The term public accountant has always been very confusing. The primary reason for this will be the differences in terminology followed in different countries.
If you analyze the world of business, the work related to accounting is done at two levels. First, the company doing any business has their own in house accounting practice where the people in the department are involved with setting up the accounting system, recording the business transactions and preparing financial systems. This field is generally referred to as private accounting and people working in are referred to as private accountants.
Apart from this, we also have independent accounting firms who provide accounting, taxation, and auditing related services to corporations and individuals who need to conform to regulations and pay taxes. Some of the popular accounting firms are KPMG and PwC. People who work with these independent accounting firms and provide accounting and taxation services to other corporations are generally referred to as public accountants.
Since public accountants need to maintain the highest professional standards, each country has their own professional accounting bodies which provide examinations and standards that need to be met in order to practice accounting as a professional. The highest accounting credential in the US is Certified Public Accountant (CPA). A CPA is licensed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) after passing their exams and meeting other professional requirements. CPA is not just popular in the US; professionals around the world actively seek this certification. Currently AICPA has licensed CPA in 145 countries. Similar to CPA, in India the equivalent profession is that of Chartered Accountant (CA) which is governed by Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).
Not all public accounts provide all services. Instead they specialize in certain areas such as preparing taxes, auditing financial statements, or providing management consulting. The accountants who specialize in taxation issues, work with preparing and filing income tax returns in accordance with the rules and regulations of the country. CPAs can also provide services in specialized areas of accounting like financial forensics, business valuation, personal financial planning, and IT consulting. In forensic accounting, accountants play the roles of detectives to uncover financial frauds. CPAs can also pursue interesting career paths within governments either at the federal, state or local levels.
Typically, the work of a public accountant is considered to be a nine-to-five job but long hours are not uncommon especially during the times of annual filings. The accounting career demands a strong hold on maths and needs you to have an attitude of accuracy and consistency and attention to detail. There are many career opportunities with a wide variety of firms. So, do you have what it takes to be a public accountant?