If you are a recent graduate from university and have completed a degree in accounting, then you are more than likely ready to begin looking for a job to start your career, potentially in business accounting. You might also be a student halfway through your course or thinking about starting to study accounting and are looking ahead to weigh up your options.
Either way, in this article we will look to discuss what accounting is generally, and more so what it means to be a business accountant, including the responsibilities that it entails.
A Quick Look at Accounting as a Whole
As it is such a varied field of occupation, with many different roles and positions, it can be hard to state exactly what accounting is.
Let's look at a definition from Xero, one of the leading accounting software firms in Australia and New Zealand.
Xero Definition of Accounting
"Business accounting is the systematic recording, analysing, interpreting and presenting of financial information. Accounting may be done by one person in a small business, or by different teams in large organisations. Accounting is the way a business keeps track of its operations. Accountants analyse the business finances so the owner can make better decisions. This information is organized into reports that show the financial health of a business.Accounting helps business owners meet their compliance obligations. It also helps them make smart decisions with their money."
You might notice a few choice words throughout this definition, including:
- Systematic recording
- Financial information
Perhaps obviously, the words used are key indicators of what you need to be successful as an accountant; Attention to detail, organisational skills, and numerical literacy.
You can also find a glossary of other accounting terms and phrases on Xero's website.
A Closer Look at Business Accounting
What An Accountant Does
Professional accountants are the backbone of any business or company, big or small, providing essential financial advice and assistance to help keep businesses profitable and legal.
The responsibilities of accountants can vary hugely depending on what kind of company they work for, one day an accountant might organise the payroll and tax for staff members, and the next they might present a financial expenses forecast to the CEO. As the previous definition mentioned, you are likely to work in a team of accountants to tackle these tasks together.
Payroll only comes round once a fortnight however, so accountants need to fill their day with other tasks; Mainly recording and processing financial information to create reports on budgets, expenses, cost, profit, and so on.
Accountants may specialise in many areas of practice, including tax and auditing. No matter what you specialise in though, you will still need to abide by the rules, standards, and principles of accounting that are required in Australia.
Some of the day to day tasks a certified public accountant (CPA) might have are:
- Management and maintenance of financial records and systems accounts software, and payroll software
- Processing internal or external financial audits, reporting to management about the state of company finances
- Meeting with the management of a business, investors, or individual clients if freelancing to offer services like financial advice
Working in an Accounting Department
Another important thing that every accountant should have is interpersonal skills. This is because, unless you freelance or work for a small business, you are likely to be working in a team of accountants to meet deadlines and complete tasks.
The accounting department in any business is in charge of the money, they need to know where it is and what it is being used for at all times. This means money being used for staff salary, investments, goods and assets, amenities fees, etc.
In a large accounting department, you might come across many different job titles and positions, a few of these are:
- Junior Accountant
- Financial Analyst
- Accounting Clerk
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
If you are interested in learning more about accounting or want to take extra revision lessons through your studies, check out online accounting classes.
Starting a Career in Business Accounting
Not everyone will think of accountancy as their ideal field of work, but many people don't know about the range of benefits that working as a CPA affords you.
Accounting is a reliable, stable and secure profession that offers well-paid positions and a lot of room for growth and promotions.
Perhaps you think that you have the key skills we mentioned earlier for becoming an accountant: Organisation, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, and numerical literacy. If you do, then working in business accountancy could be just right for you, but it's important that you understand the rules, standards, and principles of accounting so that you can practise legally, ethically, and efficiently.
To become a certified accountant in Australia, you normally would need a bachelor or masters degree in accounting. This will take about 3 or 4 years, but will allow you to become a member of one of the three legally recognised accounting bodies in Australia:
- CPA Australia
- Chartered Accountants Australis & New Zealand
- Institute of Public Accountants (IPA)
To save some time and money, you can also start practising as an accountant outside of these three bodies if you take an accredited CPA course. These can be done online or in-person at locations around Australia and allow you to work as a private accountant or bookkeeper for small businesses.
Furthering Your Education in Accountancy
We've briefly looked at what qualifications you need to start your career as an accountant, but now let's look at how you can progress it further once you have a bit more experience.
One of the best ways to improve your reputation as an accountant in Australia is to become a member of one of the three accounting institutes that we mentioned above. Each of these institutes has thousands of members who work as part of a community to make changes within their line of work.
Accounting institutes will provide their members with access to education, resources, technical support, and access to postgraduate study options.
Furthermore, you can choose to specialise in a field of your discretion and become a chartered accountant. This is a requirement if you wish to join the Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand Institute.
There are many areas that you could choose to specialise in to become a chartered accountant, some of them include:
- Business Valuation
- Self-Managed Super Funds
- Forensic Accounting
- Financial Planning
The Chartered Accountants institute offers several post-graduate courses in these areas that would allow already certified accountants to upskill and gain niche knowledge and experience.
You can also find postgraduate or even PHD courses to study at universities in Sydney, Melbourne, and elsewhere in Australia. There are no limits to how far you can take your education in accounting.
Work Your Way to Promotion
As with any new career, it's unlikely that you will want to stay in the first position you are offered for very long. If you are an ambitious person you will be looking for opportunities and be eager to rise to the top.
However, even if you have completed a university masters degree you will still need to prove that you have the skills of an accountant and are able to put them into practice in order to be successful in applying for job opportunities.
When writing your CV, think about how your previous work and study experience proves that you have organisational and interpersonal skills, as well as being good with numbers, and attentive to detail.
It can also help massively to have real experience working at an accounting firm. You might consider applying for internships during your studies or going on work experience placements in your spare time.
All of this can show that you hold skills that are desirable to employers, and improve your chances of earning better positions within a company.
After you have secured a job, it's a good idea to pay attention to what is going on around you and keep your ears open to learn anything new from more experienced colleagues. If you work hard and show initiative, you might find that you make your way from junior accountant to accountant that little bit sooner.
A Summary of Business Accounting
Just to recap, let have a look at some of the main ideas behind business accounting:
- Business accountants are responsible for recording, analysing, interpreting, and maintaining financial records for a company
- Accounting departments will share responsibilities that are delegated to a team by a CFO, unless in a small business with a small team
- Businesses rely on accounting to keep track of its money and assets, as well as managing budgets and forecasting expenses
- Accountants provide financial advice integral to a company's success in regard to investment plans and audits
- Accountants assist management teams to adhere to Australian laws in regards to accounting
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