Accountant Vs. Staff Accountant: Key Differences And Duties
Updated 16 November 2023
If you are interested in an accounting career, it is important to know that there are multiple paths you can choose. Staff accountants and standard accountants are similar job fields, but have some key differences that make them somewhat separate. Understanding these differences can help you choose which career path best fits your goals and can help you know what your duties might be in each position. In this article, we explore the key differences between an accountant vs. staff accountant by explaining their duties, skills, work environment and salaries.
Accountant Vs. Staff Accountant
To better understand the differences between accountant vs. staff accountant, it is important to first understand the definition of each position. Here is some basic information on both job positions:
What is an accountant?
An accountant is a finance professional who manages customer accounts. They can track expenses, incomes and tax costs and help create financial documents like balance sheets or tax forms. Accountants can help businesses or individuals manage and track their financial information, with several levels of expertise in the career field, including:
Junior accountants: They are entry-level accounting professionals who often serve as assistants or work for a financial firm. They can perform basic accounting tasks, like logging transactions and tracking expenses and often have at least a bachelor's degree or relevant certification in accounting.
Senior accountants: These are management-level accounting professionals with years of experience in accounting and financial management. They perform advanced accounting tasks, like completing and filing tax forms or managing an accounting team or department, and typically have higher credentials or certifications.
Accounting managers: They are supervisory professionals who lead financial teams and manage both levels of accountants. They can perform basic or advanced accounting tasks but typically focus on leadership, professional development and quality standards for the teams they manage.
What is a staff accountant?
A staff accountant is very similar to an accountant, with almost identical skills and duties, but this level of accounting is just between the junior and senior levels of accounting expertise. This is typically a person who has some experience in the industry but is not yet at a management level in accounting. At the staff accountant level of expertise, professionals typically have a degree or certification and work under a senior accountant. Staff accountants can work in the same environments as an accountant of any level.
Accountants can have many duties, depending on the client, tax regulations, financial difficulties and expertise of the accountant. Here are some duties you can explore to better understand what accounts might do each day:
Track expenses and incomes: Accountants can help a business or individual track their expenses and incomes and generate expense or income reports for review.
Manage teams or individual accounts: At the senior accounting level, professionals might manage a team of accountants or individual client accounts.
Provide financial insight: An accountant can help a business or individual better understand their financial position and leverage.
Comply with all regulations: Accountants comply with local, state and federal regulations for taxation and financial management and reporting.
Generate financial reports: Accountants can generate specific financial reports or even give presentations for company executives or clients.
Perform financial audits: Accountants can perform financial audits to find discrepancies and fix mistakes in logs or balance sheets.
Analyse financial data: Accountants can analyse financial data to find specific, relevant figures, information or to determine the financial viability of a company.
Update logs: Entry-level accountants typically update log books and track transactions in computer software or written records.
Staff Accountant Duties
Now that you understand what accountants do, you can further explore the basic duties of a mid-level staffing accountant. While the two career options have similar responsibilities, mid-level accountants have more specific duties, including:
Prepare balance sheets: A mid-level accountant might prepare a monthly balance sheet for review.
Code invoices: Staff accountants assign specific codes to individual invoices and organise them for future review.
Reconcile accounts: Staff accountants also help reconcile any open accounts and ensure the balance sheet is accurate.
Review or send invoices: Staff accountants are often responsible for reviewing and sending invoices and tracking them to ensure payment.
Confirm tax liability: Staff accountants can also confirm a company's tax liabilities by reviewing balance sheets and expenses to determine tax brackets and responsibilities.
Manage client accounts: Staff accountants can work directly with clients to help manage individual or business accounts and assist senior accountants with updates and client management.
Provide leadership for entry-level accountants: Staff accountants may also help provide leadership and professional guidance for new accountants.
Perform calculations: Staff accountants use advanced mathematics and financial management skills to provide accurate calculations and determine financial viability.
Monitor account changes: Staff accountants can monitor individual or business accountants for sudden changes and react accordingly.
Here are some of the key differences between an accountant vs. staff accountant:
Depending on the accounting level, standard accountants can have lower or higher credentials than staff accountants. For example, an entry-level accountant is typically either a recent graduate or finishing their accounting or finance degree or certification. A staff accountant is a mid-level accountant that already has a degree and a few years of experience in the accounting industry. Both have the option to expand their credentials, potentially pursuing individual certifications in accounting or a master's degree.
Career opportunities and advancement
Another key difference between these two accounting careers is the opportunity for advancement. Many accounting firms hire from within their organisation, allowing both staff and standard accountants opportunities for advancement. At the entry level, an accountant can pursue specialisations and move up in the company or apply elsewhere to use their specialised skills. For example, an accountant might gain certifications in tax accounting and work for a government agency. Staff accountants are typically already on a path to higher positions, especially in accounting management.
The responsibility level of accountants and staff accountants can vary significantly by experience level. For example, an entry-level accountant may have significantly lower responsibility compared to a staff accountant, but a senior accountant has more responsibility than either. Responsibilities can change in different companies and with experience, but staff accountants typically have more responsibilities overall than standard accountants if they are not in management.
Staff accountants typically earn a higher salary than entry-level accountants, since they already have some experience in the industry and typically completed their education at this level of their career. A higher-level accountant, like a senior accountant, typically earns more than a staff accountant because they have greater responsibilities and often higher credentials. Staff accountants can earn more by pursuing higher credentials, gaining more experience and expanding their core skill set.
The work environment for an accountant and staff accountant is very similar. Both typically work in a standard office environment, spending long periods of time sitting and working with computer software. Staff accountants might spend more time working closely with clients and even setting up meetings with them, as they handle more information and are responsible for advanced accounting needs, like filing tax paperwork. Some accountants work from home and offer their services as contractors, creating an entirely different work environment.
While accountants of all levels have the same basic skills, as you progress towards staff accountant and eventually management positions, your skill set can change. For example, as an entry-level accountant, you might not need any skills in project management or customer service, but as you become a staff accountant, you might be responsible for direct customer interaction and helping with project management duties. An accountant's skills can also change if they choose to pursue specialisation certifications, which add specific, in-demand skills like tax accounting or business accounting.
How To Choose Between Them?
Here is how to choose between these similar careers:
1. Determine your career goals
Determine what your accounting career goals are. Since staff accountants typically pursue higher accounting or management positions, you might pursue this kind of career if you want greater responsibilities. Or, if you want minimal responsibilities, you can pursue a career as an accountant at the entry level.
2. Research salary differences
The difference in salary between a staff accountant and an accountant can vary based on location and level of experience. Research salaries in your area for both experienced and entry-level accountants and compare them to your goals. If you want to earn more money, you might pursue a career as a staff accountant. More experience typically means a higher salary, and you can seek higher positions in the industry if you become a staff accountant.
3. Define your work style
Accountants and staff accountants can both potentially work remotely or on flexible schedules, but more experienced accountants can have more flexibility. Define your work style and how you want to work before deciding between accounting careers. Those who want a more flexible work environment might focus on gaining experience as a staff accountant and then becoming an independent contractor.
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