Accountants and Auditors

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1 SOC : Examine, analyze, and interpret accounting records for the purpose of giving advice or preparing statements. Install or advise on systems of recording costs or other financial and budgetary data Introduction Accountants and auditors keep financial matters well balanced in the lives of individuals and organizations, both of which depend on their knowledge to keep local, state, national, and global economies running smoothly. Each of these professions has the responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the financial records of organizations and individuals. The fundamental tasks of these occupations include preparing, analyzing, and verifying financial documents in order to provide information to organizations, including businesses, government entities, nonprofit agencies, or individuals. Accountants may choose to work as public accountants, management accountants, government accountants, or internal auditors, with job responsibilities varying greatly across each of these four primary occupational categories. Of the four categories, public accountants have the most generalized of duties, performing a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting services for an array of clientele. Management accountants, also known as cost accountants or controllers, tend to be part of executive teams, focused on recording and analyzing financial information for administrative decisionmaking. Government accountants either work in the public sector, directly for government agencies, or for companies that are subject to government regulations and oversight. The primary function of auditors is to verify the accuracy of organizations internal financial records, checking for mismanagement, waste, fraud, and other concerns. Nature of the Work Accountants prepare tax returns and financial statements for organizations and individuals, utilizing current laws and formulas. Accountants carefully examine and analyze tax documents and 1 records to assess accuracy, thoroughness, and conformity to government standards and regulations, and ultimately, to reconcile the amount owed in taxes. Setting up and working with an organization s financial records may involve dealing with hundreds or thousands of accounts, dependent upon the size of the organization. In order to prepare financial statements, accountants condense large volumes of information to provide a concise understanding of cash flow, assets, and liabilities so that the organization s administrative and executive staff can make informed decisions. Accountants may calculate and allocate costs among various organizational units and supervise accounts payable and receivable departments. Accountants deal with people who don t have your understanding of accounting, so you need to be Public accounting firms the most common form of accounting may specialize in various areas, such as taxes, nonprofit auditing, estate planning, or the provision of services such as payroll for small businesses that do not have internal accounting staff. The latter case is particularly true of public accountants who are self-employed or small businesses owners. able to translate the information into language that they can understand in a manner that they can understand. Auditors collect and analyze financial records and data to detect problem areas, such as deficient controls, duplicated efforts, errors, mismanagement, fraud, or non-compliance with laws, regulations, and management policies. In order to perform this work, auditors select a random sample of organizations accounting records. Given that the number of records may range from hundreds to thousands, auditors must review enough of the records to get a good overview of organizations financial picture without spending too much time in the auditing process. Outside auditors, hired by organizations to provide an objective review of the

2 company s financial management, are generally brought in once a year and may work with the company s internal auditors. Upon completion of audits, findings are reported to management, attesting to the integrity of the company s financial records. Most accountants and auditors work in an office environment, and some may telecommute if they have computer access to records and accountancy software applications. Accounting and bookkeeping firms employ the greatest number of accountants and auditors, and accountants in particular can be found in nearly every industry. Both professions sometimes operate in a small business capacity or are employed by large organizations and companies. Most accountants and auditors tend to work a typical workweek of eight-hour days, five days a week, whether they are selfemployed or work in an organization. Accountants may work overtime in order to meet the needs of their organizations fiscal deadlines. Tax accountants may spend a great deal of time preparing for tax season and may work in excess of 40 hours per week for several months to meet with clients throughout this period. Job Requirements Skills/Characteristics Accountants and auditors need to employ analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as an attention to detail to every aspect of their work, while also having the ability to quickly comprehend the big picture. Because of the importance of their work and their responsibility to it, they must have confidence in the application of their mathematical and practical accounting knowledge. These professionals must be inquisitive and have a sensitivity to error that will enable them to ensure accuracy. Financial records are, for the most part, confidential in nature, and as such, accountants and auditors must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and accountability. Because financial data and concepts are not commonly known or understood, accountants and auditors must have excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to explain concepts and report findings to clients, colleagues, and administrative staff. Interpersonal, or soft skills are also important, as are diplomacy and tact when working with clients. As accountants progress in their careers to executive-level positions, communication skills become even more important. Business acumen is another valuable asset for accounting professionals. Many accounting professionals today provide guidance on 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% Knowledge, Skills & Abilities Knowledge Mathematics Economics and accounting Customer and personal service English language Computers and electronics Law and government Skills Mathematics Time management Active listening Critical thinking Active learning Monitoring Abilities Problem sensitivity Written comprehension Deductive reasoning Inductive reasoning Information ordering Mathematical reasoning Top Employing Industries (California) 2

3 initiatives such as investments and corporate governance issues, requiring an understanding of organizations long-term business objectives and concerns. Now that accounting records are computerized, knowledge of these software applications is an essential part of the occupation. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, often in modules and used in large organizations, integrates all of an organization s records: accounts payable, accounts receivable, invoices, payroll, and more. Other applications, such as Microsoft Access and Excel and other accounting-specific applications are utilized by many in the field. Training/Experience The primary educational requirement for accounting and auditing work is a bachelor s degree in accounting, although degrees in finance or business management with coursework in accounting might be acceptable for entry-level positions. Public accounting firms tend to provide additional training to their new employees, and larger firms may have formal training programs for their accounting and auditing staff. Employment Recruitment/Hiring Becoming a member of a local professional association is a way to keep apprised of developments in the field and to network among other professionals in the field. Local career fairs give applicants opportunities to present their qualifications. Some companies recruit on college campuses, and, in some cases, present letters of intent to outstanding students as early as their junior year in college. Licensure/Certification In addition to on-the-job training, all 50 states require public accountants to be licensed. The most valued certification is the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. To qualify to take the CPA examination, applicants must have a bachelor s degree, 24 semester units in accounting, and 24 semester units in business-related subjects. To be licensed in California, applicants need either one year of supervised field experience and 150 semester units or two years of field experience and 120 semester units from an accredited college or university. In order to maintain an active CPA license, continuing education is required. Other certifications include certified management accountant (CMA), certified internal auditor (CIA), certified payroll professional (CPP), certified credit executive (CCE), and certified information systems auditor (CISA), which are all highly regarded. Benefits & Challenges The federal Public Accounting and Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002, known informally as Sarbanes-Oxley, is the most recent regulation with major implications for accounting practices within public companies. Sarbanes-Oxley attempts to ensure good corporate governance by holding chief executive officers and chief financial officers accountable for the certification of financial reports. As a result, there is a much greater need for accountants and auditors throughout the U.S., a trend that is expected to continue for years to come. Career Ladders & Lattices Analytical skills are the most important thing for accountants... The other very important thing is having people skills.. Those who work as bookkeeping and accounting clerks may have great opportunities to enter accounting and auditing positions, especially if they actively pursue a professional degree in accounting or a related field. Clerk positions are entry-level positions that enter data and perform accounting duties related to accounts receivable, accounts payable, bookkeeping, collections, and payroll. In corporate accounting, a typical career path might be to transition from cost accounting or tax accounting to general accounting. After several years of experience, professionals might become senior accountants or accounting managers. Tax accountants might become tax managers or direc- 3

4 tors. Additionally, assistant-level controllers might eventually become senior controllers or directors of accounting or finance. Executive-level positions include vice president of finance, chief financial officer, and treasurer. Auditors often start as internal auditors, and gradually move up with experience to senior auditor or manager, a senior position being internal audit director. Education Distribution Those with a well-rounded background in accounting and finance who have worked in many capacities in their organization might gain management responsibilities, such as chief financial officer or even chief executive officer. Occupational Wages $60 $50 $40 $30 $20 $10 $0 $60 $50 $40 $30 $20 $10 $0 4

5 Juan Castro Accountant 1. Please tell us about your current position and how you arrived there. I have been working in my present role as an accountant for three years in the Treasury Division of a city finance department. I was lucky enough to get a job right after graduating from San José State University with a degree in accounting. I worked with the San Jose Unified School District and then for the City of Los Baños for three years, so it was easy for me to transfer to my present position. I got the interview and the position because of my previous work experience. At San Jose Unified, I worked with accounts payable and receivable, in essence the same as what I m doing now. 2. Please describe your typical workday. I do a variety of things. The City has set a fee schedule for all services provided, which is approved by the city council. I work with the department heads to determine the costs for services. Once the fee schedule is approved by the Budget Department, it is my responsibility to charge the right amount. I also collect cash from the general public for goods and services provided by the City. For example, we receive money at the library and at the community center for classes and recreation. I try to assist every location in the process of how to collect cash properly and I train the cashiers once a year at each location. I have interactions with the bank almost every day and I keep a close eye on everything that goes in and out of the bank account on a daily basis to make sure that all transactions are legitimate. I run my reports and investigate if I see odd numbers if something has been put into another department s account or something has been over-collected. On a monthly basis, I get the reports. If I see that we are exceeding the budget or are considerably under, then I do the research to see why we are not collecting a similar amount to the previous year or why it is too low. It s like an auditing process. If accounts don t balance, we investigate to see if we gave refunds more than once or did not report deposits. An outside auditor will review the accounts at the end of the year to make sure that all accounts balance. I also reconcile some of the general ledger accounts and oversee the work of the account clerk. These are the main functions of my position. I used to work for a much smaller city, and there, I got a much better picture of the whole city s finances; here, I work with only particular aspects. 3. Which aspects of your education and/or training made you more capable or marketable in this field? For my education, the fact that I took so many accounting, financial, and auditing classes, and worked on projects with other students was very helpful. On the job, being exposed to real life situations, is valuable. In my prior job, I worked with outside auditors who would bombard me with a bunch of questions. I guess that broad experience and all those years made me more qualified for the eventual landing here. Right after graduating, when I began working, I had planned to go back and get a CPA license, but I never got to do that; I got too busy with my family and decided to do what I m doing now. I helped with different organizations, community outreach, with local elections and campaigns. As a volunteer, I also did finance work for my church. They had a financial ministry program to teach people how to manage their finances, how to stay away from debt, prevent bankruptcy. All of this was good experience. 5

6 4. What are the most exciting aspects of your job? What do you like most about your job? The people I work with are the best part of my job. I work around people who are talkative, cooperative, open-minded, and willing to help, and it makes my life so much easier. There are six or seven people in the department. We have financial software that allows us to monitor the accounts, especially the primary ones. There are some things that must be done, like making sure we have cash for payroll. 5. What do you dislike or find challenging about your job? Sometimes I am given assignments and not provided with all the information that I need to get it done. If this is the case, I might spend a lot of time guessing what is needed before finding out that it s not what they need or want after all. I offer my vision of what to do based upon my understanding of the purpose of the assignment. My coworkers sometimes don t speak the same language in regard to financial terms, so I just have to bear with them. It s sometimes difficult, especially when I have so much work to do. If I know what the problem is, then I can get the answer. If there is something wrong, then I want to know what is needed so that I can fix it. But we get it done the way they want it. It s all about asking questions to get exactly what you need. 6. What advice would you give to a person seeking a job in this field? I would recommend that people explore all the different areas of accounting cost, tax, management, internal auditing so they can see where their interests fit. There are also considerations for pay some specialties pay more than others. Once employed in the field, there are a lot of things that you can learn on the job. 7. What qualities make someone a star performer in this occupation? Analytical skills are the most important thing for accountants working with the numbers. The other very important thing is having people skills. Accountants deal with people who don t have your understanding of accounting, so you need to be able to translate the information into language that they can understand in a manner that they can understand. 6

7 Report Evaluation

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