Hire more people? Buy a building? Invest in more efficient technology? These and thousands of other questions require accurate financial information to answer.
That’s where accountants come in. For thousands of years, societies have relied upon formal systems to count goods and money, from grain stored after the harvest to coins in a king’s treasury. Often, trained specialists ensured the accuracy of those records.
In the middle ages, Italian merchants hired bookkeepers to track their transactions, and the system of double-entry bookkeeping was first developed. Double-entry bookkeeping is still in use today, even if the software that modern accountants use would seem magical to a typical 14th century merchant or banker.
By the 19th century, accountants were forming professional societies and standards for the occupation were rising. Accountants were testifying in courts on financial matters and seen by the law and society as reliable arbiters of truth.
The role of accountants, in business and society, has only increased.
Accountants are the guardians of financial information. They ensure that anyone who needs to make decisions based that information — corporate executives and managers, elected officials, bankers, investors, individuals and others — can trust it.
Accountants are analysts, advisors, investigators, protectors and much more.
Accountants as analysts
While accurate financial information is important, being able to make sense of it is equally critical. Accountants play a critical role in that.
Many companies employ managerial accountants to help them plan budgets, track actual numbers against projections, understand cash flow needs and analyze financing options.
The bottom line — without accountants, businesses wouldn’t be able to plan, forecast and operate. They wouldn’t be able to stay in business.
Advisors to executives
Likewise, many accountants use their knowledge of financial information and taxes to act as business and personal advisors.
Should we buy that new piece of equipment this year or next? What are the tax implications of this investment strategy? What’s the best way to expand our operations — buy a building, lease space or build something from the ground up?
Some accountants are so adept with their advice that they end up in top executive roles themselves, guiding not just financial decisions but a company’s entire strategy. Others focus on individuals, providing tax and investing advice.
Accountants’ broad know-how and skills open the door for many career paths: corporate jobs, self-employment, consulting, government roles and more.
Protectors of truth
Accountants are guardians of truth and accuracy in everything from the financial statements of publicly traded companies to the Academy Awards.
Investors, banks, the IRS and many others rely on financial statements. They rely on accountants who review and assess those financial statements and attest that they were prepared properly. Those assessments, or audits, are conducted annually for many government agencies, charities and businesses.
In the mid-1930s, to counter allegations the annual Academy Awards were rigged, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences hired an accounting firm to oversee the counting of ballots and attest to the accuracy of their results. That continues to this day.
When an audit, criminal case, internal investigation or lawsuit turns up something suspicious, accountants are often brought in as detectives. They examine documents and financial statements, review digital information and reconstruct what really happened – even if someone tried to hide it.
Accountants who specialize in this type of work are called forensic accountants. Some are employed by law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, helping track down criminals and international terrorists. Others work in private business, called in when a company suspects embezzlement or other wrongdoing.
It’s hard to imagine a segment of society or an organization that doesn’t rely on accountants and the information they produce and protect.
The movement of capital and goods around the world — the entire modern economy — relies on accurate financial information. Accountants play a unique role in ensuring we can all trust the financial information we get.
From the halls of Congress to the chamber of commerce, from corporate boardroom to a charity ball, you’ll find accountants everywhere. And that makes it a great career option, with lots of choices and flexibility and a strong, secure future.
Considering Accounting as a career?
Your first step is a Master of Accounting (MAC) degree.
UNC Kenan-Flagler offers a one-year, Top 10 MAC in two formats:
1. On-campus for non-accounting majors
2. Online for both accounting and non-accounting majors