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Accountants and Auditors

The Job

Accountants’ duties depend on the size and nature of the company in which they are employed. The major fields of employment are public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal auditing.

Public accountants work independently on a fee basis or as members of an accounting firm, and they perform a variety of tasks for businesses or individuals. These may include auditing accounts and records, preparing and certifying financial statements, conducting financial investigations and furnishing testimony in legal matters, providing assurance and consulting services, and assisting in formulating budget policies and procedures.

Management accountants, sometimes called industrial, corporate, or private accountants, identify, measure, accumulate, analyze, prepare, and communicate financial information that is then used by top executives to plot strategy and make decisions. Cost accounting is sometimes considered a sub-discipline of management accounting. Cost accountants determine unit costs of products or services by analyzing records and depreciation data. They classify and record all operating costs so that the expenditures of the business can be controlled.

Government accountants work on the financial records of government agencies or, when necessary, audit the records of private companies. In the federal government, which employs accounting professionals at all levels of responsibility, some accountants are employed as bank examiners and Internal Revenue Service agents and investigators.

Within these fields, accountants can specialize in a variety of areas.

Assurance accountants help improve the quality of information for clients in assurance services areas such as electronic commerce, risk assessment, and elder care. This information may be financial or nonfinancial in nature.

Budget accountants review expenditures of departments within a firm to make sure expenses allotted are not exceeded. They also aid in drafting budgets and may devise and install budget control systems.

Environmental accountants help utilities, manufacturers, and chemical companies set up preventive systems to ensure environmental compliance and provide assistance in the event that legal issues arise with regard to such compliance.

Forensic accountants and auditors use accounting principles and theories to support or oppose claims being made in litigation. They also investigate allegations of financial fraud.

General accountants supervise, install, and devise general accounting, budget, and cost systems. They maintain records, balance “the books,” and prepare and analyze statements describing all financial aspects of a business. Administrative officers use this information to make sound business decisions.

Property accountants keep records of equipment, buildings, and other property owned or leased by a company. They prepare mortgage schedules and payments as well as appreciation or depreciation statements, which are used for income tax purposes.

Systems accountants design and set up special accounting systems for organizations whose needs require more than simple standardized procedures. This may involve installing automated or computerized accounting processes and often includes instructing personnel in the use of the new methods.

Tax accountants prepare federal, state, or local tax returns of an individual, business, or corporation according to prescribed rates, laws, and regulations. They also may conduct research on the effects of taxes on firm operations and recommend changes to reduce taxes. This is one of the most intricate fields of accounting, and many accountants therefore specialize in one particular phase, such as corporate, individual income, or property tax.

Auditing is the last major employment field of accounting. Auditors ensure that financial records are accurate, complete, and in compliance with federal laws. To do so, they review items in original entry books (in hard copy or digital format), including purchase orders, tax returns, billing statements, and other important documents. Auditors may also prepare financial statements for clients and suggest ways to improve productivity and profits. Internal auditors conduct the same kind of examination and evaluation for one particular company. Because they are salaried employees of that company, their financial audits must then be certified by a qualified independent auditor. Internal auditors also review procedures and controls, appraise the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, and make sure their companies comply with corporate policies and government regulations. Information technology auditors review their companies' computer systems to make sure financial data is from reliable sources.

Chief bank examiners enforce good banking practices throughout a state. They schedule bank examinations to ensure that financial institutions are complying with state laws, and in certain cases, they take steps to protect a bank’s solvency and the interests of its depositors and shareholders.

Revenue agents are employed by the federal government to examine selected income tax returns, and when necessary, they conduct field audits and investigations to verify the information reported and determine whether an adjustment to tax liability is warranted.

Tax auditors review financial records and other information provided by taxpayers to determine the individuals’ appropriate tax liability. State and federal tax auditors usually work in government offices, but they may also perform field audits in taxpayers’ homes or offices.

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