What Does an Accountant Do?
Most people don’t realize the importance of the accounting department in keeping a business operating without hitches and delays. That’s probably because accountants oversee many of the back-office functions in a business — as opposed to sales, for example, which is front-line activity, out in the open and in the line of fire. Go into any retail store, and you’re in the thick of sales activities. But have you ever seen a company’s accounting department in action?
The following list gives you a pretty clear idea of the back-office functions that accountants perform:
Payroll: The total wages and salaries earned by every employee every pay period, which are called gross wages or gross earnings, have to be calculated. Based on detailed private information in personnel files and earnings-to-date information, the correct amounts for income taxes and several other deductions from gross wages have to be determined.
Stubs, which report various information are produced each pay period and given to the employee. The total amounts of withheld income taxes, Canada or Quebec Pension Plans, and Employment Insurance premiums imposed on the employee and employer have to be paid to the federal or provincial government on time. Retirement, vacation, sick pay, and other benefits that employees earn have to be updated every pay period.
Payroll is a complex and critical function that the accounting department performs. Many businesses outsource payroll functions to companies or banks that specialize in this area.
Cash collections: All cash received from sales and from all other sources has to be carefully identified and recorded, not only in the cash account but also in the appropriate account for the source of the cash received. The accounting department makes sure that the cash is deposited in the appropriate business chequing accounts and that the business keeps an adequate amount of coin and currency on hand for making change for customers.
Accountants balance the business’s chequebook and control access to incoming cash receipts. In larger organizations, the treasurer may be responsible for some of these cash flow and cash-handling functions.
Cash payments (disbursements): A business writes many cheques during the course of a year. The accounting department prepares all these cheques for the signatures of the business officers who are authorized to sign cheques. The accounting department keeps all the supporting business documents and files to know when the cheques should be paid, makes sure that the amount to be paid is correct, and forwards the cheques for signature.
Procurement and inventory: Accountants usually are responsible for keeping track of all purchase orders that have been placed for inventory (products to be sold by the business) and all other assets and services that the business buys. A typical business makes many purchases during the course of a year, many of them on credit. This area of responsibility includes keeping files on all liabilities that arise from purchases on credit so that cash payments are processed on time.
The accounting department also keeps detailed records on all products that the business holds for sale and, when the products are sold, records the cost of the goods sold.
Property accounting: A typical business owns many different substantial long-term assets called property, plant, and equipment — including office furniture and equipment, retail display cabinets, computers, machinery and tools, vehicles (autos and trucks), buildings, and land.
Except for relatively small-cost items, a business maintains detailed records of its property, both for controlling the use of the assets and for determining the appropriate amount of depreciation for accounting and tax calculations. The accounting department keeps these property records.