By DeVry University
February 7, 2023
10 min read
February 7, 2023
10 min read
If you’ve thought about pursuing a career in accounting, you’ve most likely considered all the different roles and responsibilities involved in an accounting career and wondered about the differences between an accountant and a CPA. The terms accountant and CPA are often used interchangeably, but a CPA vs. accountant side-by-side comparison reveals some important differences.
To maintain licensing and certification, CPAs must make a commitment to staying up to date on their education and any new industry developments, which is known as continuing professional education (CPE). The amount of CPE you must complete will vary based on the state in which you are licensed.
Analytical and critical-thinking skills
Accountants must be able to evaluate data, identify any issues in documentation and come up with solutions. For example, public accountants may analyze changes in the IRS tax code in their efforts to minimize clients’ tax liability.
Attention to detail
Accountants must be detail oriented, paying attention to the smallest details when compiling and examining financial documents.
In most accounting roles, good communication skills are more important than you might think. Accountants must be able to listen to and discuss facts and concerns from clients, managers and other stakeholders, and must also be able to discuss the results of their findings in meetings and written reports.
Strong organizational skills are important for accountants, who often work with a range of financial documents for a variety of clients.
Did we mention you should be good with numbers? You should have strong math skills to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures, and may have to use advanced math skills such as calculus and statistical analysis.
Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
To become a CPA, you must meet strict licensing and certification requirements. CPA licensure is overseen by each state’s Board of Accountancy. To meet the CPA licensure requirements set forth by your state’s Board, you will need to study for, and pass, the CPA Exam. All states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be licensed and successfully pass the 4-part Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Candidates sit for each of the 4 parts separately, and most states require candidates to pass all 4 parts within 18 months of passing the first part.
Examining an organization or client’s financial statements to ensure they are accurate and in compliance with laws and regulations.
Calculating taxes owed by individuals or organizations, preparing tax returns and making sure the taxes are paid on time to avoid penalties.
Inspecting account books and accounting systems to be sure they have been prepared using generally accepted accounting procedures (GAAP), looking for ways to improve efficiency and identifying potential risks for fraud.
Managing an organization’s financial records by organizing, analyzing and maintaining them.
Making suggestions to management as to how an organization can reduce costs, enhance revenues and improve profitability.
In some instances, accountants also function as financial advisors, taking on the role of fiduciaries to make financial decisions on behalf of clients.
Accounting managers use their education and skills in accounting to plan, implement and supervise a company’s financial strategy. This may include supervising the company’s bookkeeper and managing the company’s financial accounts, payrolls, budget, cash receipts and financial assets. The accounting manager may also perform the company’s internal financial audits, monitor and analyze financial accounting data and create reports based on these analyses.
Financial analysts gather data for the purpose of revealing and understanding trends that affect products or industries. Working at banks, corporations or consulting firms, they are responsible for analyzing financial data and providing forecasting, recommending individual investments or portfolios and preparing reports and projections based on financial data. Financial analysts may also be involved with business valuation
Using their aptitude for both project management and organization, internal auditors work within businesses such as large, for-profit corporations, to evaluate their organization’s financial documentation and look for areas of risk or non-compliance with financial or tax regulations. They also look for opportunities to improve record-keeping processes, cut costs and improve profitability, then present their findings to senior-level management.
Risk analysts, sometimes called risk assessors, analyze and evaluate financial data to calculate the risk associated with business decisions. In reporting this information to business executives or investors, they may also make recommendations to reduce financial risk. Their recommendations may be related to currency exchanges or investment portfolios.
An accounting professional who has earned the CPA designation can take on a broader range of career paths than someone who is not a CPA. In some public accounting career roles, that of an external auditor for example, the certification is required.
CPAs and potential CPAs can pursue a variety of career paths, including:
Certified Public Accountant
Combining knowledge of data management, economics, tax law and financial planning, certified public accountants may work as self-employed professionals or in large accounting firms or a corporate setting. Their duties can include balancing financial records, auditing individual accounts, preparing tax returns and publishing audited financial statements. They also advise clients on personal financial matters.
Tax accountants help individuals and organizations file their annual tax returns and remain compliant with the IRS Code. They also consult with clients to help them understand the implications of changes in the tax code and how to avoid certain tax burdens.
External auditing is conducted by certified public accountants. External auditors step in to provide a third-party perspective in examining an organization’s financial statements and provide financial documentation. Audits may be conducted on behalf of financial institutions, the treasury or as part of a fraud investigation.
1Most state boards of accountancy require 150 credit hours of post-secondary education in order to sit
for the CPA exam. As this program is less than 150 credit hours, this program alone does not meet the
minimum coursework requirements to sit for the CPA exam. Students interested in sitting for the CPA
exam should check their state’s requirements. Credits and degrees earned from this institution do not
automatically qualify the holder to participate in professional licensing exams to practice certain
professions. Persons interested in practicing a regulated profession must contact the appropriate state
regulatory agency for their field of interest. DeVry is not able to recommend graduates for professional
licensure in any state. New York students should contact the NYSED Office of Professions regarding
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In New York, DeVry University operates as DeVry College of New York. DeVry University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), www.hlcommission.org. The University’s Keller Graduate School of Management is included in this accreditation. DeVry is certified to operate by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Arlington Campus: 1400 Crystal Dr., Ste. 120, Arlington, VA 22202. DeVry University is authorized for operation as a postsecondary educational institution by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, www.tn.gov/thec. Naperville Campus: 1200 E. Diehl Rd., Naperville, IL 60563. Unresolved complaints may be reported to the Illinois Board of Higher Education through the online compliant system https://complaints.ibhe.org/. View DeVry University’s complaint process https://www.devry.edu/compliance/student-complaint-procedure.html Program availability varies by location. In site-based programs, students will be required to take a substantial amount of coursework online to complete their program.
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