From an Accounting Major’s Journal: 6 Things to do with an Accounting Degree
If you major in Accounting (CPA-track) in Syms, the overwhelming direction you will receive from the Career Center is to find an internship, then a full-time position, in one of the “Big Four” CPA firms, where you will work while studying for your CPA. When you get to one of these firms, you may realize that you can’t handle the hours or are interested in something else. What else can you do with an accounting degree?
I would like to quickly to review public accounting for those who, somehow, haven’t heard about it yet. While the best-known accounting firms are the “Big Four,” there are actually over 46,000 public accounting firms in the United States, according to the AICPA. These firms range in size from the largest firms, which have tens of thousands of accountants to small firms, which might have only one or two.
The two most common types of public accountants are: those who do taxes and those who do auditing. Tax accountants help their clients—usually companies, in the case of the largest firms—complete and file tax returns. They are in charge of filing for earnings of companies and individuals, and supporting them throughout the process of preparing tax returns for the IRS (based on http://educationcareerarticles.com/career-information/job-descriptions/tax-accountants/). Independent auditors go to companies and pass judgment as to whether their financial statements are correct under GAAP. In order to do this, the auditor analyzes the company's’ financial statements and other documents, measures inventory levels, confirms accountants receivable and inquires with management to understand the company as a whole. He or she then makes an opinion as to whether the financial statements are free of fraud and unintentional errors.
Although both tax accountants and auditors interact with clients and thus, both need to have good interpersonal skills, auditors spend more time face-to-face with their clients, often traveling to their offices to meet with them and perform the audits.
Every Accounting major in Syms must take Management (Cost) Accounting. What do cost accountants do? According to MBAToday, “the role of a Cost Accountant is to systematically assess the costs that are associated with manufacturing the product(s) or distributing the service(s) of the hiring organization.”
The information obtained by the Cost Accountant is then shared with management, who use it to make day-to-day and long-term decisions about how to lower cost and increase efficiency and productivity. They can work for manufacturing firms or even service organizations. The median starting salary for an entry-level Cost Accountant is $50,924 (Salary.com).
Every large corporation has an accounting department. Although some of the accountants in the accounting department are cost accountants, others are responsible for recording transactions and preparing financial statements to be audited and then released (usually) quarterly and as a focus point of the company’s annual report. These private accountants are in charge of making estimates about everything from depreciation and amortization to receivables and contingent liabilities. Although every organization has bookkeeping or accounting functions, in small organizations, such as small stores, these can usually be handled by one or two people. However, large corporations hire hundreds or even thousands of accountants to perform their accounting functions. An accounting department is more important to a large company than a marketing or sales department because if a firm’s finances are not approved with a clean audit and the business does not have a good credit history, creditors will not want to lend it money and investors will not want to invest the capital necessary for growth. Accounting is the backbone of an organization. Without a strong team of accountants, a company will not be able to survive in the long run.
Not for profit accounting
Even not for profit organizations, such as schools, synagogues, and charitable organizations have accounting functions. Yeshiva University has an accounting department with offices in Belfer Hall. Accountants who work in not for profit may be responsible for preparing the special set of financial statements required by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) or obtaining tax-exempt status. Did you know that there are kinds of tax-exempt status? Some not for profit organizations do not pay taxes themselves, but their benefactors do not receive an exemption for their donations, while contributions to certain other organizations can be tax-exempt (accountingcoach.com).
If you want a career with a more manageable work-life balance than public accounting, consider working for the government. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hires accountants for the Division of Corporate Finance, which is in charge of selectively reviewing the financial disclosures of public companies to check for quality, timeliness, and accuracy, as well as for the Office of the Chief Accountant, the main adviser to the SEC on issues of accounting and auditing regulation. According to the agency’s website, “The Office of the Chief Accountant advises the Commission on accounting issues, develops precedents in SEC accounting matters and consults on investigations involving questionable accounting or auditing practices.” I spent the past summer working in the Economics Department of Israel’s SEC equivalent, the Israel Securities Authority, where I researched and presented on NASDAQ and summarized scholarly articles on finance and economics topics, such as liquidity and deep markets in corporate bonds that were necessary for making timely accounting-related decisions.
There are many opportunities for accountants in the IRS, including as Internal Revenue Agents, who act as “proactive decision-maker[s], working side-by-side with customers, businesses, CFOs, CEOs and the legal and financial communities” and counseling them on tax-related forms, laws, and disclosures. Another potential career choice is that of a Tax Specialist, who provides technical, tax-related guidance and tax accounting consultation. You might also consider becoming a Tax Compliance Officer, who investigates individual and corporate taxpayer and provides legal and accounting advice, or a Tax Examiner, who is responsible for answering taxpayers’ questions about their tax returns and reviews the tax returns for accuracy and completeness (based on http://jobs.irs.gov/student/accounting-budget-finance.html).
Have you ever wondered how high-profile and everyday financial scams, such as money laundering, securities fraud, and other kinds of ‘white collar’ crime are exposed? That is the task of the forensic accountant. Forensic accountants do investigative work for the SEC—in the Division of Enforcement—for courts of law, and in private practice. They are often employed for bankruptcy and divorce cases, in addition to cases of fraud. They are responsible for analyzing financial statements, internal company documents, as well as other disclosures and information that wasn’t disclosed, in order to find fraudulent accounting and financial practices, and to provide evidence for use in legal investigations and trials.If you are intrigued by the idea of putting your accounting skills toward pursuing justice and want to make 1.5 times more than the average salary of all accountants while working fewer hours, consider forensic accounting (based on forensicaccounting.net).
Although there is a career-specific certifications for cost accountants (CMA) and a few for forensic accountants, including Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), it is generally a good idea to become a CPA as well. Why is this? Passing the CPA exams shows employers that you are committed to the profession and that you have a wide knowledge of financial accounting, regulation, and auditing. Employers tend to reward those with CPA certification with a 10% salary increase, on average.
I hope readers find this article informative and that it acts as a springboard to discuss potential shift in focus in Syms and the Career Center from emphasizing mostly public accounting to educating and preparing students for careers in all fields of accounting. An accounting degree is a versatile one, and no student should feel that they are being pushed into one field without being introduced to and trained for other fields they might enjoy more.