If you know that you want to pursue a math-focused business degree and a career in financial reporting, you might wonder what distinguishes the fields of accounting and auditing. Accountant and auditor are such similar roles that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups the two jobs together under a single occupational profile. However, there are important differences in what these two business professionals do as well as the skills they need to succeed in their work.
Accounting and Auditing Degree Programs
Perhaps the most important distinction to make between accounting and auditing is that between the fields themselves, rather than just the degree programs or career opportunities. Accounting refers more generally to the financial reporting of information for a variety of purposes, from tax preparation to balance sheet statements given to potential investors. Auditing is the examination of financial documents by people within or outside an organization. Auditing, too, can serve different purposes, such as exposing fraud or mismanagement of finances or simply checking that financial statements are accurate and reliable.
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One of the biggest differences between accounting and auditing degree programs is the sheer number of schools that offer them. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) accredits 816 business schools and 187 specialized accounting programs across the globe. However, only “a few universities and colleges” have specialized undergraduate degree programs in subjects like internal auditing, the BLS reported. Internal auditing programs at the bachelor’s degree level build upon business and accounting core coursework with specialized classes such as information systems auditing, fraud examination, case studies in internal auditing and internships in auditing.
What can you do if you want to be an auditor but are having trouble finding a specialized degree program that fits your needs? Many auditors start out with a more general accounting background. You may find it helpful to spend a fifth year studying at the college level, whether in a specialized master’s degree program or as an undergraduate student, so that you have the option to attain the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential later in your career. Other credentials may be more valuable to you depending on what you want to do in your work as an auditor, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reported. These certifications include Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP). To advance in the field of auditing or transition from an accounting role to an auditing position, you may benefit from going to graduate school for auditing.
Accounting and Auditing Jobs
Every professional working in the occupations of accounting and auditing will be involved in financial reporting. However, there are a number of different specializations within accounting and auditing.
Public accountants put together financial documents that individuals and organizations are legally required to create, such as tax forms and statements for prospective investors. Private accountants, also called cost, management, managerial, corporate or industrial accountants, create financial documents for an organization’s internal use to assist with tasks such as budgeting, cost planning, performance evaluation and asset management. Some accountants work for government entities at the federal, state or local level, maintaining their agency’s financial statements or examining records of individuals and organizations for compliance with regulations and taxation.
Auditing positions can be internal, which means in which you would be working for the same organization whose financial documents you are reviewing, or external, which means a different employer hired you to examine these records. Internal auditors may be looking for fraud, mismanagement of funds or simply wasteful spending that could be eliminated to make the organization more profitable. External auditors verify the accuracy of financial documents for government authorities or investors. There are also information technology auditors, who combine internal auditing and computer technology skills to evaluate the security and reliability of the computer systems used to store financial data and produce financial documents.
The BLS expects career opportunities for both accountants and auditors to grow by a faster than average rate of 10 percent over a decade.