Both a CPA and an accountant do the same types of work in public accounting, but there is a difference between a CPA and a general accountant in the qualifications both hold. In a large firm there many be many accountants, but only a small number of CPA's. High-ranking positions within a company are the domain of a certified public accountant and in order to achieve this rank one must pass the CPA certification exam. This exam is a uniform one that is administered by American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and accepted by all states. This exam is very difficult and not everyone that takes it passes on the first attempt. It requires a very thorough knowledge of accounting principles and tax laws that many general accountants do not have.
The difference between a CPA and a general accountant is that a certified public accountant can offer services to third parties, whereas general accountants can only work with a firm. There is a huge reputation that comes with a CPA designation and offers more opportunities for employment and advancements in an accounting career. Many CPA’s are advisors for large corporations and have the ability to set up their own businesses. There is a strict code of ethics to which a CPA must adhere and there is a requirement to engage in continuing education courses to keep renewing the certificate. A CPA is required to take eighty hours of continuing education every two years, but there is no such requirement for a general accountant.
The type of work they do is also a difference between a CPA and a general accountant. A CPA can offer tax services and advice to clients and provide financial advice for investments. Many CPA’s engage in financial planning or further specialize in their career by becoming fraud examiners, production accountants for the film industry or environmental accountants. A CPA is well positioned to take a managerial position in a company, whereas a general accountant does not have the credentials required to do this.
There are many complex tasks required of a CPA, which a general accountant usually does not have the knowledge base to perform. For example, one of the differences between a CPA and a general accountant is that a CPA can take on the task of auditing the books for a large corporation. While a general accountant does engage in auditing, it is usually in the role of assistant to a certified public accountant. Through their courses, a CPA can discern loopholes and inconsistencies in a company’s accounting systems that may constitute fraud.
In order to specialize in an area of the accounting industry, an accountant must have CPA certification. Many people do not realize that there is a difference between a CPA and a general accountant in the types of work each one is allowed to take on. All CPA’s start out as general accountants to gain the work experience needed to be eligible to take the certification exam. It could take several years to attain a passing grade, which is usually 75%, during which time the accountant gains valuable experience in the accounting industry.