Accounting Workbook For Dummies, UK Edition
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Being a financial accountant is a pretty good gig. A plethora of career options is open to you, whether you dream of being self-employed or see yourself working for a larger business, and whether your dream job is part-time or full-time.

A financial accountant can follow many different career paths, from being a certified public accountant to working for nonbusiness entities, such as charitable organizations. Some require certification, and others don’t.

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Certified public accountant

If you want the challenge of working for many clients (which is the nature of public accounting) but desire the stability of working for an employer, you may prefer to focus on jobs at CPA firms. These firms range in size from the Big Four (KPMG, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte) to regional CPA firms, such as Grant Thornton and many others.

Here are a few examples of the work you can do as a public accountant:

  • Financial statement preparation: Many businesses require help preparing their financial statements with an independent accountant on speed dial. While the company controller and other accounting staff does most of the work, I often have clients call me for help classifying a transaction, figuring out the right procedure to correct an error, or finding out the ramifications of new GAAP on their business activities.
  • Assurance services: You must be a licensed CPA to work in this field, which includes all types of auditing services. For example, all business owners and managers want to know how well their businesses are doing. That’s where you come in. Because you’re an outsider, you can take a step back and cast a fresh, independent eye on the way a company is doing business. You can give company management a firm foundation upon which to base any needed changes.

A subset of assurance is attestation services, meaning the CPA issues written documents expressing her conclusion about the reliability of a written assertion that is the responsibility of another party. The number of topics you may focus on during an attestation engagement is pretty much limitless. For example, you may conduct a breakeven point analysis, which requires figuring out how much revenue the client must bring in to cover expenses.

Public accountants also conduct audits, which means they gather and judge evidence to issue an opinion on the effectiveness of a company’s internal controls: policies and procedures set in place to provide guidelines on how employees should do their jobs. CPAs also conduct financial statement audits, issuing opinions on whether the financial statements under audit are materially correct.


Accounting consultants are talent on demand when a business needs a particular skill. As an accounting consultant, you can be self-employed or register with an agency who secures the clients referred to you. This is different than an accountant employment agency, because you do the work as independent contractor only as needed – which means you can also work as much or as little as you want. Some typical gigs are writing company accounting manuals, helping companies set up accounting policies, or stepping in as an interim controller.

Every company should have at least a cursory manual for every job within the company. That way, when an employee leaves, there is no ambiguity on the part of the new hire on how to the do the job. In my experience, the best accounting manuals are a collaboration between the accounting staff doing the job at the company and an outside accountant/technical writer who looks at the accounting procedures with a fresh eye. This leads to better controls, efficiency, and effectiveness. It’s often a callback job as the company changes and needs to update the manual.

I have stepped in for a few companies as their interim controller. What happens is the controller leaves the company, and during the selection process, which can take time, the company needs someone to keep the accounting department running. This way, the company has the luxury of finding the perfect match. As interim controller I have usually been involved in the interviewing process as well.

Corporate accountant

Not every accountant has multiple business clients. Someone who does accounting work for a single company is called a private, corporate, or industry accountant. Quite a few corporate accounting jobs are available. Depending on the size of the business, the job can be tailored to a specific task or cover the whole extravaganza from start to finish — from recording accounting transactions to preparing financial statements.

Being a CPA may not be a requirement but can certainly be helpful — ditto earning an MBA.

Here are a few examples of the types of corporate accounting jobs available to financial accountants:
  • Controller: A controller is the chief accounting officer of a business entity and is responsible for both financial and managerial accounting functions. In a small business, a controller is often just a bookkeeper with a better title.
  • Departmental accountant: In this position, you cover the gamut of financial accounting tasks; you could handle accounts payable or receivables, account for company assets, or handle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting. Departmental accountants also take care of cash disbursements and receipts.

This position can be managerial because this person is responsible for such tasks as the monthly closing of the financial statements and consolidation of domestic and international subsidiaries, coordination and support of annual and interim audits, and tax compliance. Departmental accountants interact frequently with senior management and play a critical supporting role in business processes, customer quotes and proposals, and management analyses pertaining to the effectiveness and efficiency of business operations.

  • Internal auditor: These accounting professionals provide internal auditing work for their employers. Internal auditing involves making sure the company runs efficiently and effectively. For example, the auditor may review financial statements or evaluate departmental or company-wide operating efficiency. Many working in this field are Certified Internal Auditors, Additional information about this certification can be found at the Institute of Internal Auditors’ website.

Forensic accountant

Forensic accountants specialize in legal disputes or litigation, Examples of civil disputes are contract compliance, economic damages, disagreements related to mergers or acquisitions, hidden assets during bankruptcy or divorce proceedings, and business valuations. They can also get involved in money laundering or murder for hire —and you thought accounting was dull!

In my experience, the forensic accountant follows one simple rule to perform this job: Follow the money. From the most complicated engagement (murder for profit) to the most simple possibility (a spouse has a separate bank account with the bank statements going to a personal post office box), if you follow the money, you eventually arrive at the truth.

Sound interesting? Check out the requirements for related certifications:
  • Forensic Certified Public Accountant: To earn this certification, you must first be a licensed CPA and then pass a five-part exam. However, someone who is already licensed as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or who is Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) is exempt from taking the Forensic CPA examination. (Keep reading to find out about the CFE and CFF designations.) If you’re curious about this accounting specialty, consider picking up Forensic Accounting For Dummies by Frimette Kass-Shraibman and Vijay S. Sampath (Wiley).
  • Certified Fraud Examiner: A CFE is a financial accountant who works to find fraud, which is the intentional misstatement of facts occurring in businesses. A CFE also provides anti-fraud training and education. Being a CPA is not required to become a CFE, but you must have a bachelor’s degree and pass the CFE exam. For more information, visit the website for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
  • Certified in Financial Forensics: An accountant with a CFF designation researches and provides testimony regarding financial fraud, which includes intentional misstatements in a company’s financial statements (its income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows). You have to be an active CPA and member in good standing of the AICPA to earn this certification. For more information about this certification, go to the AICPA website and do a site search for “forensic and valuation membership.”

Government accountant

You guessed it! Governmental accountants work for city, county, state, and federal government agencies. Their job is like not-for-profits in that there is no-profit motive. The motive lies in providing services to those agencies. Governmental accountants prepare financial statements that are open to the general public. The financial statements must show accountability to citizens while pursuing the goals of efficiency and effectiveness.

Another good governmental accounting job is working on government audits for your local, state, or federal government. Two big federal employers are the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Although governmental auditing jobs require that you’ve completed a minimum number of accounting and auditing classes, a CPA license is not a requirement for any entry-level jobs or most upper-level ones.

GAO auditors generally conduct compliance and operational audits. However, if you want a little more action, the GAO also hires criminal auditors who conduct investigations of alleged or suspected violations of criminal laws, particularly white-collar crimes that involve fraud, waste, abuse, and government corruption.

Information technology auditor

I have good news for computer geeks who are also interested in accounting! In the past, businesses produced paper trails that auditors, investors, and other interested parties could follow to find clues when examining the financial statements. But these days, those trails, communications, and payment methods are becoming predominantly electronic.

Electronic data can be manipulated when a company’s internal controls are lacking. Data can be more difficult to track down than a piece of paper in a file cabinet. So financial accountants who are savvy on how to use information technology to audit ‘through the computer’ are — and will continue to be — in high demand.

For example, robotic process automation (RPA) automates repetitive accounting tasks using bots. Knowing both the accounting side of and having a working knowledge of how to program the bots to do their job is a perfect example of melding accounting with IT!

Income tax accountant

Imagine how hard it is for the company accountant to keep up with business federal, state, foreign tax code, and other tax changes!

The increasing intricacy of income tax laws fuels the demand for accountants knowledgeable in various aspects of tax law. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) changes corporation taxation.

TCJA updated a bunch of sections of the U.S. tax code from who can use the cash method of accounting to accounting for inventories and a lot more! For more information, see the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) training materials.

Another example is the Bipartisan Partnership Act of 2015 (BPA), effective for partnership returns after 2017. The BPA provides for a new audit regime for some layered and larger partnerships. By layered, I mean the partners in the partnership aren’t individuals —they could be other partnerships, trusts, and other entities. This is important because those partners could be nontaxable, meaning experienced accountants have to make sure there is correct presentation of the partners on the returns with drilling up to entities that ultimately bear the responsibility of the partnership income tax.

Two other complicated areas of the tax code open for specialization is the credit for increasing research activities and accounting/taxation of conservation easements. In a nutshell, conservations easements are usually land donated to qualified organizations for which the owner reaps a tax advantage. Proper accounting/taxation is quite complicated and, per the IRS, an area of consistent abuse.

International accountant

Our world is a global marketplace. Most large corporations and many smaller ones are multinational, which means they operate both in and outside the U.S. Additionally, because of technological advances, small mom-and-pop businesses are also doing business globally.

Despite the ongoing convergence efforts taking place since 2002, it has become obvious that for now U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are going to coexist. So international accountants have to ‘talk’ both U.S. GAAP and IFRS, understand business law and taxation in the United States and foreign countries, and understand currency exchange rates.

Thinking it might be nice to be a traveling accountant? Learn more about international certified public accountants.

Non-accounting accountant

Yup, you are reading that correctly! Some jobs associated with accounting aren’t technically accountant positions. For example, most accountants can do a great job pitching various accounting software programs. But more interesting is the field of unbundled accounting software and apps —that is, helping clients create personalized accounting software as opposed to the kitchen sink QuickBooks method.

You may be surprised to find out that CPA firms hire many college graduates with both accounting and data analytic (analyzing unorganized financial data) skills to assist the CPA audit teams. These number crunchers look at business risk and trends and run scenario testing —that is, what is the effect on the business when we do this versus that.

Not-for-profit accountant

These accountants work for organizations that are run for the public good — not because of any profit motive. In fact, not-for-profits render goods and services to the community regardless of whether the costs they incur to provide the goods or services will ever be recouped from the recipients. For example, patients of a not-for-profit medical office pay only a fraction of the real cost of providing the medical care. These types of organizations include hospitals, schools, religious organizations, and charitable agencies.

One of my part-time jobs while getting my CPA firm up and running was preparing budgets and financial statements and coordinating the work on the United Way grant for a not-for-profit organization that provides medical and dental care for the medically underserved. It was the most fulfilling job I ever had, outside of self-employment. If you are a financial accountant with an altruistic bent, you should consider this specialty. The job was extremely interesting and varied, my fellow employees were supportive, and while I did not provide front-line services, I felt that I was helping to make a difference in the lives of people who genuinely needed aid.

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