Accounting is the process of recording, classifying, and summarising and organisation’s financial transactions to provide information that is useful in making business decisions.
Having such information on hand is critically important. Stakeholders within a business need accurate and updated financial information to determine future strategies.
Meanwhile, governments require businesses and organisations to submit audited accounts for review so they can collect taxes and guard against white-collar crime.
Accountants may work in a variety of settings, including public accounting firms, for-profit companies, government agencies, and non-profit organisations. Everyone – from large multinational corporations to small neighbourhood businesses – needs accountants, after all.
Some common tasks that accountants may perform include:
• Preparing and examining financial records, such as income statements and balance sheets
• Analysing and interpreting financial data to identify business trends and make recommendations for improvement
• Managing budgets and forecasting future financial performance
• Advising organisations on tax planning and compliance issues
• Developing and implementing financial systems and controls
• Providing support for mergers and acquisitions
Types of accounting careers
There are several broad career paths in accounting, each with its own set of responsibilities and focuses. The most common ones are:
• Public accounting
Public accountants work for accounting and financial advisory firms and provide services such as auditing, tax preparation, and business consulting to a variety of clients. For example, a public accountant may work for a firm that specialises in tax preparation and helps individual clients file their tax returns.
They may also work for a firm that provides external audit services to businesses, examining financial records and ensuring that they are accurate and complying with local laws and regulations.
• Private accounting
Private accountants work for a single organisation and handle their employer’s financial record-keeping, budgeting, and forecasting. For example, a private accountant may work for a large corporation and be responsible for preparing financial statements, drafting budgets, and providing financial advice to management.
• Government accounting
Government accountants work for federal, state, or local government agencies and are responsible for tracking and managing public funds. A government accountant, for example, may work for a state-level agency and be responsible for preparing its annual budget, reporting state-level expenditures to the federal government, and ensuring that funds are used in accordance with laws and regulations.
• Internal auditing
Internal auditors review an organisation's financial records and operations to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, as well as to identify opportunities for improvement.
For example, an internal auditor may work for a hospital and review financial records to ensure that billing and procurement practices are accurate and comply with local laws about handling patients’ personal data and wholesale purchase of pharmaceutical drugs.
• Management accounting
Management accountants work with high-level decision makers within an organisation and provide financial information and analysis to help business managers make informed decisions. For example, a management accountant working for a manufacturing company with multiple factories will be responsible for consolidating financial data, identifying areas for cost savings, and providing budget recommendations directly to the company’s board of directors.
Why you should work in accounting
A career in accounting can be a fulfilling and lucrative choice for those who enjoy working with numbers and have a strong attention to detail. You will get the chance to understand the intimate ins-and-outs of business – how organisations make money, and how they continue to stay relevant and financially solvent.
Accounting is also famously a stable career choice, with good job prospects and consistent potential for advancement (especially if you gain Chartered Accountant status).
However, it's important to keep in mind that accounting can be a demanding field, with long hours and tight deadlines. You will also have to continually invest in professional learning and upskilling to stay up-to-date on changes in business laws and regulations.
If you have a strong aptitude for math, enjoy problem-solving, and possess strong analytical and communication skills, a career in accounting could be a good fit for you.
However, be sure to do your own research and talk to professionals in the field to get a better sense of what the day-to-day reality of an accounting career is like.