Aside from a generic “accounting” job title, accounting degree holders have a variety of options available to them. If interested in starting an accounting services firm, prospective accountants can choose to work with institutional clients, small businesses or for individuals. Certified public accountants, auditors, top-level comptrollers and tax accountants all base their careers on an accounting degree.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
A Certified Public Accountant is similar to an accounting Masters of Business Administration (accounting MBA) in that such a professional obtained a high-level, rigorous certification building off of an undergraduate accounting degree. Not all accountants are CPAs. CPAs are employed in a wide variety of positions. Most likely, they will work with managers and executives to design and maintain employee benefits programs. Asset and budget management often comes under a CPA’s purview. Proper financial reporting and budget forecasts may be a job task some CPAs take on for corporate and government clients.
Auditors use their accounting degree to investigate financial records, management strategies, and other aspects of business dynamics. Auditors analyze department and company finances, checking for compliance, errors and evidence of fraud. The auditors then present their findings and recommendations to a corporation’s upper management. If the auditor is external, like an IRS auditor, he works with management and legal representatives of the business and the IRS to clarify his findings and any perceived errors. Internal auditors dive in-depth into a company’s operations, expenditures, revenues, taxes and regulatory compliance. External auditors focus on financial documents companies reveal to potential investors. In both cases, passing an audit gives a “stamp of approval” and higher esteem among competitors, investors and clients.
Local and state governments hire a managing comptroller to oversee revenues, expenditures, asset allocation and overall financial health. For instance, the Maryland Government has a site for its comptroller with information on revenue sources, financial relations with Federal entities and other financial information. Every state and many other organizations, including non-profits, have a comptroller as a “public face of the budget.” Whether in the public or private sector, comptrollers have the final word, and final responsibility, for meeting legislative and regulatory requirements, maintaining necessary liquidity reserves and risk management. This job is usually for senior and upper-level accountants with plenty of experience not only in the technical and legal aspects of accounting, but also the social/political climate surrounding their employer.
A background in tax law is needed in addition to a general accounting degree. Certifications are available for those interested in more options and opportunities. Tax accountants are held responsible for client tax preparation and advice. They work closely with tax attorneys to resolve tax-related questions or issues that might arise. In addition, tax accountants monitor and recommend tax strategies and financial actions to legally minimize the tax burden to an employer or client.
Though distinct, some job tasks are common to many accounting-based professionals. Budgets, risk management, the legal environment and taxes are variables that all accounting professionals need to consider.