What Does an Accounting Assistant Do?

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Updated September 27, 2022

Accounting assistants use innovative tools to help organizations track and report financial data. See how much they make and how job experience accelerates their earning potential.

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An accounting assistant's job description includes budgeting, reporting, and bookkeeping. These finance professionals also help manage accounts and prepare financial records. Unlike accounting clerks, accounting assistants provide administrative support to an organization's accounts department.

This entry-level position requires at least an associate degree in accounting. A bachelor's degree may present more advancement opportunities.

Almost every industry needs accounting assistants. The biggest employers include finance, insurance, healthcare, and retail. An accounting assistant's specific duties depend on their industry and employer. These professionals usually work full time.

With advanced degrees and certifications, accounting assistants can progress to senior roles such as accountant, auditor, or certified public accountant (CPA). Explore this guide to learn more about the tasks and skills of an accounting assistant.

Duties of an Accounting Assistant

The exact job duties of an accounting assistant vary by industry. For instance, healthcare sector professionals may have different duties than accounting assistants who work in banking. Typically, accounting assistants manage accounts receivable and payable, handle payroll, and help with end-of-month reconciliations. Other responsibilities of an accounting assistant may include:

  • Data Entry: Basic data entry tasks for accounting assistants include logging transactions, recording and reviewing journal entries, creating invoices, and crafting spreadsheets.
  • Clerical Duties: Accounting assistants may run errands around the office. They handle incoming mail, scan and photocopy documents, and prepare quarterly reports. They also help with year-end audits and bank reconciliations.
  • Customer Service: Accounting assistants often need to communicate with vendors and customers about invoices and payments. This could be by email or phone.
  • Employee Expenses: Assisting with payroll is one of the most important parts of an accounting assistant's job description. They verify timesheets, calculate vacation and sick days, prepare checks, and assure compliance with laws and best practices.
  • Financial Reports: Accounting assistants help accounting managers create and update financial reports. They work on balance sheets, statements of income, statements of retained earnings, and cash flow statements.

Key Hard Skills of an Accounting Assistant

Payroll Accounting: Accounting assistants need excellent command over payroll functions. They should understand employee compensation, benefits and deductions, and payroll taxes. Math Skills: Accounting is mostly about numbers. Accounting assistants need sharp mathematics knowledge and error-free calculation and fact-checking skills. Accounting Software: Accounting professionals use specialized software programs such as QuickBooks. Accounting assistants who prepare and file tax returns also need proficiency with income tax software. Accounting Standards: Accounting careers demand a thorough grasp of the generally accepted accounting principles for preparing financial statements. These standards include accrual accounting methods, depreciation and capital expenditures, bad debts, handling of assets, and historical costs.

Key Soft Skills of an Accounting Assistant

Verbal and Written Communication: Accounting assistants must present financial documents and reports in an understandable format. This demands effective oral and written communication skills. Multitasking: Managing many duties on a tight deadline is part of an accounting assistant's job description. They should be able to multitask without errors. Time Management: An accounting assistant's job involves time-sensitive tasks like scheduling appointments, managing paperwork, and preparing financial reports. Time management is a key skill for an accounting role. Attention to Detail: Consistency and accuracy are essential accounting assistant skills. To find and resolve errors, these professionals need strict attention to detail and strong fact-checking ability.

Accounting Assistant Skills and Expertise

Accounting assistants can specialize in fields that cater to specific needs. As part of accounting firms, the duties of an accounting assistant include bookkeeping, data entry, auditing, and financial reporting. Other specialty jobs include:

Staff Accountant

Staff accountants maintain financial records, general ledger accounts, and journal entries. They prepare and file tax returns and help with account reconciliations and annual budgets. These professionals work under an accounting manager or a CPA.

This entry-level to mid-senior position requires at least a bachelor's degree. With higher education and experience, staff accountants can hold more advanced roles and even take charge of an accounts department.

Common Job Titles

  • General Accountant
  • Accounting Officer

Accounting Clerk

This entry-level position often requires only a high school education. An accounting clerk's duties focus on recording financial transactions. Unlike accounting assistants, clerks usually do not help with administrative tasks. Accounting clerks are well-versed in accounts payable and receivable. They need strong attention to detail for organizing documents and verifying data accuracy.

Common Job Titles

Auditor

Auditors inspect an organization's financial accounts to ensure accuracy and legal compliance. Internal auditors work within a company's accounting department. External auditors may be self-employed or work for private auditing or accounting firms.

Auditors examine financial statements and investigate fraud, errors, and malpractice. These professionals may also recommend best practices and propose cost reduction and profit improvement measures. Auditors usually start at an associate level and gradually gain seniority.

Common Job Titles

  • Public Auditor
  • Forensic Auditor
  • Payroll Auditor

Budget Analyst

Budget analysts evaluate company budgets for compliance and accuracy. They help improve budgeting efficiency, perform cost-benefit analyses, and suggest budgetary changes. Budget analysts work with financial staff and members of other departments.

Entry-level professionals help senior analysts create and implement annual budgets. Senior budget analysts usually manage a team of junior members. They report to the chief financial officer or finance department head.

Common Job Titles

How to Become an Accounting Assistant

Building an accounting assistant career takes several steps. Some entry-level jobs require only a high school education, but having at least a two-year associate degree can help candidates stand out from the competition. A four-year bachelor's degree in business or accounting may open doors to more advanced roles.

Candidates without a college degree may benefit from a professional certification. More credentials, such as a master's degree, can pave the way to certified accountant exams, which can lead to more advanced positions and higher income potential.

Accounting Assistant Salary and Career Outlook

An accounting assistant's income depends on factors like education, experience, location, and industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks earned a median annual salary of $45,560 as of 2021, while accountants and auditors took home a median $77,250.

The BLS projects accounting and auditing jobs to grow by 7% from 2020-2030, as fast as the average for all occupations. BLS projections indicate a 3% decline in jobs for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks during the same period.

Career Spotlight: Daniel Sleep

Why did you become an accounting assistant? What initially interested you about the field? true

I found myself enjoying the numbers, understanding financial data and how it is used to determine whether businesses are doing well or badly. I also like that we can use the past to assist with making better decisions within a business in the future. Accounting can be a tool as much as it is a language for displaying how a business is performing.

What education did you need to pursue this career? How did it prepare you for the accounting assistant role? true

I needed a degree in accounting. Being an accounting assistant is usually the first stepping stone to becoming an accounting professional. I initially thought I needed a master's degree too. However, as time went on, I realized I had enough credits from my bachelor's degree to take the CPA exams. That's mainly because I took a lot of extra courses.

Those that know from the start that they want to do accounting and become a CPA usually need their master's degree before they can sit for the exams. If getting a degree will be a longer journey for you but you need to work, I recommend finding entry-level accounting jobs like accounts payable clerk or accounts receivable clerk. Faster job progression tends to come after you have your degree, especially if you start at a public accounting firm.

What was the job search like after graduating with your degree? true

For myself, I had a job lined up just before graduating. That was because I joined Beta Alpha Psi and attended a lot of networking events through that society as I attended college. The largest accounting firms tend to recruit directly that way, and I was able to meet a lot of potential employers that way. Before graduating I got several calls and gave it a day or two to choose which firm I wanted to start my career at.

What did a typical day as an accounting assistant look like for you? What do you see accounting assistants doing now that may be different?

Accounting assistants do a lot of duties that involve tedious work. So the faster you can figure out how to do something, the better. The accounting assistant role can be diverse. One day you could be analyzing large amounts of data within an Excel spreadsheet to research accounting and tax regulations for your supervisor. It also depends on the firm or business you are working for.

For example, working for a small accounting firm is very different from a large public accounting firm. Many small firms focus on nonprofit reviews and audits, while large firms will do Public Company Accounting Oversight Board audits and large government audits. Likewise, working for the government will be extremely different from working at an accounting firm. The more you are familiar with different analytical software beyond Excel, like Power BI, the more of an asset you will be to your senior accountant or employer.

Was your transition from accounting assistant to CPA difficult? How did it get you ready for your current role?

It was a little uncomfortable transitioning from assistant to CPA because you feel like you need to have all the confidence and experience before leading projects or advising clients. While some of that comes with time, the resources available are there. You just have to use them. That could mean reaching out to fellow employees, old and new colleagues, and reliable internet-based sources.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as an accounting assistant? Some of the most challenging aspects?

The most rewarding aspect would be working through a problem and finding a solution that you know is right and works. Along with that is the challenge of finding those solutions. We sometimes want to naturally find what is easiest. Sometimes it requires a lot of digging and time investment before knowing which solution is best.

This is a broad explanation, but it's so applicable whether it is developing tax strategies for a business client, trying to validate data in an audit, or creating the work processes to do it. As an accounting assistant, you need to think like a manager. Ask yourself, how would I feel if I was the accounting assistant to myself? Would I want someone better?

What do you think is the most important skill accounting assistants need to succeed?

Your ability to take ownership of the work you do. Would you work just as hard if you were the accounting assistant of your own business? Managers want to see who will be their next seniors or managers. That evaluation starts on day one. Look for ways you can be more efficient and innovative. Don't be afraid to ask questions and know the learning curve is a vertical one. School teaches you accounting; work teaches you how to do it.

What advice would you give to students considering your career?

Remember that things change. You may find yourself doing more with IT and software-related work than actual accounting or auditing. Other times, you may find you misled yourself into the wrong path within the accounting profession. For me, school really pushed auditing, but I later realized that tax planning and strategy for entrepreneurs was more interesting for me. That took years for me to figure out and I hit a lot of walls. You may find the same thing. I do envy some of my colleagues who didn't have to experience that and just hit the ground running. Either way, trust your instincts on this. You want to enjoy the work you do.

As an accounting assistant, you need to think like a manager. Ask yourself, how would I feel if I was the accounting assistant to myself?
Portrait of Daniel Sleep

Daniel Sleep

Daniel Sleep is a certified public accountant (Arizona), chartered retirement planning counselor, and certified tax coach. He received his degree in accounting from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has worked as an auditor for Deloitte & Touche LLP as well as taken managerial accounting roles in many small businesses. Daniel started his accounting firm that specializes in accounting/tax services for small business owners as a way to better serve and guide the small business community.

Questions About the Accounting Assistant Job Description

What skills do accounting assistants need?

Accounting assistants must possess excellent mathematical aptitude and attention to detail. They also need problem-solving and analytical skills.

What are the responsibilities of an accounting assistant?

The duties of an accountant assistant include preparing and updating financial reports and recording transactions. These professionals also handle payroll and employee expenses and help with budgeting and reconciliations.

Is an accounting assistant an entry-level job?

Accounting assistants generally need an associate degree to secure entry-level positions. With a bachelor's degree or more, they can reach more advanced roles.

Where does an accounting assistant work?

Industries like retail, healthcare, and finance employ accounting assistants. These professionals can work at accounting firms or within an organization's accounts department.

What is the difference between an accounting assistant and a clerk?

An accounting clerk focuses on recording financial transactions. In contrast, an accounting assistant completes various tasks in the accounts department. Their duties may include processing payroll, issuing invoices, creating financial reports, and filing tax returns.


Featured Image: kate_sept2004 / E+ / Getty Images

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