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Kinds of Accountants and Their Various Job Titles

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There are three different areas of accounting: public, private, and government. Within these areas are a number of job titles. Just as an example, here are a few:

  • Managerial accountant

  • Budget accountant

  • Cost accountant

  • Systems and control accountant

  • Accounting teacher

  • Business adviser

  • Public accountant

  • Private accountant

  • Tax accountant

  • Budget forecaster

  • Auditor

  • Government accountant

  • International accountant

  • Certified public accountant (CPA)
The list could (and does) go on and on, but that should give-you some idea of the varied fields within this one field.

But first it's important to understand the differences between the three broad areas of public, private, and government accounting.

Public accountants offer their services to the general public, just as a doctor or dentist does. This person could have his own accounting firm, could be a partner in an accounting firm, or could be employed by a public accounting firm. Most large ac-counting firms have professional accountants on their staffs who work for a salary but are considered public accountants (just as a law firm has lawyers on the staff who handle general public cases). Public accountants traditionally offer their services as experts in all types of accounting (so it's important to be well-studied in all aspects of the field). It seems, however, that the two largest areas of public accounting work are auditing and tax services (more about these later). Of course, public accountants work with a wide variety of clients-business, government agencies, and nonprofit institutions, as well as private citizens.

Private accountants handle the financial records of only one organization. They receive a salary. Sometimes they are called executive or administrative accountants.

Government accountants are accountants who work for the government. But even though government is often accused of being "big business," it's much different working for the Treasury Department than it is working for a shoe factory. Government accountants are private accountants who specialize in a single type of accounting service. They often tend to become specialists in a narrow field, such as a certain branch of government like utilities or transportation.

But before we get into the life of an accountant, let's meet a bookkeeper.

Fran is the bookkeeper in a small magazine office in New York. Fran uses a simple journal and set of accounts on the advice of the public accountant he knows. (This is a very small magazine, so the bookkeeping is not terribly complicated.)

Fran begins work with a balance sheet, on which is listed all the things that the small company owns: two office chairs and two desks, one typewriter, a certain amount of money in the bank, the cash that's kept in the office, that sort of thing. Also on the balance sheet are listed the debts that the company owes: to a furniture company, to the printers, and to the typewriter leasing company. So Fran prepares an account in the name of each asset (what the company owns) and liability (what the company owes). He enters the information from the balance sheet in a ledger called the General Ledger, and then puts the various amounts in the individual accounts. Fran has set up a very simple, but adequate, set of books. And then he goes to lunch.

In a small real estate firm on the other American coast- Los Angeles-Fran's sister (also named Fran) works for a real estate firm as a bookkeeper (their family is very money- minded). On Monday, California Fran's boss has sold a house for a client. The boss collects a commission of $600. She gives the check to Fran. At the end of the morning, Fran writes the amount in the "Cash" section of her journal, because the $600 check represents cash received. Then Fran credits "Commissions," because the $600 check also represents income to the real estate company. This is called double-entry bookkeeping. Then Fran too goes to lunch.

In the course of a year, a bookkeeper may make thousands of transactions in his or her record. "You obviously have to write it all down," says one bookkeeper. "I mean, you can't keep the details of all those transactions in your head."

But these two-the magazine and the real estate office-are small businesses, requiring only a bookkeeper. Their owners, of course, hope that their businesses will flourish. And if they do, they'll probably need to hire an accountant. That doesn't mean that Fran and Fran will lose their jobs. Not at all. As bookkeepers, they will still enter figures in the books. But the accountants will look over their work, The accountant will supervise and advise. An accountant's work is complicated and takes a great deal of skill, knowledge, and responsibility. (Incidentally, the accountants working for these two businesses would be considered private accountants, because they depend on their particular businesses for their income.)
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