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What Is an Accountant? Types and Career Advice

June 26, 2021

Companies and professionals in most industries need an accountant for various financial services. Accountants record, organise, analyse and interpret their client's finances. This career path has a positive job outlook and offers job security in an in-demand industry.

In this article, we define the different types of accountants and their typical job duties. We also provide some useful tips on how to enter this profession.

What is an accountant?

An accountant is a professional who specialises in various aspects of individual and business finances. Accounting involves measuring and managing financial information that helps investors, managers, business owners and other individuals make sound financial decisions. An accountant may keep track of business transactions, monitor and report on a company's financial performance and prepare financial statements.

What does an accountant do?

The duties of an accountant may vary depending on their clients' requirements, but here are some examples of what accountants do on a daily basis:

  • Work on profit-and-loss statements.
  • Prepare tax returns and ensure taxes are paid correctly and on time.
  • Review and process invoices.
  • Create and review the budget for an organisation.
  • Prepare various financial statements and develop strategies for cost reduction, profit maximisation and revenue enhancements.
  • Maintain and process payroll.
  • Perform ledger maintenance.
  • Ensure the accuracy of financial statements and their compliance with government rules and laws.
  • Recommend best practices, strategies and solutions to ensure optimised functioning of the organisation.
  • Conduct risk assessments and prepare reports.

Types of accountant

There are several types of accountants, such as:

Financial Accountant

A financial accountant is a professional responsible for summarising and reporting an organisation's transactions through financial statements. They are also responsible for supplying this information to other departments of the organisation to work on budgets and investment decisions. You should have a bachelor's degree in commerce, along with some experience working with accounting software to become a financial accountant.

Auditor

An auditor is an accountant who does audits of the financial statements, accounting books and financial systems of an organisation. They are also responsible for providing financial advice to their clients. Many companies hire outside auditors to perform annual audits and ensure that the records are correct. There are some auditors who specialise in particular industries.

Forensic accountant

Forensic accountants are investigators of any financial misconduct or fraud. They perform detailed research and analysis of financial records to find any discrepancies in them. They also analyse financial records to see if they comply with the government's financial rules and laws. Forensic accountants often work in litigation or investigation support to review insurance claims, bankruptcy, tax evasion, divorce and corporate valuation disputes.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) offer certificate courses in forensic accounting. You typically need a bachelor's degree and at least three years of working experience to apply for these courses.

Related: Accounting Questions and Answers for an Interview

4. Government accountant

Most forms of government require accountants. Government accountants work for different governments like the central and state governments. Their primary job is to ensure governments are properly using taxpayer money. A government accountant may also help the government design a fiscal plan for each calendar year. To be a government accountant, you should at least have a bachelor's degree in accounting. You can also do a master's degree in accounting, taxation, finance or business administration.

5. Management accountant

Management accountants are professionals who help business owners and managers make sound financial decisions for their organisation. A management accountant may prepare business budgets, compile risk assessment reports, analyse profitability and prepare external financial reports. These individuals must also prepare and communicate the financial aspects of a company in a way that others can easily understand. You typically need to have a bachelor's degree in accounting to be a management accountant.

6. Cost accountant

A cost accountant analyses all the expenditures a company pays to run its business. They also analyse all types of costs involved in labour, materials, production, shipping and other day-to-day operations. Cost accountants compile this data and present their findings to business leaders to help them make informed financial decisions. Their primary aim is to help businesses improve their profitability.

You should have a bachelor's degree in finance or accounting to be a cost accountant. In addition, you may have to complete the three levels of the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of India (ICMAI)'s Cost Management Accountant (CMA) course.

7. Staff accountant

Staff accountants are the most common type of accounting professionals. They are often a part of the staff of a company or organisation. The roles and responsibilities of a staff accountant typically include maintaining payroll, preparing financial statements, reconciling accounts, managing bookkeeping and analysing financial reports. A staff accountant's duties at work may vary depending on the size and nature of the company they work for.

8. Investment accountant

An investment accountant works in the field of investing. They are usually highly analytical, detail-oriented, logical and prudent, with an in-depth knowledge of rules and regulations. They typically work for brokerage and asset management firms. These accountants are highly knowledgeable about stocks, bonds, currencies and other investment vehicles. Also, they play a crucial role in developing their client's financial strategies.

In order to be an investment accountant, you should have a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, economics or business. You can also go for a master's in accounting or consider completing an MBA in finance from one of the country's management institutes.

Steps to become an accountant

Here are some steps that you can take to become an accountant:

1. Choose commerce stream after class 10

If you are planning a career as an accountant, consider choosing the commerce stream after your 10th class in school. Choosing this stream allows you to study subjects like accountancy, economics, business and mathematics in your 10 +2. If you can secure 50-60% marks in your 12th standard, it should help you get admission to a reputable commerce college after your higher secondary education.

2. Get a bachelor's degree

While not mandatory, an accountant should have at least a three-year bachelor's degree in commerce. To get admission to a commerce college after completing your 12th standard, you may need to clear an undergraduate entrance exam. Some reputable universities that conduct undergraduate entrance exams include Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU) and the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Once you enrol in a bachelor's degree course, you will study subjects like cost accounting, corporate accounting, tax laws and business communications.

Not all accounting positions require a bachelor's degree but having one can help distinguish you from the competition.

3. Get an internship or entry-level position

Gaining practical experience working as an intern or junior accountant can help boost your resume and increase your chances of securing a good accountant job. You can do internships while you complete college or during the semester breaks. An accountant should have excellent attention to detail, strong mathematical skills, business acumen and analytical skills. Doing internships will give you an opportunity to improve these skills by exposing you to real work environments.

4. Choose a specialty

There are different types of accounting like financial accounting, auditing, tax accounting or management accounting. You should choose the specialty you want to pursue. If your degree and certifications you have earned apply to a specific specialty, consider using your knowledge and experience when looking for a job in the field. The specialty you choose can also depend on your professional experience and skills.

5. Determine whether you want to be a Charted Accountant (CA)

Determining what you want to do in your career path can help you understand what skills or qualifications you might need in order to pursue a career in your specialty. For instance, a staff accountant usually works within an organisation as part of the staff and does not always require certifications. If you want to become a chartered accountant, you may need to complete additional courses to ensure you have all the required certifications after earning your bachelor's degree in commerce.

6. Consider pursuing education

To be successful as an accountant, find additional opportunities that allow you to continue growing in your field. You can go for a master's degree or other certifications. It can also be very important to stay informed about the country's financial laws and regulations. To stay ahead in your career, consider seeking continuing education opportunities that improve your qualifications.

7. Update your resume

To grow in your career, keep enhancing your resume with your latest experience and new skills you have developed. You may also want to look for new requirements in the industry and customise your resume accordingly. It can help to showcase you as a potential candidate to the employer and increase your chances of getting hired.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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