Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors oversee the financial records of individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments, preparing, analyzing, certifying, and verifying fiscal documents; paying taxes; planning investments; and analyzing budgets. Accountant and auditing positions are divided into four major fields: public, management, and government accounting and internal auditing. These days, more and more people are earning their accounting degree by using distance education.

Public accountants may be generalists, handling a variety of fiscally-related duties, while others may specialize in a particular area, like filing taxes and tax consulting, accounting audits, compensation or employee benefits, designing accounting systems for clients, asset safeguarding, and tracking payments and investments. Some public accountants focus on a forensic specialty, working to uncover illegal financial practices.

Management accountants, also known as cost, corporate, private, or managerial accountants, analyze and report financials for corporations, advising business decisions and investments based on maximizing efficiency and profits. Management accountants also prepare reports for stockholders and creditors, plan and analyze budgets, and ensure tax and government regulatory compliance.

Government accountants are employed by local, state, or federal government agencies to review the financial records of both government and private businesses, ensuring compliance with regulations and taxes.
Internal auditors review financial reports for their employers, looking for indications of inefficiency, misreporting, or fraud. Auditors analyze the efficiency and accuracy of an organization’s financial reporting systems, from its operations to its computer systems. Internal auditors may be generalists or specialize in certain aspects of auditing, such as information technology or compliance.

Accountants and auditors of all types work in an increasingly computer-driven field. Advances in accounting software make it easier for these professionals to collate and analyze financial data from many sources within an organization and to extract data more efficiently. Most accountants work a standard 40-hour week in an office setting, but those who are self-employed tend to work longer hours. Travel is common, and workload is likely to increase during the tax season.

Education, Training, and Essential Skills

Most accountants and auditors have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and are certified public accountants (CPAs). CPA licensure is required by most states and is necessary for filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A rigorous exam, experience, and in most states a bachelor’s degree are requirements for CPA licensure, and continuing education is built into keeping the license current.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in accounting, as well as specialty training programs in internal auditing, forensic accounting, information systems, and other focuses. Graduates of junior colleges and business and correspondence schools often find assistant-level accounting positions, from which they can gain the experience and licensure required to advance.

In addition to formal education, accountants and auditors require a set of skills to be successful, including familiarity with finance-related software, systems, and technologies; computer fluency; and strong analytical, mathematical, and communication skills

Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities

Accountants and auditors can advance through promotions from subordinate positions, additional certification, experience, and professional development and by working as consultants or starting their own businesses.

The Institute of Management Accountants, Institute of Internal Auditors, Information Systems Audit and Control Association, and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants all offer a variety of industry-recognized certifications. Individuals must pass varying rigorous exams and demonstrate skills and experience in addition to regular continuing education credits to maintain designations.

Most junior-level and assistant accounting positions have significant upward mobility; higher-level jobs are often filled by promotion from subordinate accounting positions. Getting an advanced degree always helps, and doing so is easier than ever with MBA distance learning programs.

Outlook and Income

Overall, the employment rate for accountants and auditors is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade, driven by global market expansion and increased financial regulation. Accountants and auditors with CPA designations, additional certifications, and knowledge of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) will have the best job prospects, as will those who have specialized in information systems.

Annual median salaries for accountants and auditors are about $59,000, with slightly higher median salaries associated with accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services positions; company and enterprise managers; and jobs with insurance carriers. Accountants and auditors employed by state and local governments earn slightly lower rates.