An accountant is an individual who performs accounting tasks for individuals or companies. The exact material that an accountant handles varies depending on the size of the company and the accountant's specialization, but generally includes financial records, taxes, and responsibility for the issuing of financial reports. An accountant is one of the primary figures in a business that he or she works for, whether it is a multinational corporation or a small family owned business. Requirements to become an accountant vary upon specialization and nation, but generally include certification through a professional agency and a basic college degree in accounting and finance.
In a small firm, an accountant may be responsible for keeping all financial records. These records include payroll information, accounts payable, accounts receivable, retail sales, and information regarding investments held by the company. These accounts are kept organized in ledgers which are used to asses the financial health of a company. Ledgers are always kept up to date, and may be consulted by managers and high ranking members of a company when they are making major business decisions.
In larger firms, accountants also perform internal audits, to ensure that the financial records of the company are accurate. Because of bias concerns, an internal audit cannot be handled by an accountant who regularly handles the material concerned, and many companies hire outside accounting firms to perform audits. When this is the case, the company should not be contracted to handle any of the company's other financial material, as this may represent a conflict of interest.
In most cases, an accountant will choose to specialize in a particular field such as audits, book keeping, or taxes. In other instances, an accountant may acquire a wide range of skills to better serve his or her clients. This is common with certified public accountants who handle the books for several small businesses at once. In both instances, the accountant must have strong math skills, as well as an education in accounting.
Depending on the type of accounting being performed, certification by the state may be required. State certification is usually required for accountants who perform audits and other sensitive accounting tasks, while it is not as vitally necessary for accounting clerks who work under certified accountants. Commonly, an accountant is also a member of a professional organization of accountants, and takes advantage of meetings and seminars to keep up with advances in the field.