Accountants provide financial advice to clients that range from multinational organisations and governmental bodies to small independent businesses. Accountants often specialise in particular areas of practice, including audit, management consultancy, recovery, forensic accountancy, taxation, assurance, and corporate finance
The educational requirements for becoming an accountant can vary quite a bit from being a basic accountant, to an accountant with a higher designation, such as a CPA. To become an accountant that does not have designation, you typically need an undergraduate degree in one of the following fields:
Having a degree in one of the above-mentioned fields will qualify you to work in many entry-level, and some mid-level accounting jobs within various organizations. However qualifying for many mid-level and most senior-level jobs in accounting, you will need an accounting designation.
Having a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field is considered the minimum education requirement for those who plan to become an accountant with a designation.
Earning an accounting designation typically requires the completion of advanced coursework beyond the scope of a bachelor’s degree. This typically includes coursework in areas such as financial reporting, taxes, auditing and other areas of business. To earn your designation, you will also likely require a certain amount of professional work experience, and you must pass a certification exam.
The two general areas of specialization are public accounting, and corporate/business accounting. A number of sub-specializations within each of these areas also exist. These sub-specializations may include:
Assurance: Assurance services can include review of any kind of financial document or transaction, such as a loan or a contract. This assurance review certifies the correctness and validity of the item being reviewed by the accountant.
Corporate Treasury: Involves the monitoring of all projected cash inflows and outflows of an organization, in order to ensure that there is sufficient cash to fund company operations, as well as to ensure that excess cash is properly invested. Corporate treasurers must also ensure that existing assets are safeguarded through the use of safe forms of investment and hedging activities.
External Auditing: External auditors are independent 3rd parties who are responsible for the examination of financial statements, with the purpose of expressing an opinion as to fairness of presentation and compliance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
Financial Accounting: Financial accountants keep track of a company’s financial transactions. Using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the transactions are recorded, summarized, and presented in a financial report or financial statement that is available to certain stakeholders, such as management, lenders, shareholders, and others.
Fiduciary Accounting: Involves the handling of accounts managed by a person entrusted with the custody and management of property of or for the benefit of another person. Examples of this type of accounting include trust accounting, receivership, and estate accounting.
Forensic Accounting: Involves investigating and interpreting bankruptcies and other complex financial transactions.
Internal Auditing: Internal auditors are concerned with evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes within an organization.
Management Accounting: Involves recording and analyzing a corporation's financial information in addition to budgeting, performance evaluation, cost management, and asset management.
Public Accounting: Accountants that specialize in this area perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting activities for clients, who may be corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations, or individuals.
Risk Assessment: Involves determining the likelihood that a specified negative event will occur with regards to undertaking a new venture; what rate of return is required to prudently make a particular investment; or how to mitigate an activity's potential losses.
Tax Accounting: Accountants that specialize in taxation are responsible for ensuring that their clients or employers (organizations and individuals) are following legislated rules when preparing and submitting their tax returns. The tax accountant may be the person preparing the tax documents and returns, or they may simply provide consultation to their client or employer.
While being able to work with numbers is important, you don't need advanced skills in mathematics to become an accountant. Below is an overview of the skills you’ll need for a career as an accountant.
Analytical Skills: Accountants must be able to review many pages of documentation and identify issues, as well as provide recommendations as to how to fix those issues. For example, public accountants apply analytical skills to minimize the tax liability of their clients and employers.
Communication Skills: Accountants must be able to listen carefully to facts and concerns from clients, managers, and other stakeholders. Accountants must also be able to communicate the results of their work and recommendations in meetings and in written reports.
Close Attention to Detail: Accountants must pay attention to detail when compiling and examining documentation, as well as when preparing reports. Accountants must also be able to do so with stamina, as they may have several documents and reports to work with during a given day.
Math and Logic Skills: You do not need complex math skills if you want to become an accountant. You do however, need the ability to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures, as well as spot discrepancies.
Organizational Skills: Accountants need exceptional organizational skills, as they often work with a wide range of financial documents for a variety of clients. If not properly organized, the work of an accountant can quickly become very inefficient, resulting in mistakes, duplicate work, and ultimately a loss of clientele.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of what skills, education and certification you’ll need to become an accountant, you can begin to start thinking about where you want to work.
Most accountants work full-time, although some jobs for accountants are on a part-time or contractual basis. The following types of organizations typically hire accountants:
• Publicly owned and privately owned businesses
• Professional service offices, such as legal offices
• Municipal, provincial/state and federal government agencies
• Management consultant practices
• Corporate and personal tax preparation offices
• Banks and financial institutions
• Manufacturing and distribution companies
• Stock exchanges
• Credit offices
• Public accounting practices
• Educational institutions
Becoming an accountant is not for everyone: it requires a lot of coursework and practical experience to earn a mid or senior-level job, it favours logic and analysis over creativity, and it requires a rigid commitment to the profession. If you want to become an accountant, you should determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits.
• You are able to read through many pages of documentation and spot discrepancies
• You have the ability to the ability to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures
• You are able to pay close attention to detail, for long periods of time
• You are highly ethical, punctual, presentable, and well-mannered
• You are willing to work long hours, especially at the end of each month
• You enjoy having clear rules and methods for your work
• You are interested in a career path that offers room for growth into executive management
• You are willing to pursue certification that can take an additional 2-3 years after your bachelor’s degree