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Types of Accountants
and What They Do

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Different Types of Accountants and What They Do

If you enjoy working with numbers, are detail-oriented, and organized, a career in accounting may be right for you.

An accountant is responsible for interpreting and maintaining financial records for individuals or organizations and may prepare and examine financial records as well as provide financial advice.

There are many types of accountants, including:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Management Accountant (including “cost” and “staff” accountant)
  • Chartered Accountant (CA)
  • Auditor
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Government Accountant
  • Tax Examiner
  • Investment Accountant
  • Project Accountant
  • Financial Advisor

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

A certified public accountant (CPA) is an accountant who has successfully passed the Uniform CPA Examination®. This exam consists of four sections covering the fundamentals of accounting, as well as more complex topics including: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). In addition to passing the Uniform CPA Examination, CPA’s qualifications generally include earning a four-year degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, and one to three years of professional work experience.1

CPA’s ensure businesses and individuals follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the set of accounting principles, standards, and procedures issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). They often handle a variety of accounting tasks, including tax preparation, financial planning, audits, and more, but may choose to focus on one particular area.

CPAs work mainly in the public accounting, corporate accounting for business and industry, government, not-for-profit, and education sectors. Because of their expertise, CPAs can potentially advance to high-level positions such as chief financial officer. 

2. Management Accountant

A management accountant (also known as a cost accountant, staff accountant, or industrial accountant) helps companies budget and perform better by identifying, measuring, analyzing, interpreting and communicating information to managers. In addition, they prepare data for use within a company by forecasting cash flows, creating budgets, and analyzing the rate of return for short and long-term projects.

Management accountants often advise senior management on financial decisions. They may also maintain the company’s financial system and oversee a team of entry-level accountants who perform bookkeeping and other duties. Because of this, a four-year degree is generally required.

3. Chartered Accountant

Similar to a CPA, a chartered accountant (CA) is an international accounting designation granted to accounting professions in countries other than the United States. CA’s focus on four main areas within the accountancy field: taxation, financial accounting and reporting, applied finance, and management accounting.

4. Auditor

An auditor is a person who exams financial records to verify their accuracy and ensure they are in compliance with tax laws, regulations, and any other applicable accounting standards. They point out discrepancies and offer guidance for correction. Auditors also help protect businesses from fraud and also help businesses increase operational efficiencies.

There are two main types of auditors: internal and external. Internal auditors are company employees and examine issues related to the company’s financial and business practices. External auditors work independently of the company or individual they are auditing and examine the financial records and issue an opinion regarding the financial statements of the company.

Both internal and external auditors work a variety of different industries, including public and private companies. Generally, auditors work as part of a team or department, but some auditors work from home, while others travel to their clients’ places of business.

5. Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants carefully analyze, interpret, and summarize complex financial and business records to determine their accuracy and importance. They may also develop computer applications to manage the information collected and deliver this information to clients.

Forensic accountants are often employed by insurance companies, banks, government agencies, or even public accounting firms. Because forensic accounting provides financial analysis that is suitable for use in legal proceedings, forensic accountants may give expert evidence during trials.

6. Government Accountant

Government accountants work in all branches of government, including local, state, and federal agencies, managing public funds, investigating white-collar crimes, and performing system audits. They must possess a knowledge of government statutes, as well as tax, business codes, and other regulations for both public and private sectors.

Government accountants working at the state level may help cities budget funds and evaluate the viability of using public funds for community infrastructure projects. They may work closely with regulatory groups such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on both a local and federal level. To earn a job as a government accountant, a bachelor’s degree in accounting is typically required and a CPA or MBA is preferred.

7. Investment Accountant

Investment accountants work specifically in brokerage and asset management firms and maintain investments for their clients. Working with asset managers and brokers, investment accountants process the investments and may also provide financial consulting and advice. Additionally, investment accountants may be responsible for helping develop the firm’s key financial strategies, as well as prepare tax reports on investment accounts.

To earn a job as an investment accountant, you typically need an undergraduate degree in accounting or a related major. The role also requires a strong knowledge of state and federal regulations of how investments should be maintained, reported, and managed.

8. Project accountant

A project accountant focuses on the needs of project delivery, including tracking, reporting, and analyzing the financial results of a project. Project accountants provide regular reports to management and executives on whether a company’s project is over or under budget. They may also draft project proposals so teams can see the financial scope of a project, including how much it could potentially cost or earn.

Project accountants work closely with project managers, accounting teams, and even external suppliers. They are often hired by engineering firms and construction companies, but can find jobs in all sectors including private, government, non-profit, and education.

To find a job as a project accountant in any sector, a bachelor’s degree in accounting and some experience is strongly recommended.

9. Tax Examiner

A tax examiner reviews federal, state, and local tax returns filed by small businesses and individuals. They determine how much is owed in taxes and collect this tax on behalf of the government.

Tax examiners check tax returns for accuracy and completeness, review and code tax returns for processing, and list and work to resolve errors. They may also discuss issues with taxpayers, such as missing or incorrect information or if they have over or underpaid.

Tax examiners work for federal, state, and local governments. While many work in an office environment, some tax examiners do field audits in taxpayers’ homes or places of business.

10. Financial advisor

A financial advisor helps individuals make short and long-term decisions about how they should spend or invest their money and create personalized financial plans that aim to help clients achieve their financial goals. Some topics they discuss with clients include investing, insurance, tax strategies, saving, and budgeting.

A four-year degree can help you qualify to become a financial advisor, and you are required to pass certain exams administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Because of this, a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance can provide a solid foundation for preparing for a role as a financial advisor. 

How to Become an Accountant

For many of these specialized accounting roles, you’ll need to earn your Bachelor of Science in Accounting or a similar degree to become an accountant and gain work experience. This can help you determine the best type of accounting for you. An advanced degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in accounting or a post-graduate certificate in accounting and finance can help prepare you for more senior or leadership roles, as well as increase your salary potential.

Learn more about our accounting degree options

CTA Bg

1. This Bachelor of Science in Accounting program at Herzing University does not fulfill all of the requirements for a graduate to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam or apply for licensure as a CPA in most states/jurisdictions. Most states/jurisdictions require a specific amount of study beyond a bachelor’s degree (typically, a total of 150 semester credit hours, but this varies by jurisdiction) as well as several years of professional experience working in accounting to be eligible to apply for licensure. Some states (including, but not necessarily limited to, Texas) require the program to have specific programmatic accreditation for graduates to apply for licensure as a CPA, which this program does not have at this time, and no representation has been made as to when or if such an accreditation will be obtained. Applicants interested in becoming a CPA should check with their state board of accountancy regarding CPA eligibility requirements prior to enrolling in any accounting program. Students planning to pursue certifications other than the CPA exam should also contact the respective certifying organization to confirm requirements for certification prior to enrolling in any accounting program.

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