Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records, identify potential areas of opportunity and risk, and provide solutions for businesses and individuals. They ensure that financial records are accurate, that financial and data risks are evaluated, and that taxes are paid properly. They also assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.
Accountants and Auditors: An Inside Look
- Examine financial statements to ensure that they are accurate and comply with laws and regulations
- Compute taxes owed, prepare tax returns, and ensure that taxes are paid properly and on time
- Inspect account books and accounting systems for efficiency and use of accepted accounting procedures and identify potential risks for fraud
- Organize, analyze, and maintain financial records
- Assess financial operations, identify risks and challenges, and make best-practices recommendations to management
- Suggest ways to reduce costs, enhance revenues, and improve profits
Accountants and auditors may use technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics process automation, to increase their productivity. Automating some routine tasks makes these workers more efficient by allowing them to focus on analysis and other high-level responsibilities.
In addition to examining and preparing financial documents, accountants and auditors must explain their findings. This includes preparing written reports and meeting face-to-face with organization managers and individual clients.
Many accountants and auditors specialize, depending on their employer. Some work for organizations that specialize in assurance services (improving the quality or context of information for decision makers) or risk management (determining the probability of a misstatement on financial documents). Other organizations specialize in specific industries, such as finance, insurance, or healthcare.
The following are examples of types of accountants and auditors:
Government accountants maintain and examine the records of government agencies and audit private businesses and individuals whose activities are subject to government regulations or taxation. Accountants employed by federal, state, and local governments ensure that revenues are received and spent according to laws and regulations. Their responsibilities include auditing, financial reporting, and management accounting.
Management accountants are also called cost, corporate, industrial, managerial, or private accountants. They combine accounting and financial information to guide business decision making. They also understand financial and nonfinancial data and how to integrate information. The information that management accountants prepare is intended for internal use by business managers, not for the public.
Management accountants often prepare budgets and evaluate performance. They also may help organizations plan the cost of doing business. Some work with financial managers on asset management, which involves planning and selecting financial investments such as stocks, bonds, and real estate.
Public accountants have a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting tasks. Their clients include corporations, governments, individuals, and nonprofits.
Public accountants work with financial documents that clients are required by law to disclose, such as tax forms and financial statements that corporations must provide to current and potential investors. Some public accountants concentrate on tax matters, advising corporations about the tax advantages of certain business decisions or preparing individual income tax returns.
Other public accountants specialize in forensic accounting, investigating financial crimes such as securities fraud and embezzlement, bankruptcies and contract disputes, and other complex and potentially criminal financial transactions. Forensic accountants combine their knowledge of accounting and finance with law and investigative techniques to determine if an activity is illegal. Many forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement personnel and lawyers during investigations and often appear as expert witnesses during trials.
Still others work with individuals, advising them on important personal financial matters. These public accountants combine their expertise in data management, economics, financial planning, and tax law to develop strategies for their clients. Advisory services cover topics including cash flow, insurance, investment, retirement, and wealth transfer planning to help clients meet financial goals, such as retirement, paying for a child’s education, or buying a home.
Public accountants, many of whom are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), generally have their own businesses or work for public accounting firms. Publicly traded companies are required to have CPAs sign documents they submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including annual and quarterly reports.
External auditors check for proper management of an organization’s funds, sources of revenue, and internal controls, such as financial data preparation or managing risks to cybersecurity or the supply chain. They are employed by an outside organization, rather than the one they are auditing. They review clients’ financial statements and inform authorities, investors, and regulators that the statements have been correctly prepared and reported with no material misstatements.
Information technology (IT) auditors review controls for their organization’s IT systems to ensure that both financial and nonfinancial data come from a reliable source.
Internal auditors have duties that are similar to external auditors, but these workers are employed by the organization they are auditing. They identify ways to improve the processes for finding and eliminating waste, fraud, and other financial risks to the organization. The practice of internal auditing is not regulated, but the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) provides generally accepted standards.