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Is a Master's Degree in Accounting Worth It?

You may already be considering what your future career opportunities are as you work toward your Master of Science in Accounting. Many consider public accounting first - a certified public accountant, or CPA, helps clients with accounting, taxes, and auditing services. These clients may be individuals, companies, governments, or nonprofits. The role of a private accountant, however, is different.

In the private sector, accountants often spend time reviewing and verifying the financial and information systems for the companies they work for. They will also review management procedures and internal controls to ensure the company is functioning efficiently. Often private accountants will work in finance within their employer's company, while others may be tasked with managing accounts.

Defining the role and requirements for private accounting work is challenging because each company will have its own roles and requirements for its private accountants. Often, the work of a private accountant is industry specific, focusing on the specific industry where the employer's company is functioning. Still, some common themes exist that will help accounting professionals decide if private accounting is right for them.

The desk of a private company accountant

Benefits of Private Accountant Work

Private accountants enjoy a number of benefits over public accountants. While both fields are intense and require the right accounting training, private accounting tends to be slightly less deadline-intensive than public. Since private accountants work for just one company, they do not have to manage multiple clients and overlapping deadlines. Private accountants go to the same office daily and work with the same people, rather than different places and people every day. Job satisfaction may be higher in private accounting due to these benefits, and often CPAs will seek private work after spending some time in the public field.

Knowledge and Experience Required for Private Accounting

Private accountants are typically trained for the types of accounting transactions their company handles. This might include accounts payables, billing, or some other financial account type. Often the experience and knowledge of a private accountant applies to the single industry in which they work. Some private accountants start their careers as public accountants, and then transition to the private sector. Others begin in their specialty area and advance to senior or management positions with time.

Certification Requirements for Private Accounting

Because of the variety of roles a private accountant can hold, the certification requirements will vary. There is no specific certification required to be a private accountant, but some job opportunities will require credentials to advance. Some common certifications for private accountants include:

- Certified Management Accountant
- Certified Fraud Examiner
- Enrolled Agents (tax specialty)

These are just a few examples of the types of certifications available for private accountants. Often accountants will choose certifications after starting their careers – especially as they begin to work for promotions and advancements.

The Role of Standards

For private accountants, the standards put forth by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the Private Company Council (PCC) both play a role in how they report for their companies, according to BKD CPAs and Advisors. These standards create a framework that defines how companies should report financial data under the generally accepted accounting principles in the United States. These groups also define what is considered a "public business entity" in the United States. Private accountants working for those companies defined as public business entities must understand and follow the Accounting Standards Update (ASU) as released by FASB.

These standards are designed to create uniformity in the way private companies report their financial data. The most recent updates are designed to reduce the cost and complexity of these reports, while still maintaining uniformity of information presented. Private accountants must have a thorough understanding of these standards as they apply to the companies they work for.

Common Positions Available for Private Accountants

Students who feel that a private accounting job is best for their skill set may find a number of job titles appealing. According to the American Institute of CPAs, some of these roles include:

• Staff Accountant - A staff accountant works under a senior accountant to perform work in ledgers, receivables, payables, payroll, and similar financial aspects of an organization. This is one of the first private accountant openings in the modern business.
• Senior Accountant - A senior accountant oversees financial related work, such as receivables, payables, and reporting, as handled by staff accountants.
• Senior Auditor - Auditors test the internal control and accounting information systems of a business. A senior auditor will oversee this work for the organization.
• Chief Financial Officer - The CFO provides advice to the president or CEO of a company about financial stability, liquidity and growth, reporting, and financial strategy. This particular professional will direct the activities of other private accountants within the organization. A chief financial officer may also be called a Director of Finance or Manager of Finance. This is a senior leadership position in finance.
• Controller - The controller is the chief accounting executive whose job it is to organize, direct, and control the work of the other accountants in the firm. This is a top management position.
• Tax Manager - The tax manager organizes and directs the staff that determines the company's tax liability and the effect of tax accounting alternatives and studies laws to ensure that the company is adhering to all new tax regulations and rules.
• Internal Audit Manager - This management position requires the accountant to sample the internal control systems to ensure they are accurate and reliable. If problems or inefficiencies are discovered on these audits, the audit manager will make recommendations for changes that will fix these problems.

Education Requirements for Private Accountants

While the field of private accounting does not necessarily require specific certifications, it does require a minimum of a master's degree. If you are interested in a career in private accounting, consider pursuing a Master's of Science in Accounting degree. Visit UAB's Collat School of Business to learn more about our 100% online degree program.

Sources

http://www.aicpa.org/CAREER/CAREERPATHS/CORPORATEACCOUNTING/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.bkd.com/hot-topics/private-company-reporting.htm

http://www.accountingjobstoday.com/cm/Articles/public-vs-private.html

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