Career Options in Finance and Accounting
By: Blythe Camenson
Almost every company -- from small, one-person operations to huge mega-corporations -- needs help with their books, balancing the budget and investing wisely.
Let's look at several jobs in the finance and accounting field, as well as the duties and training involved.
Accountants and Auditors prepare, analyze and verify financial reports and taxes, and monitor systems that furnish this information to managers in all business, industrial and government organizations.
Following are four major fields within accounting:
Government accountants and auditors maintain and examine records of government agencies, as well as audit private businesses and individuals whose activities are subject to government regulations or taxation. (The IRS falls under this category.)
Public accountants have their own businesses or work for public accounting firms. They perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax and consulting activities for corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations or individuals.
Management accountants (also called industrial, corporate or private accountants) record and analyze their company's financial information.
Internal auditors verify accuracy of their organization's records and check for mismanagement, waste or fraud. Within each field, accountants often concentrate on one accounting phase. For example, many public accountants concentrate on tax matters, such as preparing individual income tax returns and advising companies of tax advantages and disadvantages.
As in most professions, accountants can start at entry-level jobs and work their way up the corporate ladder. Some titles include:
- Junior accountant
- Staff accountant (one to three years' experience)
- Senior accountant (three to six years' experience)
- Manager (six to nine years' experience)
- Partner (this level is coveted -- only about two percent of all people entering CPA firms reach this level)
Qualified accountants and auditors should have many job opportunities over the next few years, with CPAs having the widest range. Auditing professionals with IPO and/or e-Commerce experience are in particularly high demand, as the need for expertise in these areas is exploding.
Most public accounting and business firms require accountant and internal auditor applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Many states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of course work prior to taking the CPA exam, and many schools have altered their curricula accordingly. Some employers prefer a master's degree in accounting or in business administration, with a concentration in accounting.
Budget Analysts decide how to distribute limited finances. They play the primary role in budget development, analysis and execution for allocating current resources and estimating future requirements. Without effective analysis and feedback about budgetary problems, many private and public organizations could face bankruptcy.
Entry-level budget analysts may receive some formal training when they begin their jobs, but most employers feel that working through one complete budget cycle is the best training. During the cycle, typically one year, analysts become familiar with various budgeting process steps. The federal government, on the other hand, offers extensive on-the-job and classroom training for entry-level trainees.
Despite increased demand for budget analysts, job competition should remain keen because of the substantial number of qualified applicants. Those with master's degrees should have the best job opportunities.
Credit Analysts have varied duties, depending upon job level.
Junior or staff credit analysts work under the direction of a senior or manager in collection activity and credit approval practices.
Senior analysts supervise in collection follow-up, operations, credit approval practice management and collection/audit activity analyses.
Managers direct staff and provide detailed analyses of collection/audit activity to upper management.
Financial Analysts work in the areas of:
- Profit planning
- Capital expenditures
- Cash flow budgeting
Senior analysts and management supervise staff in performing financial/economic analyses of new projects and of merger and corporate growth policies.
The usual minimum academic preparation for credit and financial analysts is either:
- Bachelor's degree in accounting or finance
- Business administration degree with emphasis in accounting or finance
However, employers are increasingly valuing a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.). Promoting experienced, technically skilled, professional personnel fills many financial management positions, such as:
- Budget analysts
- Credit analysts
- Insurance analysts
- Loan officers
- Securities analysts
- Accounting or related department supervisors in large institutions
In some cases, financial managers may also broaden their skills and exhibit competency in specialized fields by attaining professional certification. For example, the Association for Investment Management and Research confers the Chartered Financial Analyst designation to investment professionals who:
- Have a bachelor's degree
- Pass three test levels
- Have three or more years of experience in the field
The National Association of Credit Management administers a three-part certification program for business credit professionals.
Cash management staff -- take care of daily cash management functions, such as preparing cash flow reports and forecasts.
Lending officers -- make loans to businesses and consumers.
Controllers -- manage day-to-day collections and interpret accounting data. Job rankings range from assistant to chief financial officer.
Treasurers -- deal mainly with receiving, disbursing and protecting cash; preserving company assets; and investing surplus funds or pension and trust funds.
Stockbrokers and financial advisors -- help clients invest their funds.
If you have a head for figures, a career in finance and accounting may be just what the stockbroker ordered. But even if you're not a high roller who enjoys the fast-paced, high finance world, plenty of opportunities await you in this field.