September 22, 2022
To the uninitiated, an accountant is an accountant. The truth, of course, is a little more complicated than that. While the overall job of an accountant (bookkeeping, cashflow monitoring, tax reporting etc.) may be shared amongst all who have an accountancy qualification, there are subdivisions and different types of accountants within the profession which are important.
Here we’ll explore the different kinds of accountant (CPA), what role each plays within their sector of accounting, and how each assists their business or organization.
The simple answer to this question is a resounding yes! Broadly speaking, accountants fall into one of the following seven categories:
1: CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
These are the highest qualified kinds of accountants, who may work for a range of top tier clients or be retained in-house at one company. CPAs have a bachelor’s degree and have passed their standard CPA Examination to gain accreditation.
The role shades into a financial advisory role and, as such, requires a high level of expertise and oversight over all a company’s finances including investments, IPOs and any legal issues which may require forensic accountancy (see below).
There are different types of CPA, each with a different focus. In a larger company, a CPA might oversee a team of in-house accountants and may concentrate on higher-level operations including financial managements and statistical analysis.
2: Management Accountant
Management accountants are called in to analyze a company’s financial position when they are about to take a significant strategic move, such as restructuring, making an IPO, or seeking external investment.
These business specialists are knowledgeable in profit-loss analysis, risk assessment, budgeting, planning and external reporting. This is a role combining financial analysis and accountancy.
A sub-group of management accounts are investment specialists, who work alongside an investment brokerage or private equity group to analyze potential investments and how they will affect the client’s bottom line. Accountants fulfilling this role may require a Financial Securities License, if they are packaging and selling investment products and are thereby regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Auditors are laser-tooled, precision accountants. They are often called into a company from an external firm to cast an objective eye and ensure that financial reports are 100% accurate. Attention to fine detail and a fully up-to-date knowledge of all legislation and mandatory reporting requirements is key.
Sometimes tax auditors are called in by the IRS, who have reason to inspect a company’s accounts, due to errors, inconsistencies, or questionable entries in their annual return. This in an in-house government role (for more on government accountancy positions, see below). Auditors need to be good at projecting authority and exercising discretion and tact.
4: Forensic Accountant
Forensic accountants are the problem solvers and sleuths of the accountancy world. Most forensic accountants work for law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. They are skilled at detecting fraudulent activities, errors, and omissions.
The field has recently opened up due to the development of cryptocurrencies, which have become the payment method of choice for many criminals, creating increased risk for any business dealing in them. A recent article in the UK’s Accountancy Age described how crypto is destines to become a mandatory area of expertise for 21century accountants.The role requires a bachelor’s degree and most forensic accountants are usually CPAs too.
5: Government Accountant
Many government agencies and departments have in-house accountancy services to manage budgets and expenditure at federal, state, county, and city level. IRS auditors are a specialized subset of government accountants (see above).
Government accountants will require a bachelor’s degree, and many will have a masters too, in a related topic such as business administration or taxation.
6: Cost Accountant
Cost accountants are problem solvers, brought in to analyze costs and expenditures to increase efficiency in supply chains, production, distribution, and other operations. They will assess everything that contributes to a company’s bottom line and then offer up possible improvements or solutions.
7: Staff Accountant
These are the generalists who work for small to large businesses to prepare their accounts, monitor expenses, pay taxes, oversee payroll and more. In contrast with CPAs, staff accountants will tend to do more basic bookkeeping and have less of a strategic or advisory role.
That said, at larger companies, they may sometimes oversee in-house accountancy teams.
Accountancy qualifications and the nature of the employer are the two main criteria which affect pay. An in-house CPA at a multinational company with strategic oversight might attain a six-figure salary, although CPAs in their first year might expect to earn around $55,000.
Government accountants tend to earn a little less than CPAs working in the private sector, but this is often compensated for with better benefits (health insurance, paid holidays and more.)
Management accountants also command high salaries, with the median salary being $62,500 according to talent.com.
CPAs roles can vary widely, depending on what their clients require. Common roles will include:
· Tax optimization and mandatory tax returns
· Internal or external auditing
· Forensic accounting for litigation
· Balance sheet analysis (profit/loss)
· Payroll oversight
· Maintaining standards (GAAP)
· Financial planning and reporting
To summarize this wide-ranging and demanding role, the public accountant will become the go-to individual with full oversight of the day-to-day fiscal operations of the business.
They may work consistently with one company, or be called in at regular intervals to prepare accounts for quarterly or annual reporting (often depending on the size of the client’s business).
First and foremost, accountants must be methodical and accurate. Although there are plenty of accountancy tools such as Quickbooks (with Liveflow for reporting) which will help ensure accuracy, accountants should have an innate ability to spot problems, errors, and omissions.
Accountants must be honest, tactful individuals since they may sometimes be required to convey difficult messages to executives. They must be strategic thinkers, so they can suggest solutions to problems, or suggest possibilities for improving cashflow, optimizing supply lines or seeking investment opportunities.
Since accountancy is one of the most heavily regulated and certified professions, it is important than an accountant does nothing to throw the role into disrepute. Therefore, the best accountants have integrity and maintain the highest standards of confidentiality.
Generally, accounts require bachelor’s degrees as a minimum, with the highest earning progressing to master’s degrees in a specialist field such as tax law, finance, or business administration.
In addition to a degree, accountants often have CPA or CMA (certified management accountant) certification, which acts as a badge of quality and assurance (whilst often allowing the accountant to command a higher salary).
It is possible for bookkeepers to work without a degree, but they will necessarily have less seniority, a reduced level of oversight and a more constrained role without a degree.
One aspect of accountancy work which all accountants must engage in, is financial reporting. We created Liveflow to automatically generate a host of different financial reports from Quickbooks, with minimal data input. We have dozens of readymade templates to help you obtain the financial information you need in any preferred format.
LiveFlow is a valuable platform built for QuickBooks, which is designed to make it easy to create an integrated, real time connection between your QuickBooks data and customized reports and dashboards in Google Sheets. This means that you don’t have to give anyone access to QuickBooks simply to review reports – you can use pre-built templates or bring live data to any customized report you already have. This way, you only share what departments need to see. The live connection between QuickBooks and Google Sheets means that your reports will always be up to date – without any manual exports, data formatting or hands-on effort.
Why not schedule a free trial of our platform today?