years of experience, and the remaining 13% have about 20 years of on the job or in-title experience.

Regarding the most common benefits accountants receive, the majority have medical coverage: About 74% of people have medical insurance.  Nearly 54% of working accountants have dental coverage. About 45% of accountants have vision coverage, and about 24% have no coverage whatsoever.

Gender Distribution

Women now make up more than 60 percent of all accountants and auditors in the United States, per the Clarion-Ledger. That is an estimated 843,000 women in the accounting and auditing workforce.  These numbers are in striking contrast to surveys revealing only about 500 females in the industry in the early 1950s.  At one time, it was widely held that women had a declining interest in science and math as they got older, yet, the surveys today demonstrating the prominent female force in the accounting sector defies this very incorrect convention.

Of course, there was a time when females in the accounting industry may have been influenced by hiring practices; As per information in the Journal of Accountancy; it appears that women seeking accounting jobs in the early 1970s were often advised by companies that they were not presently hiring women for the position.  Times have changed dramatically as now women are dominant in the industry and many are even doing all the hiring; In turn, they are picking some of the best female candidates for the job; this may be a clue to the decline of males in the role of accountant with today’s figures suggesting a mere 34% males in the industry now.  Experts are also finding the accounting position is one that still allows a woman to “have the best of both worlds,” one with a personal life, family, and perhaps even children while she can still prove a vital addition in the workforce.

MaleFemale
34%66%

As per the Knowledge Centre at Catalyst online, there is a high demand for those with a Master’s degree in accounting, and in the United States over 50% of all college degrees in accounting are pursued by females, with just over 52% pursuing bachelor’s degrees and 44.4% are going as far as to pursue Ph.Ds.

While there are significant strides in accounting in terms of females getting jobs, there is still that glass ceiling to conquer when it comes to equal pay for women.  As per information made available by Catalyst online, a female makes a weekly median pay of roughly $1000, whereas the average male weekly salary is neare $200 a week more, even when men are working the same positions as women in the same fields.

How to Become an Accountant?

become-accountant

The answer to the question of how to become an accountant involves an examination of the necessary education and certification a person must receive to qualify for such a position.  Below, there is an exploration of the educational requirements and some of the major subjects a person can expect to encounter when pursuing a career in the field of accounting.  Following the education requirements, there is information related to some of the leading accredited colleges and universities offering degree programs with a major in accounting and auditing.

Accountant Education Requirements

The bare minimum accountant education requirements include the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in the field.  If a bachelor’s degree is obtained and this act is followed by getting the appropriate certifications for working with specific accounting fields, greater job prospects are highly likely.  For instance, after getting a bachelor’s, many people pursue certification to become a CPA or Certified Public Accountant.

Some students increase the likelihood of getting a position as an accountant by pursuing a master’s degree as several employers prefer that their workers have one as a minimum requirement.  Some pursue a master with a major in accounting while others get a degree in business administration with a concentration or focus on accounting.  There are also programs a student can enroll in that have specialized focus, including a focus on things like internal auditing.  It is possible, however, to get a job in the accounting field even if you only have an associate’s degree, provided the student has some experience in the field: Junior accounting positions are available for such individuals, and accounting clerks or bookkeepers can also pursue junior accounting titles as a way of getting a foot in the door or stepping into the industry at an entry level.

When a student attends a degree program, it is recommended the student take full advantage of any internship programs available as this will allow the student to gain considerable, and vital experience.  The experience can serve the student later when looking to get entry level positions or pay increases a bit higher than the median average salary.

To be able to fulfill some job duties, an accountant must be a Certified Public Accountant: This is especially true if the individual is working at a job where the individual is responsible for creating annual reports for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Of course, such certification can make the individual more appealing to employers looking for the most knowledgeable candidates to fill accounting positions. Some employers will even go as far as covering the costs associated with CPA certification.

A student must pass the state exam to become an accountant, and licenses are controlled by the Board of Accountancy. State requirements may vary, but the student will be required to pass an examination.

A few states allow several years of public accounting experience to substitute for a college degree. Depending on the state, there are some areas where just having a set number of years working in the accounting, auditing, or bookkeeping field will allow the student to forego a more formal education to work as an accountant.

All fifty states in the nation over the Uniform CPA Examination (a four-part exam), which is made available by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).  The test must be completed with at least 18 months from the time the first section is completed, but taking the test all at once is not a requirement.  Many the states in the nation do expect accountants to continue with ongoing education so the accountant can keep his or her skills sharp and so the accountant can remain current and abreast of the latest changes in the industry.

Additional Certifications

Certified Management Accountant (CIA): This certification is made available by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).  To qualify for this certification the student must have a bachelor’s, and two years in-title as a management accountant, and the individual must complete an exam consisting of two parts.  In addition, the individual must agree to meet the continuing education demands that accompany this type of certification.  Once certified, the accountant must comply with regulations and standards as set forth by the IMA.

There are, of course, additional certifications an accountant can pursue. Here is but a brief listing of potential certifications for accountants to consider, many of which can lead to career advancement:

  • Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) through The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA)
  • Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) through the IIA
  • Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP) through the IIA
  • Certified in Control Assessment (CCSA) through the IIA
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) through the IIA
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor through Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
  • Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) through The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
  • Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) through the (AICPA)
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) through the (AICPA)

 

Accountant Colleges

Many accountant colleges offer a variety of degree programs. There are several top colleges located throughout the United States. The list below is just a few of the top accredited schools providing degree programs for students interested in a degree in accounting and auditing.

  1. Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts
  2. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign
  3. Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island
  4. University of Notre Dame at Notre Dame, Indiana
  5. University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  6. University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California
  7. Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
  8. Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Major Subjects

Students partaking of accounting programs in an accredited university can anticipate taking coursework related to economics and accounting with a focus on principles and accounting practices as well as banking and financial markets. Students must take classes in statistics, caucus, geometry, algebra, and arithmetic. Clerical knowledge, English classes, and studies in law and government, democratic political processes, agency rules, executive orders, government regulations, precedents, court procedures, legal codes, and laws and regulations regarding accounting practices are also part of the student’s studies.

Accountant Specializations

accountant-specialization

An accountant has the option to specialize in many different subspecialties within the industry. The specialization the accountant undertakes might well depend on the organization, business, or agency the individual is employed by; some accountants might specialize in figuring out the likelihood of mistakes on financial documentation, and specialize in risk management, for example.  Others might work on making the context or quality of data better before presenting it to those who make decisions based on such information (assurance services specialty), and still other accountants might work in a specific industry, with healthcare being just one of many industries to choose from when working as an accountant.  Those with a strong background in auditing and accounting might choose to teach others in an academic setting.  There are many different types of accountants including:

Forensic accounting: This is an individual who investigates criminal activity in the financial realm including contract disputes, bankruptcies, embezzlement, securities fraud, and other criminally-oriented financial transactions.  Some accountants work closely with the law to conduct investigations and they might even be called on to testify in a trial.

Government accounting: Individuals working in this sector help to take care of and explore the records from various agencies throughout the government.  The same accountants might audit individuals and businesses who are responsible for adhering to the legalities regarding taxation.

Management accounting: otherwise referred to as private, corporate, industrial, managerial, or cost accounting are sectors of the field calling for those trained in analyzing and recording financial data for the business in which they work.  The work provided is typically for business eyes and use only.

Public accounting: A person responsible for a wide range of accounting services including taxes, auditing, and consulting duties; they might work with individual consumers, the government, or big corporations. A public accountant works with the documents required by the law that people must provide to them for the accountant to perform his or her consulting, tax filing or auditing responsibilities. Sometimes those accountants operating in their own business or even those working in a public firm are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).  These individuals will sometimes work with publicly traded businesses to file the quarterly and annual reports the company must file by law with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Professional Associations of Accountants

One professional group among the many associations of accountants is the National Association of Accountants (NAA); this organization has been identified as a no profit group since 1945. This group was created to establish an organization with the focus on ensuring the best interests of accountants across the nation.  The group is concerned with the general welfare of all accountants both individually and collectively. The NAA continues to establish regulations and to support a code of ethical conduct for all accountants, and the group strives to promote professionalism in the field of accounting.  Today the group has three headquarters in Oklahoma City, St Louis, and Washington DC. The NAA brings members together, encourages continued education, and offers awards to those who excel in the accounting industry.

Famous Accountants

Among the famous accountants, one will find the American actor, comedian, and accountant Bob Newhart on the list.  Following the war and in his early life, Newhart worked at the United States Gypsum, (a company that manufactures construction materials), as an accountant.  Interestingly, Newhart admits he took on the motto of “That’s close enough,” which flies in the face of an accountant who is extremely analytical and all about accuracy.  Later Newhart would explain how his petty cash imbalances and adjustments, as well as his own money management, convinced him he didn’t have the temperament for the accounting work.

American actor Peter Michael Falk who is best known for his role as Lieutenant Columbo was an accountant in his early life as well before entering the field of acting.  A native to New York City, Falk attended Hamilton College in Clinton New York and studied political science at the New School for Social Research.  Later, he studied public administration at Maxwell School of Syracuse University.  He later became a Certified Public Accountant.

Accountants FAQ

 What is the job outlook for accountants? Does it look good for those interested in pursuing the accountant career?

Experts surmise a growth rate of as much as 11% in the accounting sector between 2014 and 2024 with a total increase of jobs equalling as much as 142,400 during the ten-year span.  The rapid expansion of the accounting sector can be attributed to global economic growth and the intensifying complexity of tax regulations. Those who become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) have the best job prospects.

 What are the general advantages and disadvantages of being an accountant?

Many accountants find the job is an honorable, challenging, deadline-driven, and it appeals people who are self-motivated and who enjoy repairing issues or identifying problems.  The job of the accountant allows an individual to put his or her skills and earned qualifications to good use, and one’s experience helps in facilitating career growth in the future. People will often turn to accountants for some tips and advice on money and budgeting, and some accountants enjoy doling out advice and guidance.

Bear in mind that certain times of the year are highly demanding for accountants, particularly during tax time.  In this case, planning time off can prove less flexible and more hours might be required to meet required deadlines.  If you find the right position and you have the freedoms to expand in the field, you will find being an accountant rewarding, However, if you land in a position where you are just going through the motions every day, the monotonous nature of the job can open the doors to brand new difficulties.

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