An Overview of Public Accounting
Public accountants assist individuals and corporations with a variety of financial tasks, including computing and filing income taxes, reviewing financial records, staying up to date on fiscal regulations, creating financial statements and providing general accounting advice. Whether they are working in private practice or for an accounting firm, public accountants are responsible for understanding the needs of each client and helping them make the most cost-effective decisions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently reports that there are more than 1.6 million public accountants employed as of May 2013, not including those self-employed in private practice. Demand is predicted to increase 13% from 2012 to 2022, meaning an additional 208,000 jobs will be added to the workforce. In general, demand for accounting professionals increases proportionately with economic growth, though an additional boost is expected due to expanding auditing and compliance requirements stemming from new financial regulations.
Pursuing the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential is highly recommended for anyone entering the public accounting field, as it is a minimum requirement for nearly all employment opportunities and also confirms an applicant’s grip on the essential knowledge and skills of accounting. CPAs can also choose a specialization focusing on a specific service (e.g., taxes, auditing, consulting, forensic accounting), industry (e.g., government, aviation, manufacturing, information technology), or type of client (e.g., small business, investors, nonprofits).
Public Accounting Careers
Public accounting expertise is required in a wide range of business, government and nonprofit settings, with CPAs working under a number of job titles. From entry-level “staff accountant” at a small company to senior-level “partner” at a large firm, public accountants are in demand and have opportunities for advancement and specialization throughout their careers. Major responsibilities include:
- Maintain financial data and create reports for clients
- Audit financial records for accuracy as well as compliance with laws and regulations
- Calculate income and other taxes; prepare and submit returns and related documentation
- Provide advice on a wide range of topics related to decision making about costs, expenditures and financial practices
- Use specialized accounting software and accounting management systems to maintain data and monitor financial trends
- Communicate effectively in the context of a business environment
Career paths in accounting can vary by industry and individual employer. Potential job titles include budget analyst, tax examiner, external auditor, business systems analyst or compliance professional. The following profiles include general expectations for public accounting positions from the first job after graduation to senior executive roles.