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The Ultimate Business Adventure: Accounting
by Robert Half International
Reprinted with permission. Copyright Robert Half International
If you're thinking of pursuing a career in business and dream of being in a field that offers challenging assignments, an array of travel opportunities, advancement potential, skills building, and the chance to play a vital role in evaluating business deals and growth and investment strategies – and yes, making a good salary as well – then you should consider becoming an accountant.
Of course, accountants are trained to prepare financial statements, monitor expenses, keep records and budgets, and make sure taxes are paid. However, they also are responsible for helping businesses find ways to run more efficiently. That's why many of today's accounting and finance professionals are asked to "sit at the table" among high-level company executives. Accountants understand the financial health and flexibility of their organizations better than anyone and can give key company decision makers valuable insight, advice and analysis as to what kind of business risks should or should not be taken.
Setting high standards
One of the reasons companies today are looking to accountants for business guidance more than ever is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Compliance with corporate governance regulations is a huge concern for many organizations because it is vital to their reputation and financial health. Companies – especially those that are public – must make certain they report their financial activities accurately and guarantee to others they are conducting business ethically. Accountants, especially internal auditors, work with top company executives to put procedures in place for raising accountability for everyone in the organization. This means each person must report how and when they do certain things and keep track of financial activities that affect the business. This helps make the company more "transparent" – in other words, it's easy for other people from outside the company, including auditors, to clearly see the details of a firm's financial activities.
Using forensic skills
Despite the lessons of recent corporate accounting scandals, fraud still happens quite often in the business world. In fact, according to a recent study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), organizations lose approximately $600 billion per year to fraud and other types of financial abuse. Government agencies, public accounting firms and specialty consulting practices all seek forensic accountants to help prevent and detect corporate financial fraud.
Forensic accountants really are the "CSIs" of the financial world. The evidence they gather during their investigations reveals how a financial crime was committed. This information can then be used by legal authorities such as the FBI to convict those responsible for the abuse.
If you are interested in and love to use technology, a career in accounting will help keep you on the cutting edge. According to the 2007 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, accounting professionals increasingly are asked to work regularly with a company's information technology department to assist with projects such as software implementations. Many accountants also must become experts in cybersecurity so they can ensure that a company's sensitive financial data is protected from those who want to commit fraud.
And of course, because accountants – especially chief financial officers (CFOs) – advise on and closely track financial spending, they are very involved with evaluating whether or not certain types of technology are good investments. Plus, CFOs also have to keep their eyes on competing companies so they know how they are using technology and then decide if their organization should follow suit – or, perhaps, explore a new or different technological solution.
A growing number of companies today want to expand into new geographic locations or invest in or do business with firms in other countries. As a result, accounting and finance professionals who are multilingual and understand other cultures, global business perspectives, and international trade laws and regulations are in high demand, according to Robert Half International's Next Generation Accountant research initiative. Foreign companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges, as well as overseas subsidiaries of U.S. companies, must comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, so many organizations seek accountants who have knowledge of U.S. regulations and can work effectively in a global business environment. It is not uncommon for accountants to take on assignments in other countries to build their international expertise.
BKD Partners and UCM Alums: from left- Barry Davis, Ed
This is a terrific time to pursue a career in accounting or finance. There is no shortage of opportunities – just a shortage of qualified professionals. According to the Salary Guide, business expansion and ongoing compliance requirements are driving the need for accountants nationwide. Some companies are so eager to hire skilled professionals they are extending job offers within one day of interviewing a strong candidate.
Keep in mind as you explore career opportunities in accounting that the professionals most in demand by businesses today possess the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. CPAs work for all types of employers: public accounting firms, businesses and corporations, the government and nonprofit organizations. They serve every industry you can imagine, from entertainment to education to sports to transportation. You could even choose to work for yourself someday – many CPAs run their own businesses. If you become a CPA, there may be a vast array of exciting career opportunities open to you.