I was chatting with my cousin, Remigius, via IM and he mentioned that he likes this blog and that it is informative. I’ve never heard that – mostly I heard that people are entertained by the hijinx of my co-workers and my assistant.

In my many vast years of working in the accounting profession I keep running into an attitude or impression that others have of accountants. When I go to a company function, doesn’t matter the company, when asked which department I work in people tend to respond in one of two ways: eeep, better be good or finance will come down on us; or, I could never do that, all that playing around with numbers. Either way there seems to be this mystique about what an accountant is and what he/she does.

Long gone are the days in which an accountant was a tired and boring beancounter, forever tied (metaphorically) to their spreadsheets/calculators. Many of us have varied interests and some of us do have interesting social lives. Professionally our training is in accountantcy, yes. But we are also trained and exposed to concepts such as financial forecasting (which is usually the pervue of Financial Analysts), providing external communications, facilitating business process improvements(not just in Finance but in other departments as well) and work closely with IT.

Our relationships with IT Departments are odd symbiotic things. As anyone in IT knows it is really easy to go nuts and spend capital budgets and still not feel as if they have gotten enough equipment. So it is the job of Finance to work with IT to determine the optimal balance between fiscal prudence and technological requirements. As well as Finance no longer uses paper ledgers, we are heavily dependent on our computerised accounting systems — we are heavy users, constantly plucking away each day. Though we do not require state of the art equipment, as most of our apps are not memory-pigs like some graphics progs, we do require a stable network connection for us to perform our jobs.

So what does an accountant do? It varies depending on the company, their responsibilities and their focus. I work in a position which requires me to work with the General Ledger- other than working with Fixed Assets, I am primarily “Financial Reporting” in the sense that I fall into the category of a traditional “financial accountant“. Others in my company focus on other aspects such as project accounting, auditing, process improvement, and so forth.

What is a financial accountant? They are the ones involved in crunching the numbers from the other individuals within the department and external to the department (HR, Marketing, Facilities, etc) to ultimately report the numbers to external stakeholders — investors, creditors (banks), government agencies and parent companies. We tend to have an extremely broad range of knowledge, but not great indepth knowledge. Can I do project accounting? No, I have no background in it. But I can take the numbers and based on GAAP determine when to recognise something as revenue or deferred income; as an expense or a prepaid expense (asset). As well, because I work with the entire P&L (income statement) I am aware of the overall picture of the company’s financial activities.

As well, because of my focus on the external P&L I can determine historical activity and be involved in budgeting for future years and forecasting for future periods. I can determine where potential cost savings can occur. I cannot determine how to increase revenues or improve client satisfaction, as that is the job of production accounting and has to do with client relationship services. But I can calculate how much costs should be using financial ratios so that year over year growth is within expected/forecasted perameters.

Soooo what do you all think of accountants? What do we do?