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Quick guide to accounting roles

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Accounts clerk/assistant accountant/trainee accountant

These are junior roles assisting the financial controller or finance director. Roles can vary depending on an organisation's size and sector, but responsibilities can include using accounting software to balance accounts (double-entry bookkeeping), handle accounts payable (paying a company's bills) and accounts receivable (incoming payments), and prepare financial statements and wages.

Financial accountant

Financial accountants play a crucial role in the operations and performance of any organisation. They prepare the balance sheet, income and cash flow statements that make up the financial statements that encapsulate a company's operating performance over a particular period or a specific point in time. A financial statement is aimed primarily at external entities including investors, creditors, regulators and tax authorities.

Management accountant

Management accountants identify, measure, analyse, interpret and communicate financial information to a company's management. They provide leaders with financial insight and expertise to support decision-making and business strategy. The difference between financial and management accounting is that whereas the former provides external parties with a company's financial performance, management accounting is internally facing, providing managers and board members with information to support strategy and performance.

Treasury

Corporate treasurers ensure companies have the cash and liquidity to meet obligations. They determine financial strategy and policy; advise on outbound investment; arrange funding; and manage financial risk. People working in treasury will be involved with, among other things, analysing financial markets with the view to invest; progressing mergers and acquisitions; and negotiating lines of credit.

Financial controller

Simply put, a financial controller will be in charge of an organisation's accounting department, charged with ensuring the books and records are maintained according to business and legal requirements. Financial controllers are most interested in historical data.

Finance manager

Finance managers will assist directors by managing specific areas of a finance department. They may be responsible for management accounting, financial accounting or financial analysis, among others. These roles will usually occur in larger organisations with a broader corporate structure.

Finance director (FD)

Meanwhile, an FD will have greater oversight of the entire finance function. An FD is more focused on the direction of an organisation, using financial data to inform business strategy and ensuring the financial health of an organisation. An FD might include financial analysis, tax knowledge and management accounting in the role-call of responsibilities and may sit on board meetings.

Chief financial officer (CFO)

The CFO is at the top of the ladder in terms of an organisation's finance function. A CFO will answer to and work alongside a CEO, and be responsible for an entity's overall financial risk, reporting, planning and strategy.

The difference between these senior roles can really depend on the size of a company. At a smaller or medium-size firm, the controller might take on FD responsibilities and vice versa.

Auditor

While not a function performed by a company upon itself, for ethical implications, auditing is an essential element of regulatory compliance and operational governance. Auditors often work for professional services firms or accounting practices, the biggest of which include Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC. The purpose of an audit is to provide an objective and independent report on a company's financial statement in accordance with a reporting framework. Considering financial statements are produced for external parties, it's important that they’re verified and examined, providing legitimacy and confidence to investors and regulators. This can help to reduce perceived company risk and the cost of capital when seeking investment.

Internal vs external audit

Internal and external audit are differentiated largely by their objectives and whom they report to. External audits are produced for those outside an organisation's governance structure, eg investors or shareholders, and provide credibility to a company’s financial reports. Internal audits report to a company's management and board, and provide an evaluation of a firm's effectiveness of governance and control processes, supporting management responsibility towards organisational operability. Improvement is fundamental to an internal audit, while it isn't for an external audit.

Tax specialist

A role found at a professional services firm or an accounting practice, tax specialists advise clients on tax law at personal and corporate levels, locally and globally. Tax specialists are often employed to help organisations meet all tax requirements, for example when entering new markets, while also advising on how to minimise the tax owed.

Forensic accountant

Forensic accountants will usually work for a professional services firm. Many who work in forensic accountancy started out as auditors, understanding corporate finances and how to investigate for fraud. Forensic accountants will respond to tip offs of fraudulent activity in a company's finances and will run investigations. They may also find themselves in court acting as an expert witness in cases of fraud or financial mismanagement.

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