CPA. Those three letters symbolize prestige, potential and a pretty sizeable salary. But what these professionals actually do ranges widely from one Certified Public Accountant to the next. So let’s start with the basics.
Accounting is the basis of business. Wherever there’s money, there’s an accountant (or CPA) to make sure it’s all, well, accounted for. CPAs work with individuals, small businesses, large corporations and everything in between—including government agencies and non-profits—to keep their finances in check. The work they do ranges from the very generalized to the extremely specialized. So a short answer to the question ‘What exactly do CPAs do?’ is kind of a tall order.
Some CPAs keep track of revenue and expenses and manage financial records, while others advise businesses on how to lower costs and mitigate financial risk. A CPA who owns her own practice could spend her time advising clients on how to best manage their money or she could be a tax expert who helps individuals find the biggest refund possible.
Balancing the books, taking care of payroll, handling personnel-related tax payments and everything else having to do with managing and reporting on company finances are just some of the tasks accounting departments are responsible for. While junior-level accountants might handle the more general accounting tasks, senior-level CPAs are typically more involved in guiding big-picture financial decision making for their entire company.
Like other highly respected (and paid) professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, there are many different kinds of CPAs. A CPA who specializes in IT might focus on implementing new finance technologies and accounting systems, while auditors examine financial records for errors and fraud. Other CPAs determine the appropriate price of products or services—or even the monetary value of an entire company. And that’s just the tip of the accounting specializations iceberg.
With so many different roles and responsibilities, it’s easy to see that being a Certified Public Accountant is far from a one-size-fits-all career path. But when it comes to being a part of this integral business-shaping profession, there are a few things all CPAs can all agree on: It’s a rewarding field with lots of opportunity for advancement where demand is high and the salaries are even higher.