From forensic accounting to tax accounting, accounting is a vast profession, and there are many career paths that accountants can pursue. However, the initial education and training of accountants in different specialties will often overlap. Explore the education requirements and roles of the different types of accountants to determine which area of the field interests you most.
Types of Accountants
Some of the main types of accountants include:
- Public accountants
- Management accountants
- Tax accountants
- Government accountants
- Forensic accountants
Degree Requirements for Accountants
Regardless of specialty, almost all accounting jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some employers prefer hiring candidates who have a master’s degree in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting. Many schools also offer a five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting. The curriculum for accounting programs will often cover topics such as:
- Different financial accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Cost accounting
- Accounting information systems
- Principles of taxation
- Financial statement analysis
Certification for Accountants
The two chief certifications for practicing accounting are the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credentials. The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential is also an available certification for accountants who are tasked with investigating the accounting practices of others.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Becoming a CPA requires you to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework, which is 30 hours more than the usual four-year bachelor’s degree. CPA candidates also have to pass all four parts of the Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential to applicants who have a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience in management accounting, pass a two-part exam, and agree to meet continuing education requirements.
The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) Credential
The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) is a voluntary certification. In order to become a CFE, you must be a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and sit for an exam.
Overview of Accounting Careers
Although all of the different types of accountants have many education requirements in common, their job responsibilities will differ.
Public accountants offer an array of services, including accounting, auditing, and tax and consulting activities. Public accountants may work for companies, non-profit organizations, individuals or government entities. They are required to obtain their CPA.
Management accountants generally produce information for internal use by a company’s management team. For example, management accountants may produce budgets and forecasts that enable managers to guide a company’s future financial performance. Management accountants also help with performance evaluation, cost control, and other activities. Management accountants are required to obtain their CMA license.
Tax accountants focus on tax issues. They work to minimize an individual or organization’s tax liabilities, assist with tax compliance, and provide advice regarding the consequences of specific activities. A major part of working as a tax accountant involves preparing local, state, and federal tax returns. Tax accountants must obtain their CPA license.
Government accountants work for local, state, and federal government agencies. Their job is to ensure that government funds are being spent properly and that taxes are paid. Government accountants maintain and examine the records of government agencies and audit individuals and businesses whose activities are subject to government regulations or taxation. Investigating white-collar crime is a major part of what government accountants do, so earning a certified fraud examiner (CFE) credential could enhance your job prospects.
Forensic accountants combine accounting knowledge with investigative skills to uncover fraudulent activity. Forensic accountants perform research to trace funds and identify assets for recovery, prepare analytical data for litigation, and prepare forensic accounting reports, among other tasks. Many employers encourage forensic accountants to obtain a CPA or CFE license.
Employment Outlook for Accountants
Accountants continue to be in demand, despite slow economic growth. There has been an increased focus on accounting as a result of stricter laws and regulations in the financial sector, corporate scandals, and financial crises. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of accountants is projected to grow 13% from 2012 to 2022. The median annual wage of accountants and auditors was $65,080 in May 2013.
Choosing an Accounting Career
If you are analytical, good at math, and capable of working with business systems and computers, becoming an accountant may be right for you. When determining which type of accountant you would like to become, you should evaluate your talents and interests, as well as on how much training you are willing to undergo. After you have finished exploring the roles that various types of accountants play, be sure to select an accounting program that will help you to achieve your goals.