Accountants work in both the public and the private sector, and can fill either technical, managerial or advisory roles within different types of organisations.
Why do organisations need accountants?
Accountants generally record, collect, analyse, and report on financial data. In most cases, accountants use the financial records compiled by bookkeepers to prepare financial statements and reports, and to perform financial analysis. In addition to playing this general role, different types of accountants perform different, specialised roles.
Some of the different types of accountants include:
- Cost Accountants
- Financial Accountants
- Forensic Accountants
- Internal Auditors
- Management Accountants
- Project Accountants
- Public Accountants
- Tax Accountants
Accountants help organisations by ensuring that they comply with financial laws and regulations, and by analysing financial data to provide feedback that will assist in decision-making. Accountants are also able to make strategic recommendations regarding specific financial situations.
What are the general duties of an accountant?
The general duties of an accountant may include some or all of the following:
- Compiling financial statements (such as the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of profit and loss).
- Performing financial calculations.
- Reporting on financial performance.
- Analysing financial data to provide organisations with information that will assist in future planning and decision-making.
- Assisting with the preparation of budgets.
- Ensuring compliance with relevant financial laws and regulations.
- Developing and implementing financial recordkeeping systems.
- Supervising bookkeepers and accounting assistants.
- Giving financial advice.
What are the functions of the different types of accountants?
Different types of accountants play different roles within the financial sphere. Have a look at the descriptions below to get an idea of what the different roles entail:
Cost accountants help organisations to reduce costs and maximise profits. They do this by using financial tools to determine accurate costs of products and services. As cost accountants provide financial information that is aimed at helping managers to make good business decisions, they are allowed to focus on providing information that is relevant to a specific environment, instead of adhering strictly to the generally accepted accounting principles.
The role of a financial accountant is to record, summarise and report on the financial transactions of an organisation in such a way that it is possible for someone outside of the organisation to get an accurate picture of the organisation’s financial position and performance.
Financial accountants are therefore responsible for preparing the financial statements of an organisation. These financial statements will then be used for decision-making purposes by business owners, shareholders, suppliers, banks, employees, government agencies and other stakeholders.
Forensic accountants use a combination of accounting and investigation skills to investigate the accuracy of financial information, as well as to help uncover financial crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and money-laundering. They also assist in risk management and risk reduction, and may be asked to give advice in relation to transactions such as mergers and acquisitions.
Forensic accountants are often employed by accounting firms, financial institutions, risk management consulting firms, government departments, attorneys, insurance companies and law enforcement agencies to perform the functions described above.
Internal auditors evaluate and report on the efficiency and effectiveness of the activities, processes and procedures within an organisation. They are involved in compliance, risk management and corporate governance.
Internal auditors usually report to the highest level of management, and will give recommendations for improvements to the structures and processes within an organisation.
Management accountants assist in strategic planning by providing accurate and timely financial and non-financial information to the managers and key decision-makers within an organisation. They:
- Prepare weekly or monthly reports that can be used to make short-term decisions.
- Explain the financial implications of the projects undertaken by an organisation.
- Participate in risk assessment and risk management activities.
- Assist in the formulation of business strategy.
The role of management accountant is a senior advisory one, and management accountants are therefore expected to conduct themselves with professionalism and integrity at all times.
Project accountants are responsible for tracking the financial progress of projects. They usually work closely with project managers, and will be responsible for activities such as:
- Preparing and monitoring project budgets.
- Investigating budget variances.
- Compiling financial reports for individual projects.
- Reporting on the profitability of individual projects.
- Compiling information that is required by internal and external auditors.
Public accountants provide a wide range of accounting services to businesses, individuals, non-profit organisations and government departments. They usually work as external consultants in public accounting firms. This allows them to remain objective when rendering accounting services to clients.
Tax accountants provide tax-related advice to individuals and organisations. They provide a range of tax-related services, such as:
- Preparing tax returns.
- Explaining tax legislation and advising on the implications of changes in the tax laws.
- Devising strategies for minimising tax liability.
- Advising on tax compliance.
How can you become an accountant?
There are various paths that you can follow to become an accountant. One option is to complete a relevant accounting course and to pass the relevant accounting exams. To find out more about the accounting courses that you can study via distance learning at Oxbridge Academy, click here.