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In the last article and video, I talked about the different job positions you usually see in a public accounting firm. Here I’ll talk about the roles you see accountants play within a specific company.
Bookkeeper or Accounting Clerk
Someone with a bookkeeping role in a company will often be referred to as an accounting clerk, or something more specialized such as A/R Clerk (for accounts receivable), A/P Clerk (for accounts payable), Payroll Clerk, etc., depending on how big the accounting department is.
This person does most of the heavy lifting in terms of data entry and processing individual transactions.
In a smaller organization, one person may handle all of the bookkeeping and also handle a lot of the tasks described in the Staff Accountant section of this article. Smaller companies might also outsource this to an individual bookkeeper or a bookkeeping firm.
The great thing about a job in accounting is every position has a clear impact on the company’s operations and financial health. For example, the A/P Clerks or bookkeepers are helping make sure the people all the way at the top of the company have a clear idea of what the company owes to its vendors. This kind of information goes directly into the company’s plans for how to manage its cashflow, which is the lifeblood of any business.
Accountant or Staff Accountant
This person usually has a degree in accounting. They will help with and oversee parts of the bookkeeping process. Staff accountants will be responsible for more complicated month-end work like reconciliations and adjusting journal entries. They might also maintain various accounting schedules such as fixed assets and depreciation.
Larger companies may have accounting managers that oversee teams of accountants, especially for a specific function. For example, an A/P manager is responsible for overseeing all of a company’s accounts payable functions. They are accountable for processing incoming vendor invoices and making sure a company’s bills are getting paid on time.
Accounting managers are overseeing the various accounting processes to make sure they go smoothly and then report that information to the Controller or CFO.
The Controller is the head accountant at a company and reports to either the CFO or the CEO if there isn’t a CFO. They are responsible for overseeing all of the core accounting functions such as the monthly closing process and financial statement preparation. The CFO or CEO will be looking to them for financial statements.
If the company goes through an annual financial statement audit, the controller will often be the main point of contact for the auditing firm and be responsible for providing the auditors their requested documentation.
The controller may also be responsible for cashflow management and budgeting/forecasting, depending on their skills and whether or not the company has a CFO.
The Chief Financial Officer is someone who has moved beyond pure accounting responsibilities. This person is the lead of both accounting and finance. They utilize a higher level of strategic thinking, analysis, and forecasting/planning. Usually there is either a Controller or Accounting Manager who they look to for ensuring the core accounting work is getting done properly and on time, and they depend on that person to provide them with timely financial statements that they can use for decision making.
In the past, CFOs often came from the big accounting firms and had heavy auditing experience, sometimes combined with an MBA degree. This seems to be changing as more people are working through the ranks of private companies and foregoing MBAs.
Many large corporations have a dedicated tax department. They don’t usually actually prepare their own income tax returns, but they will interface with the company’s outside CPA firm who prepares the tax return. The leader of this department is usually called a Tax Director and will have a lot of experience as a tax professional in public accounting.
Accountants within a company do not usually need their CPA license. That license is specifically for people practicing public accounting who are signing off on audited financial statements or representing a client before various tax authorities. However, because of the rigorous education, exam, and experience requirements for obtaining the CPA license, many companies do prefer a licensed CPA for some positions. It is an important credibility marker, but, like I said before, isn’t necessarily required.