Accounting and Related Services

Overview of the Field of Accounting

If you’ve always considered accounting a boring occupation where people sit around in smoke-filled rooms with green plastic visors and crunch numbers, think again. Sure, there are those in the profession which many refer to as “bean counters.” However, the field of accounting offers much more than that.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are four major fields of accounting and auditing:

  • Public accountants, often known as certified public accountants (CPAs), work within public accounting firms providing accounting, auditing, tax and consulting services to profit and non-profit corporations, partnerships, individuals and other entities.
  • Management accountants work within private businesses and are responsible for preparing management reports and accounting records in order to assist the organization in making timely financial decisions.
  • Governmental accountants examine and maintain the records of government agencies or they audit the accounting records of organizations whose business activities are subject to government regulations and/or taxation.
  • Internal auditors review and verify an organization’s internal control procedures to check for mismanagement, waste and fraud.

Generally jobs within these four accounting fields involve preparing, analyzing and verifying financial and accounting records. However, they each fill their own unique roles within their area of expertise.

Preparing for a Career in Accounting

Depending on what career path you choose, getting the right education is an important first step toward landing the right opportunity.

Most often people entering a career in the accounting field will obtain a college degree in accounting, a degree in finance or a combined degree in accounting and finance. It all depends on the college or university program you choose. What you’ll typically gain from a college degree program is an understanding of accounting and finance concepts, theories, terminology, practices and principles. And you’ll study topics such as cost accounting, budgeting, financial analysis, risk management, corporate finance, taxation, auditing, and regulatory compliance. In addition, you’ll need to know how to develop complicated computer spreadsheets and utilize databases.

One of the great things about a career in accounting is the many educational opportunities available to you. Not only can you obtain your education through a traditional college or university, you might also want to consider getting your degree through one of the many online college opportunities. But first you’ll need to choose the right educational program for you.

An Associate degree of arts in accounting generally takes about two years to obtain and provides a basic understanding of accounting principles. An associate's degree is a good foundation for entry-level positions in the field.

A Bachelor degree of Science in accounting, on the other hand, usually requires at least a four-year commitment and provides more advanced education in accounting and finance. With a BS in accounting you can further your career by pursing your certified public accountant (CPA) license. Regulated by state law, once you complete your degree you will need to obtain specific experience working in a public accounting firm and pass a uniform CPA exam. A CPA license is required if in your capacity as an accounting professional you file reports with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Recognizing that advanced accounting education opens a lot more doors when it comes to career choices, another option is to complete a Master degree of Business Administration (MBA)  or a combined MBA/CPA program that prepares you for the CPA exam and provides credit hours necessary to be eligible for your CPA license.

Finally, in addition to the public accounting license you might want to pursue other certification programs. CPAs can add additional designations which include Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) and Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) offered by the American Institute of CPAs.

The Institute of Management Accountants offers a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation while the Institute of Internal Auditors offers a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), and Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) if you meet the educational and experience requirements and pass an exam.

If none of those certifications interest you, you might want to consider the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) designation from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. This designation requires you to have five years of experience auditing information systems and to pass an exam.

Selecting the Right Job in the Accounting Field

Now that you know about all the options that the accounting field has to offer, you may be curious about the future of the field.

According to the BLS the field of accounting is expected to have “much faster than average” employment growth over the next few years. Due to the growing economy and an increase in business as well as changing laws and regulations the field should grow by about 22 percent between now and 2018.

As the BLS puts it, “An increased need for accountants and auditors also will arise from a greater emphasis on accountability, transparency, and controls in financial reporting.” So now is the time to choose a career in the field of finance. But what is the right accounting career for you?

What it all comes down to is your area of interest and how much time you are willing to commit to your education. For instance, with just an associate’s degree you might obtain an entry-level accounting job such as accounting clerk or bookkeeper. The salary for these types of jobs is in the $25,000 to $40,000 range according to a 2010 survey from PayScale.com.

A bachelor’s degree can offer you opportunities as a cost accountant, forensic auditor, accounting manager and more. And according to a July 2009 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) undergraduate accounting degrees received starting offers that averaged nearly $50,000 annually. Finally, with a CPA license or a combined MBA/CPA you could reach a senior corporate position such as controller, treasurer or chief financial officer.

The fact is that there are a diverse number of opportunities for accounting students both educationally and from a career standpoint. It’s just a matter of choosing the right career in accounting.

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