What does an accountant do?

You may not realise it unless you have studied accounting or worked in a large business, but accounting is about more than your yearly tax return.

Accounting forms the basis of the world’s financial and economic system.

Indeed, accountants play a big role in all types of businesses and organisations, from sales that are made through a cash register, to financial markets and farming.

In Australia, a registered tax agent is most often an accountant, who can advise you on your requirements under the law and help you prepare and pay your taxes.

In addition, some tax accountants are also financial planners. That means, they can detail your tax requirements and design and implement strategies for you and your family.

What do accountants do on a day-to-day basis?

One of the interesting things about accountants is that no two days ever look the same. Accountants tend to perform a wide variety of tasks, as each client and business will be different and may require individual support. Below, you’ll find a brief synopsis of some of the tasks accountants are expected to perform on a daily basis:

  • Provide financial advice, particularly regarding the financial health of a business
  • Review profit and loss statements and troubleshoot cash flow problems
  • Ensure taxes are lodged correctly and on time, and all obligations are followed
  • Deal with unpaid invoices
  • Conduct business audits
  • Help with long-term strategy and growth planning

Again, no two days are the same for accountants. However, there is one area in which most accountants tend to specialise and excel.

Accountants and tax

One of the core functions of an accountant is helping clients prepare and lodge their taxes. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has several rules and obligations that everyone is required to follow, from freelancers and sole traders to small businesses and profitable companies.

Accountants are required to stay on top of the ever-changing tax landscape so they can offer their expertise to their clients. Accountants seek to help their clients understand their potential tax deductions, calculate their capital gains, and determine any potential write-offs.

The Goods and Service Tax (GST) and Business Activity Statement (BAS), not to mention payroll and super, can be a huge headache for new business owners or expanding businesses. This is one of the areas where accountants can provide real value to their clients.

Even with qualifications, being an accountant requires continual training and upskilling as you stay on top of financial trends and tax obligations. Many accountants will also be trained to use cloud accounting software such as QuickBooks to communicate with their clients, monitor their progress, and complete their reporting. The best accountants ensure that they are up-to-date with the ever-changing technology space surrounding the accounting and financial industries.

Do you need formal training to become an accountant?

If you wish to work as an accountant, you’ll need some formal training. Similarly, if you are a business owner looking for an accountant, you’ll want to make sure that the individual can provide relevant certificates demonstrating his or her standing.

As we’ll touch on at the end of the article, there are different types of accountants. But, generally speaking, the various types are in three different professional bodies:

You’ll need a Bachelor’s degree to become a member of these organisations. The ICAA and CPA Australia require member accountants to have a bachelor’s in accounting or a similar degree. That typically includes a bachelor’s in business.

The IPA is a bit more specific in its memberships. It requires members to have an FNS50215 Diploma in Accounting.

It’s possible that you can still crunch numbers in an accountant job without being a member of one of these groups. Technically, you only need to be a member of one of these groups if you plan to produce financial reports, especially if those reports will be reviewed externally. Balance sheets are just one example of the type of financial statement only certified accountants can prepare.

What professional development is required?

When deciding what skills to focus on in your professional development, it’s important to think about your future plans and goals and industry-specific skills.

Intermediate to advanced Microsoft Excel is almost a prerequisite for hiring managers these days. The ability to embrace new systems and business intelligence software makes Accountants more valuable to the business as the need for instant information becomes more important.

We are seeing increasing demand from our clients for accounting software skills. Employers are now looking for candidates who can hit the ground running when they start in a role, without having to spend time on training.

In Australia, the largest accounting body is the CPA which requires members to pursue continued professional development throughout their career.

Other industry bodies that ensure professional development for accountants include the Association of Accounting Technicians Australia, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, The Tax Institute and the Institute of Public Accountants.

Open Colleges’ students can sometimes enjoy a 12 to 24-month student membership at some of these bodies (another student perk!).

Key skills of accountants

Apart from being financially savvy and good with numbers, an accountant also needs good emotional intelligence and people skills. Here are a few of the traits every good accountant needs to exhibit:

  • Foresight and vision
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Detail-oriented perspective
  • Communication skills
  • Time management skills
  • Commitment

In an accounting career, your goal is to make life as easy as possible for your clients. Good foresight and vision will allow you to see problems early so you can handle them before they grow into large-scale issues. Similarly, problem-solving skills will allow you to think creatively and find solutions to any issues that may arise.

Furthermore, accountants need to be able to pay close attention to details. One small detail can make the difference between thousands of dollars for your client, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re always on your game.

You’ll also need to know how to communicate sensitive issues with your clients. You’ll need to understand precisely what they’re looking for and how to help them.

Lastly, if you want to be successful, working as an accountant will take time. There will be some long hours, and you’ll need to know how to balance between multiple clients. But if you can remain committed to the job, you’ll find it’s very rewarding and can offer a lot in terms of career growth.

A career as an accountant is an exciting prospect. Working with clients and helping small and big business owners keep on top of their financials, and tax obligations can be life-changing work. Whether you want to work for a small or a large firm or you want to start your own firm, working as an accountant can take on many different forms.

Accounting Careers and Job Types

Accounts Clerk

The paths to be an accounts clerk don’t have to include a degree. Accounts clerks are responsible for recording certain types of financial transactions. For example, your focus could be on accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing or payroll. If you are the firm’s sole accounting clerk, you’ll likely work with several transaction types. One way to begin your career is to complete a traineeship, probably one year in duration. Formal qualification options include a Certificate III in Accounts Administration, Certificate IV in Bookkeeping, or Certificate III in Business Administration.

Job titles: accounts assistant, accounts clerk, accounts clerk (accounts receivable), accounts clerk/finance officer, accounts payable clerk, administration and accounts clerk, credit controller, data entry/accounts clerk, finance officer, junior accounts clerk, legal accounts clerk, legal accounts manager, legal bookkeeper/accounts clerk/payroll, office/accounts clerk, office administrator/accounts clerk, payroll officer/accounts clerk, receptionist/accounts clerk, senior accounts clerk.

Auditor

Are you detail-oriented and conscientious? Consider a career in auditing. Most auditors are external professionals who are sent or invited into companies to examine their finances, ensuring reports are accurate and practice up to the mark. Some companies have internal auditors. You’ll probably need a bachelor’s degree in accounting and registration with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Most auditing positions require CA (Chartered Accountant) or CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) qualifications.

Job titles: audit accountant, auditor, intermediate auditor, internal auditor, revenue auditor, senior accountant - audit, senior auditor, senior internal auditor.

Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers maintain a company’s books. You generally don’t need a degree for this role. Common duties include monitoring accounts received, paying bills on the business’s behalf in a timely fashion, and recording all transactions. If you’re interested in a career in this field, consider looking for an entry-level position with related duties (such as data entry clerk) and work your way up from there. You’ll also need to get certification to progress in your career. One popular vocational course is the Certificate IV in Bookkeeping.

Job titles: administration assistant/bookkeeper, bookkeeper, bookkeeper/accountant, client bookkeeper, corporate bookkeeper, company accountant/bookkeeper, junior bookkeeper-external, medical practice bookkeeper, MYOB bookkeeper, QuickBooks bookkeeper, senior bookkeeper, senior bookkeeper/accountant.

Business Services Accounting

If you have excellent communication and leadership skills, a career as a business services accountant might be the path for you. You’d provide business and tax services to clients (small and/or large businesses). Duties can include providing advice and guidance on financial strategies, preparing tax returns, generating financial statements, and keeping track of depreciation of assets. An accounting degree and CA or CPA qualifications are necessary. Many positions require a substantial amount of experience.

Job titles: accountant business service public practice, business services accountant, business services accountant/client manager, graduate business services accountant, intermediate business services accountant, manager business services accountant, private clients supervisor, senior business services accountant, supervisor business services accountant, senior taxation and business services accountant, SMSF / business services accountant, tax and business services accountant.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

The position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is generally reserved for professionals with extensive experience. This senior executive oversees all aspects of the company’s finances and is the person ultimately responsible for the enterprise’s financial well-being and success. The CFO must have strong leadership skills, as many people report to them. If you’d like to be a CFO one day, get certified as a CA (Chartered Accountant) or CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) after finishing your accounting degree.

Job titles: chief finance officer, chief financial officer.

Corporate Accounting

If you’re ambitious and have an especially strong understanding of business, corporate accounting might be your ideal career. An integral part of the corporation, you maintain financial records and ensure the company complies with applicable policies, regulations and laws. You need professional certification and registration as a CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) with CPA Australia or as a CA (Chartered Accountant) with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. Positions in corporate accounting usually require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Job titles: accountant - corporate finance, accountant - corporate services, accountant - corporate services (global compliance and reporting), company accountant, corporate accountant, divisional accountant.

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Cost Accounting

Cost accountants monitor and analyse their company’s costs of materials, processes and products—the report findings in financial statements. Cost accountants provide advice to management regarding the most effective options to streamline and manage costs. Jobs for cost accountants exist in many different industries, including both manufacturing and services. If you’re detail-oriented and conscientious, as well as a strong communicator, a career in cost accounting might be for you.

Job titles: cost accountant, cost and systems accountant, cost/inventory accountant, senior cost accountant, trade and cost accountant.

Financial Accountant

Sound financial accounting is essential to any company’s success. The financial accountant or finance manager keeps track of his or her company’s financial transactions. This professional must use the correct procedures to generate financial reports that are given to regulators and shareholders. They monitor company incomings, outgoings and liabilities. An accounting degree and professional certification and registration as a CPA or CA is usually needed for a career in this field. Excellent analytical and organisational skills are also critical.

Job titles: assistant financial accountant, commercial finance manager - research, divisional financial accountant, financial accountant, financial accounting manager, financial accountant, financial accounting manager, financial analyst, financial analyst - major projects, financial systems accountant, financial reporting accountant, lead financial accountant, senior accountant - finance operations, senior financial accountant, senior financial accountant - group finance.

Financial Controller

Financial controllers work closely with executive management teams, playing critical roles in the running of businesses. They control company finances, keeping track of internal controls and ensuring that everything is running as it should. These professionals have duties in areas such as accounting and finance, as well as operations, personnel, marketing and production. Many financial controller positions require applicants to be qualified accountants, professionally registered with CPA Australia or Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand.

Job titles: assistant financial controller, cost controller, divisional financial controller, finance manager, financial controller, group financial controller, regional financial controller.

Financial Planner

A career in financial planning is a fantastic choice for people who can focus on detail and the big picture at once. A financial planner or advisor analyses their clients’ finances and guides them in making the best possible decisions. Financial planners provide advice and recommendations on investments, tax laws and insurance. They work independently and/or within companies. If you want to become a financial planner, you will need to fulfil the requirements set out by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). You should have a degree in financial planning or perhaps in business or accounting (with a focus on financial planning). If you later decide to choose a specialty in financial planning (such as superannuation or insurance), you will need to do further training. When you start your career, you will likely begin in a paraplanner or administrator position and move up from there.

Job titles: associate adviser, associate advisor, associate director, associate financial planner, client services officer, commercial financial adviser, commercial financial planner, demand and supply planner, finance manager, financial adviser, financial adviser – servicing, financial advisor, financial advisor and financial analyst, financial planner, financial planning assistant, junior financial planner, paraplanner, senior advisor, senior financial adviser, senior financial advisor, senior financial planner, senior financial planner/manager, senior paraplanner, senior planner, strategic financial advisor, superannuation advisor

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accountants detect crimes such as fraud and embezzlement. These professionals also analyse financial information for court cases, such as divorce proceedings. Their expertise can also be used in various criminal trials. It’s possible that you’ll find employment with a large company that has its own forensic accounting team. If you’d like a career in this field, get an accounting degree and then seek professional registration as a Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Practising Accountant (CPA).

Job titles: forensic accountant, forensic accountant manager, forensic solutions manager, lead financial accountant.

Fund Accounting

As a fund accountant, you’ll carry out all accounting functions for an investment portfolio. The investments might be commodities, securities, or real estate, and they could be held in a mutual or hedge fund. You’ll be required to work within strict deadlines, as daily reporting is required. Fund accounting jobs exist in financial organisations’ fund management areas. After you finish your accounting degree, pursue professional registration as a Chartered Accountant (CPA) or Certified Practising Accountant (CPA).

Job titles: financial accountant - fund and investments, fund accountant, portfolio accountant, senior fund accountant, senior asset accountant, senior fund/property accountant.

 

Personal and business insolvency is an attractive field for accountants with outstanding interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills. After finishing your accounting degree, find employment in the field to build up your experience. You’ll probably need to complete ARITA (Australia Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association) qualifications. Being a CA (Chartered Accountant) rather than CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) might give you an advantage. Insolvency accountants carry out investigations, prepare statutory reports and returns, and communicate with creditors and external stakeholders.

Job titles: insolvency senior accountant, insolvency accountant, insolvency practitioner, intermediate/senior accountant - insolvency and reconstruction, personal insolvency accountant.

Management Accounting

Management accountants create the financial reports used by companies to make informed business decisions. They monitor the financial position of the company, make predictions, and present information in effective ways (such as through using statistical techniques and charts). These professionals sometimes gain positions within senior management teams. After finishing your accounting degree, secure professional registration with CPA Australia or Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. Most management accountancy positions require several years of experience.

Job titles: assistant management accountant, management accountant, management and financial accountant, manager-management accounting operations, manager / senior manager-accounting consulting services, senior management accountant, site accountant, strategic accountant, strategic financial management accountant, systems accountant, qualified management accountant.

Project Accountant

Project accountants do the accounting work for individual projects instead of businesses overall. Keeping careful track of individual projects is a critical component of monitoring and ensuring overall company performance. These professionals collect, analyse, and compile data to ascertain their projects’ progress and financial performance. To pursue a career in this field, work on getting your bachelor’s degree in accounting and gain certification as a CA (Chartered Accountant) or CPA (Certified Practising Accountant).

Job titles: assistant project accountant, project accountant, program accountant, senior project accountant.

Revenue Accounting

Revenue accountants are needed in any business that has sales and service revenue. One of the most significant duties is to monitor accounts receivable and payable. They must oversee bank and company account reconciliation, and deal with monthly revenue intake sheets, daily receipts, and inter-company reports. These professionals are responsible for the accurate recording of transactions, and they prepare monthly financial statements. Qualifications as a CA (Chartered Accountant) or CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) are usually required for this position.

Job titles: revenue accountant, senior accountant.

Tax Accounting

Tax accountants specialise in taxation. They handle audits, financial records, and tax returns for individuals and/or corporations. When these professionals work with individuals, duties likely include assisting clients with correctly completing tax forms and providing advice on financial decisions. They may also offer advice on how clients can reduce the amount of tax they have to pay. Tax accountants who work in a corporate setting tend to need more experience, as corporate taxes are significantly more complex than individual ones.

Job titles: head of accounting and tax, senior tax accountant, tax accountant, tax and accounting advisory, tax / corporate accountant, taxation accountant.

If your current accountant is going through the motions, you’ll be amazed at the difference a top accountant can make. They can bring a tonne of extra capability and insight into your business.

So what does an accountant do? Really, it’s whatever you need. Because if they can’t solve your business problem themselves, they’ll know who can.

Just remember that when looking for an accountant, consider more than their knowledge and skill. You should be able to have very frank conversations with them, so find somebody you like. An accountant that’s easy to get on with and can do all of these things for you is out there.

Ultimately, accounting is more than just numbers. It is the language of the financial world. Therefore, everyone needs to have an understanding of basic accounting.

 

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