What Does An Accountant Really Do? Fave Rerun

By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA

I’m not sure who Chloe Dowley is or Chloe’s level of expertise, but I do know that she has written some articles that were published on Yahoo’s Education pages. I became aware of Chloe when an article she had written for Yahoo! Education – here’s the link http://education.yahoo.net/degrees/articles/featured_8_careers_to_help_lower_your_stress_meter.html was forwarded to me by someone who like me is an accountant. This other accountant was awe struck by the content and wanted to get my opinion. The title of the article is: “Need a Less Stressful Career? Here are Eight Secrets to Work Zen”.

Cool – work zen sounds good. Right?

Chloe goes on to explain that one must understand the enemy [I assume she is referring to the readers current job] and she describes a nail biting stressed out employee who is sitting in front of his computer at 11 p.m. at night trying to meet a work deadline. But no fear, Chloe has an answer for how to fight off this terrible enemy – train for a new – less stressful career. And what job do you suppose was her top pick for eliminating those late night nail biting scenarios? You guessed it – why not be an accountant…and better yet…why not earn that accounting degree on line.

Yikees – is she kidding?

I can only assume that Chloe is not now, and never has been, an accountant. And I am dying to find out her source, her research, or well – just anything to support her conclusion. But before I chastise Chloe any further, I must admit that the apparent [or alleged] ignorance displayed by Chloe and Yahoo Education tends to be somewhat typical of many people who are not accountants. In fact, it’s almost a pathetic cliché. Many people believe [and apparently Chloe included – and I’m paraphrasing here] that an accountant who is “well-organized” and who has a knack for numbers and who can balance a profit and loss sheet, can enjoy a restful escape from the stresses of deadlines and negative office politics.

Oh – M’ – God – again, I have to ask – is she kidding?

Chloe – Chloe – Chloe – in the industry [the accounting industry] this particular brand of ignorance is commonly known as the “expectation gap”. In other words, this gap represents the difference between the realities of an accountant’s job and what non-accountants perceive is the accountant’s job.

Really. What I think Chloe is alluding to in her article – is a low stress – accounting related job – such as a bookkeeper or maybe even an accounting clerk [neither job which requires college degrees]. But Chloe, there is a world of difference between those types of jobs and the job of a college educated accountant.

Let me pose a couple of obvious questions. This one is easy – What is one of the most powerful tools that an investor, banker, or manager can use to make investment and/or strategic decisions about a company? That’s right – the company’s financial information. And where does that financial information come from? Right again – the accountants. And here is where it gets sticky for a lot of people – and this is related to job functions – the bookkeepers are the people who organize the accounting information and record the numbers on the financial statements. But the accountant is the person who analyzes those numbers and then forms conclusions based on those numbers – calculating and balancing the numbers and dropping them into an accounting program is but a tiny step in the path to the final product.

Also, here is something else to think about…..accountants have a lot more influence in the average person’s day to day life than you might think. Just about everything that you can see or touch involved an accountant at some point – someone who analyzed or calculated something related to every aspect of every product that you buy. And a bad accountant can cause serious harm to a company– ummm, need some evidence – ever heard of WorldCom or Enron?

Now let’s talk about the principles that govern the rules of accounting [I’m not talking about writing checks or making deposits and then posting those transactions to an accounting software system…Noooo. I’m talking about understanding the rules of accounting and working in the capacity of a college educated “Accountant”.] The principles to which I am referring are known as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. These accounting principles are governed by a hierarchy of rules that include the following:

Financial Accounting Standards or FASB statements
FASB Interpretations
APB Opinions
Accounting Research Bulletins (ARB)
FASB Technical Bulletins
AICPA industry Audit and Accounting Guides
AICPA Statements of Position
Consensus Positions of the Emerging Issues Task Force
SEC and FASB Staff Positions
AICPA AcSEC Practice Bulletins
AICPA Accounting Interpretations
FASB Implementation Guides
FASB Staff Positions
FASB Concepts Statements
APB Statements
AICPA Issues Papers
International Accounting Standards Committee Statements
GASB Statements, Interpretations, and Technical Bulletins
Pronouncements of other professional associations and regulatory bodies
AICPA Technical Practice Aids
Accounting Textbooks
Accounting Handbooks
and articles
[and don’t get me started on the tens of thousands of tax laws]

I have to tell you, mastering these rules is often an arduous process that takes many years. And if you are afraid of a 60+ hour work week – then my advice is to stay away from the accounting degree – on line or not. I don’t think I can say this enough – accounting is much more involved than entering numbers into a financial statement. The information that an accountant produces is more than just a balanced profit and loss statement. It involves critical thinking, professional judgment, it requires exceptional interpersonal skills, it’s a constant leaning process that requires a significant commitment to the career, and usually more than a mere forty hour work week.

Sadly, the accounting industry of late, appears to be overrun by people who have adopted the Chloe attitude assuming that the job of an accountant is a stress free 9 to 5 job [ and not a career] full of work Zen. These same people seem to have learned little if any technical skills from the colleges that they attended and frankly may be damaging the accounting industry. Seasoned accountants are continually complaining about the quality of the recently graduated accountants that are hovering around the job scene.

Accounting is a challenging and rewarding career choice that provides opportunities to grow professionally while also providing some flexibility. But accounting is NOT for the faint of heart nor is it for anyone looking for a stress free job. Because let’s face it – accounting is not stress free – and anyone who tells you that it is – is not being honest with you – or is not a true accountant.

The job is layered with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly deadlines imposed by regulatory bodies, creditors, investors and company management. It requires the knowledge of hundreds and thousands of different rules and even laws.

So Chloe, before you entice people to the career with promises of work Zen and a restful escape, please consider that you are promoting an environment that causes frustration and anxiety for the seasoned accountants who understand the job requirements and who are prepared to make the proper commitment to the career.

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One Response

  1. You are so right, Cloe is Clueless

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