As a Certified Public Accountant, there are no limits to the career opportunities available to you. Whether your interest lies in public accounting, business and industry, government or education, the opportunities to succeed with a degree in accounting are endless.
In public accounting, the CPA serves many clients as an objective outsider or in an advisory capacity. Currently there are over 46,000 public accounting firms in the United States ranging in size from small local accounting practice to large international CPA firm. Public accounting services include but are not limited to the areas listed below:
Auditing is one of the most important and best known services provided by CPAs in public practice. To better protect consumers and investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires every publicly-held company to issue an annual financial statement. These financial statements are examined by an independent CPA and the results are referred to as an "audit." The CPA's role as an auditor is to examine a company's financial statements in order to assure stockholders and other financial statement users that a company's financial position is reported fairly.
Although privately-held companies are not required to have annual audits, many do so anyway. Privately-held companies that do not undergo an annual audit often engage CPAs to conduct a "review" or "compilation" instead. Both involve an examination of a company's financial statements, although a review contains less assurance than an audit while a compilation contains no assurance.
Assurance services is one of the newest, hottest growth area for CPAs. Assurance services is defined as services provided by a CPA that improve the quality of information, or its context, for decision makers. Such information can be financial or non-financial, about past events or conditions or about on-going processes or systems. It can also be direct information about a product or indirect information about someone else's assertion about a product. Assurance services allows the CPA to use his/her analytical and information-processing expertise in a new way. Based on market research, everyone from business owners to ordinary consumers can find value from CPAs who provide these type of services. Electronic commerce, elder care, comprehensive risk assessment, entity performance measurement and information systems quality assessment are just a few examples of assurance services areas.
This is one of the hot growth areas for CPAs in public accounting. As businesses take a greater interest in environmental issues, CPAs have been getting involved in everything from environmental compliance audits and systems and procedures audits to handling claims and disputes. Utilities, manufacturers, and chemical companies are particularly affected by environmental issues. As a result, companies in these fields have increasingly turned to CPAs to set up a preventive system to ensure compliance and avoid future claims or disputes, or to provide assistance once legal implications have arisen.
This is one of the hot growth areas for CPAs in public accounting. The forensic accountant looks beyond the face value of accounting records to determine if fraud has been committed. Also known as an investigative accountant or fraud auditor, the forensic accountant searches for evidence of criminal conduct or assists in the determination of, or rebuttal of, claimed damages. Investigative accountants are also being called in to advise companies on whether to declare bankruptcy or take the necessary steps to remain solvent. In addition to investigative accounting, the forensic accountant may also be called upon in the legal field, assisting lawyers in the litigation process.
Information Technology Services
The growth in information technology has created many job opportunities for CPAs with strong computer skills. There is a tremendous need for professionals who can design and implement advanced systems to fit a company's specialized needs. CPAs skilled in software research and development (including multimedia technology) are also highly valued.
This is one of the hot growth areas for CPAs in public accounting. Cross-border transactions are becoming commonplace due in part to the dismantling of closed economies in Eastern Europe and Latin America, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as well as economic growth in areas such as the Pacific Rim. Functional skills needed in a global economy include an understanding of international trade rules, accords, and laws, cross-border merger and acquisition issues, and foreign business customs, cultures, and procedures. Multilingual skills are also important (Spanish and French are especially desirable).
CPAs are often requested by individuals, businesses, financial institutions, not-for-profit organizations and government agencies to offer objective advice and technical assistance about a variety of business situations. Some common consulting engagements might be computerizing a company's accounting and reporting function, projecting a company's growth using trend analysis techniques, implementing an internal control system, facilitating mergers and acquisitions, assisting with production and marketing techniques, and providing general suggestions on improving overall operating procedures. Other important growth areas of consulting CPAs are involved in include litigation support, business valuation, strategic planning, succession planning for family-owned businesses, compensation and benefit plan design. Consulting services provided by CPAs may range from brief discussions with clients in the form of consultations or may involve larger initiatives such as implementation, transaction or support services.
Personal Financial Planning
As personal financial planners, CPAs provide assistance to individuals and companies in identifying financial objectives and counseling on the risk, liquidity, management and tax characteristics of investments. Personal financial planning services include helping clients better manage their money through debt reduction and expense control, developing investment strategies and asset allocation plans, tax consulting, insurance analysis and planning, retirement planning, and minimizing estate and gift tax burdens.
Tax Advisory Services
With the ever-changing tax laws and the growing complexity of business, tax professionals are involved in everything from preparing tax returns to reorganizing a multinational company's domestic and foreign operations in a manner that takes into consideration such factors as U.S. and foreign taxes, cash investments, dividends, and economic growth.
The CPA tax specialist must deal with a variety of tax problems and opportunities in three primary areas of tax practice-tax consulting, tax compliance, and representation of clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In addition to supplying technical competence, the tax specialist must exercise good financial judgment and creativity in order to provide constructive solutions to complex tax problems. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the client's business, investment, and personal objectives is required, as well as a thorough understanding of the tax laws and their applications.
CPAs in business and industry work for companies ranging from family-owned businesses to Fortune 500 companies. They are considered strategic business partners of their organizations and work in a variety of different areas as noted below.
Under this broad category, CPAs are responsible for analyzing a company's future financing needs, making presentations to and negotiating with banks and other investors, and managing an organization's cash and investments.
The CPA is responsible for accumulating and verifying the data required for the preparation of financial statements. CPAs are often in charge of the design, implementation, and maintenance of the computer system used in the preparation of financial statements.
The CPA as internal auditor is responsible for providing an objective review of the company's financial and operating systems. He/she may also assist outside CPAs in their examination and evaluation of the company's financial statements. The internal auditor also functions as an in-house management consultant to senior management.
CPAs working in management accounting are responsible for the accumulation, analysis and reporting of financial and non-financial data in a format and level of detail required by management for making business decisions. Management accountants may make recommendations on business policy, resource allocation, and business operations to improve financial performance.
CPAs are broad-based experts whose knowledge and skills are sought and valued by management in various non-financial positions. CPAs can succeed in business as top level managers, chief executive officers, and company presidents.
CPAs are responsible for determining the company's liability to various taxing authorities for income tax, licenses, sales tax, property tax, and payroll tax. They analyze the effects of tax accounting alternatives and study laws and regulations to ensure correct application of new tax measures.
Like their counterparts in public accounting and industry, CPAs in government have responsibilities in the areas of auditing, financial reporting and management accounting. In addition, CPAs in government have the opportunity to evaluate the efficiency of government departments and agencies at the federal, state, and local levels as well as advise decision makers in the use of entity resources.
At the federal level, some examples of where CPAs work include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury and the General Accounting Office. They may be involved in investigating white-collar crime, managing financial statement audits for government agencies, performing research and analysis on financial management issues, testifying before a legislative committee on an audit or on the impact of pending tax legislation.
At the state and local level, CPAs are involved in conducting financial, performance or compliance audits which may include analyzing a school district's ability to remain viable, the propriety of expenditures for constructing prisons, the effectiveness of the workers' compensation system, or the regulatory compliance of hazardous waste programs.
Below are some of the types of audits performed by CPAs in all levels of government:
is an independent evaluation of an organization's operation with an eye towards making it work better, faster, and cheaper. Along with these streamlining efforts, a performance audit may also determine whether management is fulfilling its promises to the taxpayers by effectively providing services intended to meet its goals and objectives.
include financial statement and financial-related audits or reviews. The primary focus of a traditional financial statement audit is the examination and verification of information provided through an entity's financial statements. This may result in an opinion on the "fairness" of the information presented in the financial statements or determine whether the entity has adhered to specific federal and financial compliance requirements. These audits may involve a review of the internal controls over financial operations and typically result in a letter to management identifying any weaknesses and recommending corrective action.
determine whether the organization is following provisions of laws, regulations and contractual grant or loan agreements. The purpose of compliance auditing is to identify instances of significant deviation from specific requirements and to seek corrective action. State compliance audits review compliance with specific state laws and regulations, and federal compliance audits review compliance with the legal and regulatory requirements mandated as a condition of receiving federal grants and aid.
are performed as a result of reported allegations related to improper activities by government employees or agencies. The allegations are received mainly through a toll-free hotline for reporting fraud and abuse in government. An investigation may also result when auditors, while on another assignment, become aware of inappropriate or suspicious activity that may fall under the Reporting of Improper Governmental Activities Act.
CPAs in nonprofit organizations provide the information these institutions need to determine that the benefits and services they provide do not exceed revenues. Whether a CPA is on the staff of a nonprofit organization or serves in an advisory capacity, he or she can help the organization solve tax problems, set up an internal control system, budget resources, and prepare financial data for fundraising.
As accounting educators, CPAs are members of the faculties of colleges of business administration, professional schools of accountancy, graduate schools of business, and community colleges. As accounting faculty members, CPAs instruct students in areas such as auditing, financial accounting, taxation, cost and managerial accounting, professional ethics, as well as many other interesting areas. In addition to their teaching requirements, CPA educators conduct research to expand the body of accounting knowledge and author books and articles on accounting theory. Due to their research expertise, many educators also serve as business consultants to companies and firms as well as expert witnesses in litigation situations.
If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Callie Hammond, manager, pipeline initiatives, at 800-330-8889, extension 2953.