Some folks call them “bean counters,” but the days of the pocket-pro-tected number crunchers in the back room are over.
The role of professionals in the accounting field has changed radically in the last few years, as accountants are taking a more prominent role in driving the direction of the firms for which they work. More and more, both entrepreneurs and corporate CEOs view their accountants as true partners in the business because of the vast knowledge they possess about the workings of the company. Nothing speaks more clearly about the condition of a company than a fresh set of financial statements.
Accountants assist in a variety of ways that go beyond the adding machine. They interpret, translate, caution and direct. They aid in establishing practices that will enhance efficiency and improve productivity. They act as coach, counselor and critic. Those interested in the field should be prepared to play this expanded role. The new economy will demand it.
The corporate accounting scandals of the past decade have raised the visibility of the profession and, at the same time, have focused the spotlight even more brightly on the need for accuracy, completeness, objectivity and compliance. In fact, 58 percent of privately held firms surveyed by a national research organization reported that they have
implemented new practices in response to government mandates for publicly
held firms, as specified in the Sarbane-Oxley Act of 2002.
For this reason, accountants with audit and assurance knowledge, as well as those with forensic accounting experience, are in high demand. Companies require accountants who can prevent, identify and unravel complex corporate financial fraud such as embezzlement, securities fraud, tax scams and money laundering.
Those priorities have increased the need for more automated, fool-proof processes, which often means the accountant also serves as an information-technology specialist who can help larger companies refine their approach to managing vast amounts of financial information on a highly secure platform. In some settings, accountants become systems securities experts and may even develop Web-based accounting procedures.
The field has also grown to embrace personal financial planning to assist clients with debt reduction, investment and asset allocation plans and expense control. Some accountants also aid their clients in environmental compliance audits.
A review of recent literature regarding the accounting field reveals several interesting new challenges accountants may face. For instance, several firms that have developed tax-reduction strategies for their clients are seeking to patent those processes. Legislation is pending in Congress regarding whether such a thing is truly patentable.
The more than 15 million immigrants in the nation who are not able to obtain Social Security numbers and who file taxes on their income must have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). And those numbers are highly sought after because they allow the individual to open bank accounts or obtain financing for a home or car. Keeping pace with the rapidly changing guidelines to prevent ITIN fraud can be an accounting challenge.
Recently, the IRS completed a National Research Program Study that identified nearly $300 billion in unpaid taxes from online sales. While sifting through the guidelines for this kind of tax can be time consuming, it’s better than the alternative. Experts report that the problem really boils down to people under-reporting their income from online auctions or treating the activity as a hobby, when it has crossed the line into profitability.
Whatever their specialties, accountants need to not only possess a gift with numbers and a penchant for detail but also be master communicators. As they play a larger and larger role in the lives of their client firms, it’s critical for them to be able to decipher the volumes of rules and regulations and communicate them to the business owners. It’s time to bring the accountant out of the back room and make him or her your new best friend.