What Do Accountants Do? A Look at the Life Behind the Ledger

what-does-an-accountant-doBeing an accountant has some connotations that come along with it, as most professions do. The mere mention of the word “accounting” in a conversation may trigger images of spreadsheets and numerical equations or extended hours behind a desk during tax season.

While many would jump to the conclusion that this is a dull career, accountants would beg to differ. They believe accounting is anything but boring! Think of it as an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at how an organization functions; a language that allows you to understand the business culture as a whole.

It may also surprise you to learn that accountants have an array of areas in which they can specialize. If you’re intrigued by the industry but not quite ready to commit to a career, you can sleep easy knowing that a career in accounting offers several options.

If you’re the least bit curious about this lucrative career, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “What does an accountant do, anyway?” Look no further because we identified a handful of options from which you can choose. Keep reading to learn about the universal duties of an accountant as well as what they do in each specialty.

What does an accountant do?

In general, accountants compile, analyze, verify and prepare financial records for their department or organization as a whole, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In layman’s terms, they often work with financial documents to ensure lawful, efficient and compliant business practices.

One option for accountants is to work internally for a company, confirming that financial documents are compliant and valid. The other possibility is to work as a third-party entity, ensuring companies and organizations are following laws and industry regulations. It’s important to note, however, that there is such a wide variety of accountants so it’s difficult to pigeonhole the industry into one description.

That being said, if you’re looking to learn more about the diverse options within the field, you came to the right place! Familiarize yourself with the 10 accounting specialties described below. If a few positions pique your interest, you can feel confident in pursuing a degree in accounting knowing you’ll have a variety of options after graduation.

10 accounting specialties you can pursue

With so many different facets of accounting, you don’t have to lock yourself into a single career before pursuing your degree. The knowledge and training you receive in the classroom will likely help you hone in on an area of interest. But until then, these brief breakdowns will provide you with a quick introduction:

1. Financial accounting

Financial accountants track a company or client’s financial transactions, summarize them and generate financial reports or statements. Company shareholders are then able to assess the value of a company based on these documents.

2. Managerial accounting

Managerial accountants track information needed for management of the company in order for the company to make informed operational and strategic decisions. 

3. Cost accounting

Cost accountants determine the costs of products and services by analyzing records and depreciation data. They classify and record all operating costs so management can control expenditures and may also assist in making management decisions.

4. Auditing & assurance services

Assurance service providers review several types of documents such as loans, contracts or websites to certify they are correct. An assurance provider may work with financial or non-financial documents, whereas auditors work strictly with financial records. Auditors may work internally or as a third party service to ensure an organization’s financial records are accurate, complete and compliant under federal law.

5. Tax accounting

Tax accountants prepare federal, state or local tax returns for individuals or organizations according to prescribed rates, laws and regulations. Tax accountants will often specialize even further in an area such as corporate, individual income or property tax.

6. Government accounting

Government accountants exist at the federal, state and local level. At the federal level, they may work to investigate white-collar crime or manage public funds. At the state and local levels they may work to manage use of local revenues, investigate fraud and perform lower-level audits.

7. Nonprofit accounting

Nonprofit accountants assess their organization’s financial situation. Their goal is not to maximize profits but to minimize costs and maximize their service to society, which distinguishes them from accountants employed by for-profit companies.

8. Forensic accounting

Forensic accountants work as investigatory accounting professionals. They often work in conjunction with an ongoing or anticipated legal issue and are charged with uprooting questionable financial data and uncovering fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other financial misconducts.

9. International accounting

International accountants work with companies or organizations that conduct business internationally. They may work to recast foreign financial statements to align with the U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). They also determine what these statements reveal based on knowledge of the foreign country’s economic and cultural atmospheres.

10. Accounting information system

Accounting information system professionals generally have an educational background of general business as well as information systems. They can work in a variety of positions including systems auditors, consultants and accountants. They may help companies develop accounting information systems, assess the data within the systems or make it available to other accounting professionals.

Take the next step

So what do accountants do? A lot! Now that you’ve become acquainted with the various specialties within the accounting field, you can rest easy knowing you don’t have to make any permanent career decisions quite yet. The next step is finding an accounting degree program that will help you acquire the knowledge and hands-on experience needed to succeed in any of the above positions.

We’re confident our accounting program has just what you need to help you build a strong foundation to support a stable career. Follow the link to learn about 10 things you didn’t know about the Rasmussen College Accounting Program.

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen College to support its educational programs. Rasmussen College may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.

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