Accounting is an old profession. Records of business transactions have been prepared for centuries. However, only during the last half-century accounting has been accepted as a profession with the same importance as the medical or legal profession. Positions in the field of accounting may be divided into several areas. Two general classifications are public accounting and private accounting. Public accountants are those who serve the general public and collect professional fees for their work, much as doctors and lawyers do. Their work includes auditing, income tax planning and preparation, and management consulting. Public accountants are a small fraction (about 10 percent) of all accountants. Those public accountants who have met certain professional requirements are designated as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
Private accountants work for a single business, such as a local department store, the McDonald's restaurant chain, or the Eastman Kodak Company. Charitable organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies also employ private accountants. The chief accounting officer usually has the title of controller, treasurer, or chief financial officer. Whatever the title, this person usually carries the status of vice-president.
Some public accountants pool their talents and work together within a single firm. Most public accounting firms are also called CPA firms because most of their professional employees are CPAs. CPA firms vary greatly in size. Some are small businesses, and others are medium-sized partnerships. The largest CPA firms are worldwide partnerships with over 2,000 partners. Such huge firms are necessary because some of their clients are so large and their operations are so complex.
In contrast to public accountants who provide accounting services for many clients, management accountants provide accounting services for a single business. In a company with many management accountants, the executive officer in charge of the accounting activity is often called a controller.
The primary function of the Chief Accountant is to ensure that adequate funds are available for such capital expenditure on new plant and equipment as is required in the Corporate Plan. Adequate working capital will also be required to meet revenue expenditure such as wages and salaries, purchases of raw materials and the inevitable administration expenses. Whenever purchases or sales are made records will need to be kept. In many ways the accounts are like а storybook telling you what has happened since the business commenced. On 3rd April we purchased a new mainframe computer for £750,000. On 11th May we spent £15,000 on a new motor van, and so on. The data tells management what assets are at their disposal and what commitments they have to be prepared to meet. By examining the accounts managers can see how much cash is available, how much they owe to their creditors, and how much they are owed by their debtors. They must always be in a position to meet their commitments if insolvency is to be avoided. The accounts make a vital contribution to the decision-making process. Once problems have been identified, alternative solutions have to be considered and evaluated. The evaluation will very often be centred on statistical data provided by the accounting departments. If we chose Option A how much would it cost? What would be the net revenue (after deduction of the expenses)? How much would labour costs amount to? Would it be cheaper to use more capital, intensive methods of production? It is this type of question which can be answered by the accountants.
When the decision is implemented there will be a need for feedback. Control mechanism will be necessary to ensure that any deviations are speedily noticed so that corrective action can be taken. The continuous flow of accounting information will be the means by which the deviations are spotted. The use of computers will make it possible to improve the feedback both in terms of accuracy and speed.
Several accounting organizations have formulated codes of ethics that govern the behaviour of their members. "Code of Professional Conduct" adopted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reads:
"Membership in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is voluntary. By accepting membership, a certified public accountant assumes an obligation of self-discipline above and beyond the requirements of laws and regulations..."
...In carrying out their responsibilities as professionals, members should exercise sensitive professional and moral judgments in all their activities.
...Members should accept the obligation to act in a way that will serve the public interest, honour the public trust, and demonstrate commitment to professionalism.
...A member should observe the profession's technical and ethical standards, strive continually to improve competence and the quality of services, and discharge professional responsibility to the best of the member's ability.
...To maintain and broaden public confidence, members should perform all professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity.
...A member should maintain objectivity and be free of conflicts of interest in discharging professional responsibilities. A member in public practice should be independent in fact and appearance when providing auditing and other attestation services.
Some business firms have also developed codes of ethics for their employees to follow. But there is something more than merely making sure you are not violating a code of ethics. Most of us sense what is right and wrong. An accountant's most valuable asset is his or her reputation.
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