What Are the Different Types of Accountants, and What Do they Do?
Broadly speaking, the role of an accountant seems to be relatively straightforward. As bookkeepers, they record the company’s expenses and finances, verifying that transactions are accurate and taxes paid.
However, while detail-oriented number-crunching remains a constant, you will realize that not all accountants are the same if you delve a bit deeper. But what are the different types of accountants?”
For business leaders, it is essential to know the differences between the various subclasses and specialties. Otherwise, you might hire someone who is imminently talented yet woefully unsuited for the task at hand.
To help you avoid that mistake, here is a list of the more common types of accountants.
Likely the first role that comes to mind when most people consider the profession, staff accountants typically operate within an entry-level position. In that role, they either act as a small business’ bookkeeper or as a team member within a larger accounting department.
Although the required tasks depend on the specific business and its needs, staff accountants are generally charged with preparing and reviewing financial documents, reports, and statements. According to Accounting.com:
“Staff accountants keep records, maintain financial reports and ledgers, prepare budgets, file billing, and complete general bookkeeping. Most staff accountants work under the supervision of a controller, director, or certified public accountant. In some cases, these accountants might also perform basic auditing tasks and ensure compliance with relevant local, state, and/or federal financial laws.”
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs.
Certified public accountants are high-level accounting professionals that have undergone rigorous training and passed the Uniform CPA Exam. The test is composed of four key sections:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
Once a prospective CPA passes their first exam, they must finish the others within 18 months.
Upon completing of this coursework, a CPA will be fully prepared to guide a business according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). In that mission, they may be charged with a variety of accounting-related tasks, including:
- Accounts payable and receivable
- Month-end close
- Transaction coding
- General ledger reconciliations
In addition to commanding a higher salary, the experience and training a CPA undergoes positions them to keep growing in their career trajectory, whether that is pursuing the role of a controller, CFO, or moving into management outside of the accounting industry.
Auditing accountants conduct inspections of a business’ ledgers to verify that the books are accurate and compliant with regulations, tax laws, or relevant industry standards. Many businesses will be legally obligated to perform such a review on an annual basis at a minimum.
This task can be accomplished by either:
- An internal auditor – An accountant whose primary focus is to regularly review internal processes to mitigate risk, ensure compliance, and find avenues for cost-saving
- An external auditor – An accountant that works as an independent specialist or on behalf of an auditing company (e.g., Deloitte) to conduct external audits on the business’ accounts
Compared to your typical accountant, an auditor is less concerned with taxes or finances and more so with governance and compliance. They help shield the business from fraud while highlighting fixable discrepancies.
Sometimes referred to as a cost accountant, a management accountant helps leadership make strategic budgetary and growth decisions. They measure the organization’s financial health by preparing and analyzing financial statements, including budgets, cash flows, and ROI on past projects. Once the review is complete, they will share their findings with management and provide recommendations related to future plans.
Common tasks include:
- Budget planning
- Financial reporting
- Profitability analysis
- Risk management
In some cases, management accountants may also oversee a team of entry-level accountants while reporting to the CPA or controller above them.
Forensic accounting is a unique and challenging role that allows number-crunchers to channel their inner detective.
A forensic accountant hunts for incidents of bribery, laundering, fraud, or embezzlement by analyzing a business’ financial records, transactions, and asset allocation. Therefore, they tend to work closely with law enforcement agencies or the IRS to sniff out crime within major financial institutions or corporations.
Because forensic accountants are dealing with complex and expansive financial and business records, they will often develop or utilize advanced computer applications to help them log, collate, and analyze the troves of the data. They then turn those findings into reports to be delivered to the client or an investigative body.
Within the hierarchy of accounting roles, the financial controller rules the roost.
As the lead accountant, the controller oversees all aspects of a company’s accounting department. While their primary focus is on accounting tasks, the right professional can also act as an interim COO or CFO for a growing business, providing the strategic analysis the business needs to scale properly.
Controllers are typically charged with:
- Managing the accounting department
- Overseeing all accounting operations, including:
- Accounts receivable
- Accounts payable
- Inventory accounting
- Cost accounting
- Revenue recognition
- General ledger
- Maintaining and organizing financial records
- Publishing reports in compliance with legal and financial regulations
- Ensuring compliance with tax filing regulations
- Setting budgets
- Preparing monthly financial statements
- Developing accounting policies to streamline operations
- Managing cash flow and debt collection
- Identifying key growth opportunities
Staff Out Your Accounting Department with CFO Hub
A company will, by necessity, interact with and rely upon various accounting professionals throughout its growth. Whether a staff accountant, CPA, or financial controller, all play crucial roles in ensuring that financial records are maintained, taxes are paid, and strategic decisions are financially sound.
Does your business need to hire a specialist? Are you looking to staff an entire accounting department?
With CFO Hub, you gain access to a diverse team of accounting professionals built to your exact specifications. Whether you require accounting and back-office support or experienced financial strategists to help guide your growth initiatives, we offer solutions that scale with your business.