As a small business owner, your primary concern may be with tax filing and preparation.  Record-keeping, financial statements, number crunching, compliance with regulations, and tax filing, are all definitely tedious tasks. Have you ever wondered how all of these functions work together?  What exactly does a CPA do differently from a Tax Accountant, or Financial Accountant, Bookkeeper, or CFO? Do these roles differ or resemble? You probably are thinking if it’s all related to numbers you want no parts of it yourself. 

Truth be told similar to the medical profession there are specialties with Accounting and Tax Profession.  I like to use as an example a Physician may have a specific area of practice like Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Orthopedic so on and so forth. 

Accountant professionals can be categorized based on their function or speciality.  The focal point remains the interconnectivity and coordination of these various roles in a business.

The most common roles that are often used interchangeably and difficult to distinguish in the general business community is the Bookkeeper and Accountant. Let’s define the subtle but important distinctions below:

BOOKKEEPER

Bookkeepers are either in-house or outsourced professionals who are responsible for the financial administrative function of recording business transactions.  Bookkeepers record the daily transactions of the business-sales, purchases, bank and credit card transactions in the general ledger. Bookkeepers also reconcile bank accounts and credit card accounts, track company expenses and may also issue sales invoices and follow up outstanding accounts receivable or pay the bills of the company. A certified or professional bookkeeper can exert financial record maintenance expertise in a way that eliminates most accounting or tax complexities. The accountant’s role is the next level above a bookkeeper in terms of the analysis, and interpretation of the financial data.  The Accountant’s role and bookkeeper’s role are often combined into one role depending on the level of expertise and experience.

 

 ACCOUNTANT

Accountants build on the diligent work of the bookkeepers’ transactional recordkeeping. They turn accounting data into financial information that businesses can use to make decisions. The bookkeepers and accountants if not one in the same work in concert. The accuracy of recordkeeping will result in the usefulness of the financial information. Accountants prepare financial statements like balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements and projected and forecasted financial statements.  

 

The accountant’s role involves analyzing the financial transactions generated from the bookkeeping function and offering strategic advice based on that analysis.  The accountant also produces financial statements such as the profit and loss statement, balance sheet and the cash flow statement. The accountant or Controller can advise the business on managing cash flows, securing funding for the business, and also perform forecasting for new products and services.  Accountants can also provide financial data needed for business plans and financing proposals. An accountant’s analysis can provide business trends, and can identify opportunities for growth. Accountants can make any applicable budget recommendations to businesses after analyzing trends and collaborate with external auditors and tax preparers.

 

 An accountant can give a high level overview of the financial health of the business and offer strategies to improve profitability and cash flow. 

 

Modern-day businesses have varied accounting needs that create multiple roles within the accountancy. Accountants can also act as the Controller of the business. 

The specialized roles of accountants include:

Financial Accountants: Specialized in preparing financial accounting records such as Balance Sheets, Income Statements, Cash flow Statements, and subsidiary ledgers like accounts payable and accounts receivable. Additionally financial accountants may also step into a Controller role and provide guidance to the business owner as it relates to the financial results and data.

Tax Accountants: Tax accountants specialize in the laws, rules, and regulations for the preparation and calculation of federal, state, and local taxes. Tax accountants provide a range of tax-related services to both individuals and businesses, which can include preparing and filing tax returns.  Along with preparing tax documents, tax accountants interpret tax laws and explain the implications of any recent changes in the law. 

 

TAX PREPARER

You may call them tax accountants too, depending on the professional qualification. The primary job for a tax preparer and tax accountant remains the same with a slight variation. Tax preparers are specialized professionals with tax regulations and compliance. 

Tax preparers’ role in tax filing set them apart from conventional bookkeepers or accountants. The tax preparer relies on the data provided by bookkeepers and accountants in order to properly file the tax returns and maximize business deductions. When you know your numbers you are better positioned to lower your tax liability when filing time comes around. 

ENROLLED AGENTS (EA)

An enrolled agent is a tax practitioner who is Federally licensed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). EAs will prepare, file, and represent your tax returns with the IRS. The legal representative status of an EA offers more flexibility in a tax filing role than a tax preparer. EAs can represent you before the IRS, in all matters except for Tax Court, where an attorney must represent you.

 Enrolled agents, like attorneys and certified public accountants (CPAs), have unlimited practice rights. This means they are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of tax matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can represent clients before.

CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS (CPA)

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accounting professional who has met state licensing requirements to earn their CPA designation through educational training, experience and passing the CPA Exam. The CPA license is granted by the by a state board of accountancy. It’s  the accounting profession’s highest standard of competence, a symbol of achievement and assurance of quality. CPA’s are able to perform a variety of roles including everything from tax preparation, to financial statements, to financial planning, to forensic accounting, to internal auditing, to income tax, the CPA’s primary function is to help businesses thrive. A CPA is an accountant, however not all accountants are CPAs.

CPAs are not limited to one industry, or even one job function. According to the AICPA, popular areas of interest available to those that earn their CPA designation include:

  • Auditing and Review
  • Tax Preparation and Consulting
  • Consulting Services
  • Financial Planning and Reporting

CPAs generally hold various positions in public and corporate accounting, as well as executive positions, such as the controller of chief financial officer (CFO). 

CPAs enjoy the flexibility in their roles from middle-management roles such as senior accountants to the executives such as CFOs. Their educational background and compulsory accounting work experience set them apart from traditional accountant roles.

The modern-day concept of a CPA  has evolved a lot as stated previously the role can include Controllers, CFOs, to Tax and Financial Consultants.

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER (CFO)

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are the financial strategists of any business. The CFO is your business top executive coming from the financial accounting department. A chief financial officer (CFO) is the senior executive responsible for managing the financial actions of a company. The CFO’s duties include tracking cash flow and financial planning as well as analyzing the company’s financial strengths and weaknesses and proposing corrective actions.

The role of a CFO is similar to a treasurer or controller because they are responsible for managing the finance and accounting divisions and for ensuring that the company’s financial reports are accurate and completed in a timely manner. The Controller role primarily focused on the reporting of past activity of the business to determine the financial health of the business whereas the CFO role is focused on the future of the business and where it plans to go. In essence, you need both performance measuring activities as well as strategic planning for the future to achieve the financial goals of the business.

 

So was all of that crystal clear?  I definitely understand if you need to get more familiar with these roles and duties.  As your business grows you will find that your financial reporting and advisory needs will change as well.  At Stellar Ledgers our team of CPAs, Controllers and CFOs are well equipped to address your business needs at every stage in your growth cycle. We have a diverse range of expertise from general ledger accounting, financial planning, and reporting to IRS Tax Audits.  We can help deliver the financial solutions you need to achieve your business goals. 

Contact us today to learn more about our services. http://bit.ly/2VsmqiQ