What is an accountant and what do they do?

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Accountants are crucial to the smooth running of every organisation, from the smallest start-ups and sole traders to multinational corporations. As the resident money person, they manage a business’s invoicing, salaries, wages, account reconciliations and financial reporting. They also help individuals with personal financial matters, like lodging tax returns, making them highly valued members of the community. 

But is this the right career path for you? Let’s take a closer look at an accountant’s day-to-day responsibilities before exploring the different types of accounting you can get into.

What does an accountant do?

An accountant’s day can vary depending on where they work and if they specialise in a certain field. 

It’s their top priority to help individuals and organisations properly manage their finances. They’re also key advisors in the business world, where they make sure organisations avoid compliance issues and always follow the law. Because they have such a trusted role wherever they work, accountants need to have the highest standards of integrity and honesty. 

Typical accountant responsibilities include:

  • Managing taxation matters, including individual or business tax returns
  • Reviewing the financial health of a business
  • Compiling accurate financial reports
  • Offering guidance on cost reduction, profit and revenue strategies
  • Conducting forecasting and risk management assessments
  • Troubleshooting problems based upon profit and loss statements
  • Flagging business compliance issues as they arise, while also keeping on top of changing laws and regulations

What are the different accounting careers?

Once an accountant is qualified, they can either stick with general accountancy or specialise in an area that interests them. Here are three popular accounting career paths you can choose from:  

Chartered accountant (CA) Tax accountant Financial accountant
What is a chartered accountant?

Chartered accountants are more highly qualified general accountants who have met a rigorous set of educational requirements. They work in all fields of finance in the public, private and government sectors, but are especially sought after by the ‘big four’ accounting firms.

What is a tax accountant?

Tax accountants are accountants who work specifically with tax. They help both businesses and individual clients. 

What is a financial accountant?

Financial accountants are responsible for running the financial activities and maintaining the health of a business.

What does a chartered accountant do?

Chartered accountants perform the same duties as general accountants, like auditing, compliance and financial reporting. But they are more likely to take on leadership roles due to their extra qualifications.

What does a tax accountant do?

Tax accountants work with their clients to prepare financial and income tax statements and returns, ensuring they are in line with tax law.

What does a financial accountant do?

A financial accountant reports on the economic stability of a company and relays that information to stakeholders.

Are there any specific skills needed to be an accountant?

As a profession that largely centres on numbers, accounting is best suited to those who are critical thinkers, mathematically confident and proficient in time and communication management. 

If you’re not quite there mathematically, there are other accountant skills that can help you until you get those calculations down, including transferable traits like diligence, detail orientation and organisation. 

How long does it take to become an accountant?

Most general accounting jobs require a Bachelor Degree at minimum. It takes three years of full-time study to earn this qualification, though you can take longer if you prefer to study at your own pace online. Specialisations like chartered accountancy and tax accountancy require further education and training. 

How much will you get paid? The average accountant salary*

Accountancy focus  Entry-level salary  Intermediate salary  Experienced salary  Average salary 
General accountant $78,499 AUD $92,497 AUD $116,427 AUD $92,497 AUD
Chartered accountant $75,625 AUD $100,000 AUD $105,000 AUD $100,000 AUD
Tax accountant $75,000 AUD $92,500 AUD  $117,600 AUD $92,500 AUD
Financial accountant  $87,500 AUD  $100,000 AUD  $119,985 AUD $79,000 AUD

As an accountant, your salary will vary depending on how senior you are in your role and the type of business you work for. The table above offers a good indication of how specific accounting roles are paid, depending on your level of experience.

*While this table is correct as of 22 March 2022 (courtesy of Talent), market changes may have impacted this salary information. If in doubt, corroborate with a second source! 

Ready to kickstart your accounting career? Discover online accounting courses delivered by top Australian universities. 


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