FAQ: What Does an Accountant Do? (With Definition)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 25 January 2023

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Accountants are professionals who play an essential role in maintaining the integrity of their clients' finances. There are a wide range of accountant jobs to consider that allow you to expand your competencies, capabilities and duties. Learning the answer to 'what does an accountant do' can help you become more knowledgeable about the career field and what it entails for you to perform the role successfully. In this article, we discuss what an accountant is, explore what they do, discover where they work, review their salary and examine the requirements that are necessary to become one.

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What is an accountant?

An accountant is a professional who records the business financial transactions on behalf of their employer or client. These are individuals who work extensively with a variety of documents like bank statements, income statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets. The accounting functions they perform allow them to conduct a wide range of processes like account analysis, financial statement analysis and auditing. These operations help them ensure that the finances of their company are accurate, abiding by federal regulations and up to date. There are different types of accountants as well, each with their own unique skill set and responsibilities, including:

Certified public accountant

The certified public accountant, or CPA, is an accountant that works primarily within a public accounting agency and provides a wide range of accounting services to their customers. These types of accountants follow by Statements of Accounting Standard or SASs, which are the accepted rules and guidelines for how accountants can operate. The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore regulates SASs policies, an organisation established by the Accountants Act.

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Project accountant

The project accountant manages the financial results and conditions of a project, including all the economic needs to deliver a project. They track, report, and analyse these details to ensure that a project remains within the financial parameters that were initially set. Project accountants provide management detailed reports about whether a project is under or over budget. Their proposals also help teams get an idea of how much it can cost to run a project and what the potential earnings might be.

Auditor accountant

The auditor accountant, or simply auditor, is a professional who thoroughly examines financial records to ensure that the information is accurate and remains in compliance with regulations, tax laws and other relevant accounting standards. It's the auditors responsibility to bring attention to discrepancies within a financial document and offer guidance on how to best correct the mistake. They also help businesses protect their finances from fraud and other attempts of extortion.

Forensic accountant

The forensic accountant analyses highly complex business and financial records to understand their value and accuracy. Some of these professionals also create computer applications to help them manage the information they collect so they can deliver it to their clients. Forensic accountants might also use their findings to provide their expertise and evidence during legal proceedings and trials.

Tax accountant

The tax accountant is a prominent professional in the field who reviews and prepares tax returns on behalf of individuals and businesses. They then identify how much taxes a person owes and provides it to the government. Tax accountants ensure that the tax returns are accurate, complete and filed correctly. If there are any issues or errors with a tax return, then they discuss how to solve these discrepancies with their clients.

Management accountant

The management accountant is also called an industrial or cost accountant. They provide information to their managers about how the company can budget and optimise its financial performance. They prepare important financial data to help their employer forecast cash flows, develop budgets and determine what return on investment they may receive from projects.

Related: What Does a Cost Accountant Do? (With Skills and Salary)

Government accountant

The government accountant is an accountant for all levels of government institutions and agencies. They have a wide range of duties like managing public funds, conducting white collar crime investigations and performing agency audits. Aside from their accounting capabilities, working in government provides them with an extensive knowledge of taxes, regulations and business codes.

Related: How To Become a Freelance Accountant

What does an accountant do?

To understand what does an accountant do, it's useful to know the documents they're working with. Accountants ensure companies and organisations are operating efficiently by accessing financial records and analysing data, finance reports, budgets, tax returns and accounting records. Accountants may work alongside Senior Accountants and other professionals within the accounting or finance department. Specific responsibilities may vary based on the company the accountant works for and the industry of the company, but typically include:

  • Perform monthly, quarterly and annual accounting activities

  • Do reconciliation of very important bank and credit card accounts

  • Coordinate annual audits and review of financial reports/support as necessary

  • Analyse and report on financial status including income statement variances

  • Communicate financial results to management

  • Prepare budgets and analysis

  • Document financial transactions

  • Recommend financial actions by analysing accounting options

  • Improve systems and procedures and begin corrective actions

  • Oversee taxes and abide by federal regulations

Related: Accountant vs. Controller (Differences, Roles and Skills)

Where do accountants work?

Accountants work in nearly every industry, including education, government, nonprofit and business. They mostly work in offices and spend most of their time on a computer, though some can work remotely from home as well. They typically work full-time, though they may work weekends, holidays or overtime depending on the type of accountant they are, like tax accountants. Many accountants work for an employer, but it's fairly common for them to also work for themselves or open an accounting practice. They might also occasionally travel to their clients and either work alone or with a team.

Read more: How to Write an Accountant Resume in 8 Steps (With Example)

What is the average salary for an accountant?

The national average salary for an accountant is $53,184 per year, though this statistic is likely to vary from city to city. The average salary for an accountant can vary because of other factors as well, such as their employer, geographical location, educational achievements and work experience. As you gain more expertise in your field, you may be able to negotiate for a higher salary.

Related: 8 Accounting Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

What are the requirements to become an accountant?

Consider these requirements that are necessary to work as an accountant:

Education

Typically, most accountants need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance or another related field. Many companies might also prefer candidates who have a master's degree as well, since this indicates a higher knowledge and skill level. Because of the diverse range of accounting careers, this academic requirement can vary from position to position. Relevant coursework includes accounting principles, accounting technology, business communications and business law. Holding the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation is usually an important aspect of an accountant's education and credentials, though it's not explicitly required for every type of accountant.

Technical knowledge

Most accountants need some level of computer skills, which can include a combination of typing, system and software knowledge. Accountants need strong computer skills as their job responsibilities include typing and using programs that allow them to complete their work efficiently. Although the accounting skills they need are likely to vary depending on their specialisation, general capabilities include a combination of strong mathematical, logical and analytical skills. Accountants have excellent accounting skills as most of their work involves preparing and auditing financial statements and documents. They typically understand these documents enough so they can identify errors.

Related: What Are Technical Skills?

Applicable soft skills

Accountants need communication skills, which involves the ability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally, including active listening, observing, speaking and empathising. Accountants may have excellent verbal and written communication skills so they can communicate internally with the rest of the accounting team, senior accountants and across other departments.

Time-management is another important skill for accountants, which involves being able to balance and prioritise responsibilities in a manner that helps you complete your work on time while also maintaining a work-life balance. Accountants spend most of their day multitasking and prioritise tasks to ensure they fulfil their responsibilities with minimal errors. They also are detail-oriented, which means having strong attention to detail. Accountants are meticulous to ensure they are accurately preparing and reviewing financial documents.

Related: Top 10 Accounting Skills To Include in Your Resume

Certifications

There are several certification programmes available for accountants to choose from. Certifications allow you to prove your skills and qualifications to current and potential employers. Accountants can also earn certifications to gain additional knowledge about their responsibilities and further their career advancement opportunities

Related: Corporate Certifications: 5 Best Credentials To Have

Training

Accountants often begin their relevant training through internship programmes they complete while getting their degree. Besides the experience and training from internship programmes, accountants also often receive additional on-the-job training specific to their role and company. Accountants typically receive this additional training as part of the on-boarding process for their new role and expect to work alongside highly skilled professionals in the field. On-the-job training can last for a period of a few days up to a few months depending on the company. For example, training to be a tax accountant has different responsibilities than training as a project accountant.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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