Accountant/CPA Jobs & Career Guide

What is an accountant?

An accountant, in a corporate finance setting, focuses on the internal financial health of the company. They ensure accurate record-keeping of financial transactions, prepare internal financial reports, and assist with tasks like budgeting and forecasting. Their work provides vital data and analysis for corporate finance activities like investment decisions or financial modeling.

See also our guide to staff accountant which is typically a more entry-level position compared with the one we will discuss in this guide.

Accountant responsibilities

Being an accountant in corporate finance isn’t just about crunching numbers. It’s about using your financial expertise to tell a story. You analyze financial data to assess a company’s health, identify risks and opportunities, and support strategic decision-making. You partner with other departments like investment banking or M&A to ensure financial viability in their deals. It’s a dynamic role that bridges the gap between accounting and the bigger financial picture, which keeps things interesting.
Vicky Knapp, Corporate Finance Manager

The specific responsibilities of an accountant in a corporate finance setting can vary depending on the company size, industry, and the team structure. However, here are some common duties they might handle:

  • Financial Analysis and Reporting: Analyze financial data to assess the company’s financial health, performance, and risk profile. This might involve preparing internal reports like variance analysis or cash flow forecasts to support informed decision-making.
  • Financial Modeling: Build and maintain financial models used for various purposes within corporate finance, such as investment appraisal, valuation (e.g., for M&A transactions), or budgeting and forecasting.
  • Transaction Support: Assist with financial aspects of corporate finance activities like mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or initial public offerings (IPOs). This might involve due diligence, valuation analysis, or preparing financial projections for potential investors.
  • Accounting for Special Transactions: Account for complex financial transactions specific to corporate finance, such as issuing new debt or equity, recording stock options, or implementing lease accounting standards.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure adherence to relevant accounting standards and regulations, especially when preparing financial information for external purposes.
  • Data Management and Controls: Maintain accurate and secure financial data within the corporate finance department, ensuring proper internal controls are in place.
  • Project Management: Depending on the team structure, some accountants might manage specific projects within corporate finance, overseeing tasks and deadlines.

What is the typical day of an accountant?

Accountant Careers

Here is what a typical day for a mid-level accountant working in a large software company might look like:

  • 8:30 AM: Arrive at the office, start the day by checking emails and responding to any urgent requests. This includes updates from other departments that might affect the financial forecasts or reports.
  • 9:00 AM: Attend a morning stand-up meeting with the finance team. Discuss the day’s priorities, including any closing deadlines, upcoming financial reports, or audits.
  • 9:30 AM: Work on reconciling financial discrepancies from the previous month’s reports. This involves ensuring that all transactions are accurately recorded and match up with bank statements.
  • 11:00 AM: Prepare for a monthly budget review meeting. Update the budget forecast spreadsheets with the latest numbers and analyze variances between actual spending and the budget.
  • 12:00 PM: Lunch, often a team lunch where informal discussions about ongoing projects and team activities occur.
  • 1:00 PM: Attend the budget review meeting. Present the updated forecasts and variance analysis to the department heads and discuss any necessary adjustments in spending or strategy.
  • 2:30 PM: Work on preparing quarterly financial statements. This involves collaborating with colleagues in accounting to ensure all financial data is accurate and comprehensive.
  • 4:00 PM: Meet with the internal compliance team to review alignment with financial regulations and internal policies, especially in preparation for upcoming audits.
  • 5:00 PM: Update financial dashboards and reports that track key performance indicators (KPIs) for the executive team. This may involve pulling data from various financial systems and ensuring it’s presented in an understandable format.
  • 6:00 PM: Wrap up the day by setting tasks for tomorrow, final email checks, and a brief meeting with the team lead to discuss any outstanding issues.
  • 6:30 PM: Leave the office.

How to become an accountant

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field such as finance, business administration, or economics. Ensure the program includes courses in accounting principles, auditing, taxation, and business statistics.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Internships and Entry-Level Experience

While studying, look for internship opportunities in accounting or finance departments. Internships provide practical experience, networking opportunities, and a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of an accountant. After graduation, seek entry-level positions such as a staff accountant. These roles help you develop practical skills in managing financial documents, understanding financial software, and performing basic accounting tasks.

Step 3: Pursue Professional Certifications

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): Many accountants choose to become a CPA, which is highly regarded in the field. This certification requires passing the Uniform CPA Examination and, in most states, completing 150 semester hours of college coursework—30 hours beyond the typical four-year bachelor’s degree—along with some amount of professional work experience.
  • Other Certifications: Depending on your interests and career goals, other certifications such as Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), or Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) might be relevant. Each certification has its own set of exams and qualifications.

Step 4: Develop Necessary Skills and Knowledge

Learn to use accounting software like QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel, SAP, or Oracle Financials. Stay updated on financial laws and regulations such as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Accounting Department Hierarchy

1. Entry-Level Accountant

  • Title VariationsStaff Accountant
  • Responsibilities: Handling basic accounting duties such as data entry, processing transactions, maintaining financial records, assisting with the preparation of financial statements, and reconciling accounts.
  • Requirements: Usually requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Little to no prior work experience is expected.

2. Mid-Level Accountant

  • Title Variations: Senior Accountant, Accounting Manager (depending on the size of the team)
  • Responsibilities: More complex tasks including preparing financial reports, performing variance analyses, and ensuring compliance with accounting standards. They may also supervise junior accountants and be involved in budgeting and forecasting.
  • Requirements: Typically requires several years of accounting experience and may require a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certification or equivalent.

3. Senior-Level Accountant

  • Title Variations: Senior Accountant, Lead Accountant, Accounting Supervisor
  • Responsibilities: Overseeing accounting operations, managing team members, and ensuring accurate and timely financial reporting. They often handle more strategic financial decisions and may interact directly with senior management.
  • Requirements: Extensive experience in accounting, often with a CPA certification. Strong leadership and communication skills are crucial.

4. Managerial Level

  • Title Variations: Accounting Manager, Finance Manager
  • Responsibilities: Managing the overall accounting department, developing internal controls, setting financial goals, and ensuring compliance with legal guidelines. They play a key role in financial planning and analysis and might report directly to senior executives.
  • Requirements: Deep understanding of accounting principles, excellent managerial and problem-solving skills. Often requires a CPA or similar qualification along with significant industry experience.

5. Director Level

6. Executive Level

  • Title VariationsChief Financial Officer (CFO)Vice President of AccountingVice President of Finance
  • Responsibilities: Executive management of the company’s finances, including financial planning, risk management, record-keeping, and financial reporting to higher management or the board of directors.
  • Requirements: Extensive experience in financial management and strategy, often requiring an advanced degree in finance, accounting, or business, along with certifications like CPA.

Is accountant and CPA the same thing?

No, an accountant and a CPA are not the same thing. All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs.

Here’s the key difference:

  • Accountant: This is a general term for someone who works in the field of accounting. They can work at various levels within the accounting hierarchy, from staff accountant to senior accountant. The educational requirements can vary depending on the specific role, but most accountants have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.
  • CPA (Certified Public Accountant): This is a certification that demonstrates a high level of accounting expertise and adherence to ethical standards. To become a CPA, you need to meet specific requirements beyond an accounting degree, including passing a rigorous exam, completing work experience, and maintaining continuing education.
Changes in the Hiring Process

How much do accountants earn?

The average salary for a mid-level accountant working in a corporate finance team is $73,650. For more detailed insights, see our guide to accountant salaries.

Considering an accounting career? Here are some common questions

Our career coaches work with lots of individuals looking to start or further their accounting careers and here are some of the most common questions:

I’m good with numbers but don’t love bookkeeping. Is corporate finance accounting a good fit?

While some bookkeeping tasks might be involved, corporate finance accounting goes beyond basic record-keeping. It focuses on analysis, modeling, and using financial data to support strategic decisions. If you enjoy puzzles and using numbers to tell a bigger financial story, corporate finance accounting could be a great fit.

What kind of math skills are most important for corporate finance accounting?

Strong skills in algebra, basic calculus, and statistics are crucial. You’ll use these for financial modeling, valuation analysis, and interpreting financial data. Familiarity with spreadsheet programs like Excel and financial modeling tools is also a major plus.

Do I need a CPA to work in corporate finance accounting?

A CPA is not always mandatory, but it can be a valuable asset. The CPA designation demonstrates expertise and opens doors to leadership positions or specialized areas. For entry-level or analyst roles, a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance with strong analytical skills might be sufficient.

What’s the work-life balance like for corporate finance accountants?

Work-life balance can vary depending on the company culture and specific deadlines. Busy periods, especially around M&A deals or financial reporting cycles, might involve longer hours. However, some companies in corporate finance offer good work-life balance policies.

Is a career in corporate finance accounting a good stepping stone to other financial careers?

Absolutely! The skills developed in corporate finance accounting – financial analysis, modeling, and communication – are highly transferable. It can be a strong foundation for careers in investment banking, financial planning and analysis (FP&A), or even private equity, depending on your interests and additional qualifications.

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