Accountants analyze and prepare financial documents on behalf of private firms, Federal, State, and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, as well as private individuals. Accountants also perform budget analysis, financial planning, and help new companies prepare financial projections and set up an accounting system.
Specific job responsibilities vary among the four specialty areas: public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal auditing. The most popular career is that of public accountant who performs a range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting work on behalf of clients. Some public accountants specialize in tax issues and advise corporations and individuals regarding tax advantages and disadvantages of various financial decisions. Other public accountants concentrate on auditing financial records of both companies and individuals to ensure they have been properly completed. Many public accounts are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and generally have their own practice or work for public accounting firm.
An interesting specialty within the field of public accounting is that of forensic accounting which involves the investigation and analysis of white-collar crimes such as securities fraud, embezzlement, bankruptcies. Forensic public accountants combine their knowledge of finance principles with law and investigation methods to determine whether illegal activity has occurred. Many forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement personnel and prosecutors during investigations and frequently provide testimony at trial.
Management accountants analyze the financial information of the companies for which they work. They perform budgeting, cost analysis, and asset management.
Government accountants work within the public sector and examine the financial records of government agencies and auditing companies and individuals who are subject to government regulation and taxation. Those employed by the Federal Government may work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Internal auditors verify internal controls of financial information and monitor financial mismanagement. They also evaluate their company’s management procedures, internal quality assurance controls to ensure that all financial records are accurate.
Technology has changed the nature of an accountant’s work. With the introduction of special financial software, accountants are able to summarize financial information in standardized formats.
In an industry report, the Texas Workforce Solutions agency published data showing an average yearly increase of 2.6 percent in the employment of accountants in the state. This comes as no surprise since the companies primarily responsible for this healthy employment picture are technical and scientific corporations doing business with the many oil and gas exploration outfits in the state. Forensic accountants may find employment with the Federal Reserve Bank located in Dallas. Accountants familiar with the regulations of the International Financial Reporting Standards are needed to monitor global operations of such major companies as Marathon Oil and engineering giant URS Corporation.
As per Texas Workforce Solutions other employers include:
Fortune 150/Global 500 petroleum refining company, Tesoro Corporation, which is headquartered in San Antonio, and industrial hygiene services company, ALS Environmental, with offices in Houston, both employ environmental accountants and auditors. The proliferation of oil and natural gas exploration in Texas necessitates the services of these specially trained professionals to help ensure compliance with environmental regulations so as to avoid EPA fees that could otherwise work to erode the bottom line.
Education of Accountants
Most accountants, regardless of specialty, will need to possess at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. Many employers prefer candidates with a masters degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting or finance.
Coursework for a bachelor’s degree in accounting will include basic accounting, management accounting, business law, economics, financial statement analysis, marketing, management, and statistics. Some of these courses may be transferred from an associate’s degree program. Many students interested in becoming an accountant first purse an associate’s degree in accounting which will enable them to work as bookkeepers, accounts payable clerk accounts receivable clerks and auditing clerks thereby gaining valuable experience in the field.
Certification and Licensure
Many public accountants choose to pursue the CPA credential to enhance their marketability and earnings potential. The CPA credential is also necessary for any accountant who files reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The Texas State Board of Accountancy grants licenses to those interested in becoming Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). In accordance with the Uniform Accountancy Act, CPA candidates must possess at least a bachelor’s degree with a total of 150 semester hours of college credit, a minimum of one year of experience as a public accountant, and passing scores on the Uniform CPA Exam.
The required 150 hours includes the following coursework (applicable to all states):
- 36 semester hours or 54 quarter hours in such accounting specific courses as Taxation, Information Systems, Auditing, Financial, Cost and Managerial Accounting.
- 39 semester hours or 58 quarter hours in general business courses including 6 semester hours or 8 quarter hours in business law. One of these courses may be completed during your freshman or sophomore year but the second must be an upper division course.
- 12 semester hours or 18 quarter hours of upper division accounting coursework and 15 semester or 22 quarter hours of upper division general business courses.
- A maximum of 9 semester hours or 13 quarter hours of computer courses and 6 upper division semester hours or 8 quarter hours of statistics courses can apply toward the general business course requirement.
- A maximum of 3 semester or 4 quarter internship hours can be applied to the 36 semester hour requirement for accounting courses. Other internship hours may be applied to the general business hour requirement.
The Institute of Management Accountants confers the designation Certified Management Accountant (CMA) to those candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree and attain a passing score on the Graduate Record Admission Test (GMAT). Applicants must have worked at least two years in management accounting, pass a four part exam, and meet continuing education requirement. Te exam covers such topics as financial statement analysis, working-capital policy, capital structure, valuation issues, and risk management.
The Institute of Internal Auditors confers the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation to those who have graduated from accredited colleges and have a minimum of two years experience and have passed a four-art exam.
Texas Workforce Solutions shows that the median annual salary for accountants in the state is $58,186 as of May 2009 (the latest date for which data is available). An entry level accountant working in the field of taxation can start at about $39,042 while an experienced accountant or CPA may earn approximately $79,156. Texas Workforce Solutions shows that accountants who are employed as financial managers and purchasing managers earn the highest median salaries in the state at $102,847 and $100,442 respectively.