The movement of money and other assets is crucial to any economy, from individual households to entire nations. Accountants are the professionals who oversee and manage money, ensuring that it's reported correctly and that all legal and regulatory obligations are met. Like medicine, the field of accounting is broad and diverse. Graduates with accounting degrees can choose between a number of career paths.
The Corporate Track
Successful companies are good at what they do, whether it's providing a service or manufacturing a product. They're also adept at managing their resources and cash flow, which is the accountant's role. Some play roles in the company's day-to-day operation, managing payroll, receivables and other routine chores. Others are auditors, constantly reviewing and improving the company's internal procedures. Management accountants consider the larger picture, preparing reports and strategic data for the firm's executives. This includes risk management analyses, and the assessment of potential acquisition or merger candidates. Accountants on the corporate track can become executives themselves, rising to be chief financial officer or chief executive officer.
Managing money is an industry in itself, and the financial-services sector is a major employer of accountants. Banks, insurance companies, investment firms and fund managers all need accountants to perform a number of functions. For example, banks require accountants to analyze credit risk, while fund managers rely on accountants to accurately calculate a company's value and potential for growth. The financial services sector has been the focus of increased scrutiny since the 2008 crash, and accountants play a key role in regulatory reporting and compliance.
Although regulatory oversight is commonplace, financial mismanagement and deliberate fraud still occur. Forensic accountants are the financial world's pathologists, painstakingly uncovering errors and misstatements in financial records. Government-employed forensic accountants might investigate tax fraud or large-scale bank failures. Their self-employed or private sector counterparts examine shady deals, messy bankruptcies or even divorcing couples who are less than candid about their assets when the settlement is drawn up.
Not all businesses can afford the services of a team of full-time accountants, so most use the services of an accounting firm for at least part of their accounting needs. These can range from one-person home-based offices to billion-dollar international firms, and provide a correspondingly broad range of services. Some primarily work in tax preparation for individuals and small businesses. Others provide management and advisory services, or audit a company's books to ensure their accuracy and regulatory compliance. Large firms offer a clear path for career advancement, much like their corporate peers. Small firms can be rewarding for entrepreneurial accountants who combine accounting, marketing and management skills.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Accountants and Auditors
- The Princeton Review: Career -- Accountant/Auditor
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants: Positions in Business and Industry Accounting
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners: Career Paths
- Vanguard University: Accounting Career Paths
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images