What Does a Staff Accountant Do?

Staff accountants have specific skills that enable them to perform crucial services. Learn what staff accountants do and what the job requirements are.

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Staff accountants typically pursue a degree in accounting. Upon completion of an accredited accounting program, graduates gain competencies and skills in accounting theory, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), financial statement preparation and analysis, and the professional accounting code of conduct.

Staff accountants create and maintain financial records and financial statements. Business leaders employ these skilled professionals in settings like public accounting firms, corporate accounting departments, and nonprofit organizations.

While they may work part time or under contract, many staff accountants work full time, supporting clients, managers, and other employees. With experience, these professionals can move into leadership roles. Senior-level staff accountants supervise accounting staff, prepare tax returns, or even manage entire departments.

This article explores staff accountant responsibilities, skills, specialties, and career outlook.

Staff Accountant Duties

Staff accountants record financial transactions by following GAAP. Properly recorded financial transactions yield GAAP-compliant financial statements. These documents include income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and statements of shareholders' equity.

Staff accountants with accredited degrees are educated about GAAP compliance standards to ensure transparency and consistency in their work. These principles apply across different organizations and industries.

Professionals like staff accountants perform various accounting, bookkeeping, and financial duties, including recording financial transactions, reviewing financial statements, evaluating accounting systems, calculating tax liability, and recommending accounting best practices. Common staff accountant tasks include:

  • Preparing and Organizing Financial Transactions: To meet reporting deadlines and support month- and year-end close processes, staff accountants balance and maintain accounting ledgers. They prepare, verify, allocate, and post journal entries in accordance with GAAP standards.
  • Compiling and Reviewing Financial Statements: After recording transactions, staff accountants analyze their journal entries before generating financial statements. Stakeholders need these financial statements to guide decision-making when evaluating a company's financial health.
  • Evaluating Accounting Systems: Staff accountants categorize the strengths and weaknesses of an accounting system with their knowledge of relevant processes. They inspect the design, documentation, and controls of these systems to assess their effectiveness when capturing and recording transactions.
  • Confirming Tax Liability: Staff accountants may calculate tax liability as part of their job responsibilities. This includes preparing and filing tax returns for individuals and businesses after calculating income, deductions, and credits. Staff accountants may also audit financial statements to ensure accuracy and compliance with tax laws.
  • Recommending Accounting Best Practices: Staff accountants equip decision-makers with the financial data needed to solve business problems. For instance, once they record, organize, and analyze financial transactions, staff accountants can identify and report accounting trends. Recommendations to reduce expenses and increase revenue encourage efficient use of resources.

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Key Hard Skills for Staff Accountants

  • Regulatory Compliance: Accounting professionals routinely lead or supervise initiatives designed to implement regulatory changes or safeguard existing accounting practices. Knowledgeable accountants must develop policies and procedures aligned with financial standards and regulations. Skilled staff accountants quickly initiate corrective action when warranted.
  • Applying GAAP: Staff accountants must consistently apply GAAP when preparing financial statements. GAAP standards include revenue recognition policies like the accrual basis accounting requirement, which recognizes revenue and expenses when earned or incurred, rather than after received or paid.
  • Technology Proficiency: Staff accountants need proficiency with accounting software. These programs, including QuickBooks and spreadsheet software, help record and track companies' financial transactions. As companies continue digitizing their operations, maintaining digital records through accounting software is a crucial component of keeping a business organized.

Key Soft Skills for Staff Accountants

  • Analytical Skills: Reviewing financial statements, preparing tax returns, and auditing financial records all require keen analytical skills. For instance, to meet financial reporting deadlines, staff accountants analyze transactions while creating journal entries.
  • Attention to Detail: Staff accountants must be detail-oriented to detect errors in financial documents and accounting transactions. They identify discrepancies and make corrections to ensure companies' financial reporting is accurate.
  • Time Management: Because staff accountants often juggle multiple tasks and deadlines, time management is crucial. Many staff accountants complete work for several projects at once, liaising with managers, clients, and other members of the accounting staff.

What Is a Staff Accountant's Expertise?

Many staff accountants work in accounting firms, where they specialize in auditing, tax, or consulting services. In corporate accounting departments, they often prepare financial statements, manage budgets, or perform cost analysis.

Staff accountants may also guide accounts payable and receivable functions or coordinate budgeting and forecasting responsibilities. They may even advise business leaders about financial planning and auditing. Specialty jobs can include:

Budget Analysts

A budget analyst evaluates organizations' budgets for accuracy and compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Budget analysts also develop and improve budgeting methods, prepare cost-benefit analyses, and evaluate proposed changes to the budget.

Budget analysts need strong analytical, mathematical, and communication skills. They typically work in office environments alongside financial and nonfinancial staff.

Entry-level budget analysts work as part of a team to develop the budget or support senior staff in building and implementing annual plans. Senior positions may manage a team of budget analysts or work with senior management to develop and implement the initial budget draft. These professionals typically report to the head of the budgeting department or the chief financial officer.

Common Job Titles

  • Budget analyst
  • Financial analyst
  • Budget officer
  • Financial services officer
  • Policy analyst

Tax Accountants

A tax accountant prepares and files tax returns and tracks tax records. They utilize tax software and have strong math skills. Tax accountants prepare a variety of returns, including individual income tax returns, corporate tax returns, and estate tax returns. These professionals traditionally work in offices or as self-employed consultants.

Entry-level roles for tax accountants include tax preparer and administrative support. Senior roles include tax manager and tax director. Tax accountants typically report to a financial manager or a controller.

Common Job Titles

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants investigate financial crimes. They use their accounting expertise to detect and investigate fraud and other financial infractions. These accounting professionals gather evidence, interview witnesses, and interpret findings.

Forensic accountants often work with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to build cases against suspects. These experts may also work for public accounting firms, law firms, or government agencies. Qualified candidates may work for private companies or organizations at risk of fraud and other financial crimes.

Entry-level roles for forensic accountants include working as research assistants or analysts. Senior examiners may lead investigations or testify in court as expert witnesses.

Common Job Titles

  • Forensic auditor
  • Investigator auditor

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How to Become a Staff Accountant

To become a staff accountant, employers typically require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Bachelor's degrees usually take four years of full-time study to complete. Aspiring accountants take coursework covering accounting principles, auditing, taxation, and financial accounting.

Once hired, many employers encourage staff accountants to become certified public accountants (CPAs). To become a CPA, candidates must pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants-administered Uniform CPA Examination.

All states require prospective CPAs to complete 150 credit hours of higher education coursework. Because most bachelor's degrees only require 120 credit hours, some professionals pursue a master's degree in accounting to earn an additional credential while fulfilling the minimum education requirements for the CPA exam.

Besides passing the exam, most states require CPAs to have experience working in the accounting field.

Staff Accountant Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for accountants and auditors will grow 7% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reports 74% of organizations who hired at least one accounting degree graduate in 2021 expected to hire the same number or higher numbers of graduates in 2022, a finding which demonstrates hiring at many organizations has remained consistent.

According to BLS data, the median annual wage for all accountants and auditors was $77,250 as of 2021. Payscale reports staff accountants specifically earn an average annual salary of $52,950 as of June 2022. Factors influencing income include experience, education, industry, and geographic location.

Career Spotlight: Tasha Averill, CPA

I like helping small business owners succeed by giving them a clear picture of their business through financial statements.

Why did you become a staff accountant? What initially interested you about the field?

I became an accountant because I liked the wide range of career opportunities that it made available. It's not only public accounting; you can also work in any industry as an accountant in a variety of ways.

What education did you need to pursue this career? How did it prepare you for your current role?

I needed a BS in accounting, but I continued on to get my MS in accounting and my CPA license. Continuing to get your master's isn't necessary, but I found it helped me to get a deeper understanding of accounting. I would say if you go into public accounting, a CPA license is needed, but even if you don't, the amount that you learn studying for the exams is a big help.

What was the job search like after graduating with your degrees?

I did most of my job search while pursuing my degree through networking and interning. When I finished my master's, I had a full-time offer, so it wasn't a traditional job search.

What was the career path that led you to this position? What do you think helped you most on your journey to becoming a staff accountant?

I started off interning at Ernst & Young (EY) and working as a bookkeeper for my university during my undergraduate. During my graduate year, I worked as an internal auditor for my university, which became my full-time job after completing my master's.

I then started at EY full time for a year before joining Concannon Miller, where I have worked for about three years. I think each of these steps along my journey helped me to find where in accounting I wanted to work. I was able to gain a lot of experience and ask questions to people with varied experiences.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

There is a lot of variety in my day-to-day work. I usually work on small business tax returns, reviews, and compilations. I also work on employee benefit plan audits, projections, and 990s throughout the year.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as a staff accountant? Some of the most challenging aspects?

I like helping small business owners succeed by giving them a clear picture of their business through financial statements. The most challenging aspect is juggling the needs of multiple clients and managers. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to balance it all, but it is easier with practice and keeps things interesting.

What do you think is the most important skill staff accountants need to succeed?

Organization is key to keeping track of all of your work. There are often open items causing you to put work down and go back to it. Staying organized is key to having a smooth transition back into the work after not looking at it and making sure the client is getting the information to you on time.

What advice would you give to students considering your career?

Get your CPA exams done during college if possible, or as soon as you can. It is a huge help to have it done since it takes so much time and dedication.

Portrait of Tasha Averill

Tasha Averill

Tasha Averill, CPA, is a staff accountant at Concannon Miller, a CPA and business advisory firm headquartered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She works on small business returns, reviews, and compilations, along with tax projections and employee benefit plan audits. She is a graduate of Binghamton University with both a bachelor's and master's in accounting.

Questions About the Staff Accountant Job Description

What are a staff accountant's duties?

Staff accountant prepare financial reports, work with management on financial planning, and coordinate accounts payable and receivable. Duties often vary by organization.

What skills should a staff accountant have?

Skills staff accountants must demonstrate include assessing problems to find solutions; effectively communicating with colleagues, clients, and upper management; and maintaining organization to keep track of deadlines, projects, and client information.

What specializations can staff accountants have?

Common specializations for accountants include auditing, tax, and forensic accounting. The auditing specialization examines and evaluates financial statements to ensure accuracy and consistency. Tax specialists prepare tax returns with the goal of reducing tax liability. Forensic accountants uncover fraud and other financial crimes.

Where does a staff accountant work?

Staff accountants work in a variety of settings, such as public accounting firms, corporate accounting departments, and nonprofit organizations. They can work remotely or in a traditional office setting.

Is staff accountant a good career?

The BLS projects 7% growth for accounting and auditing careers from 2020 to 2030, demonstrating a continued need for these professionals in the coming years. BLS salary data also shows that accountants earn higher-than-average wages.

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