The accounting profession is divided into two sectors: public accounting and private accounting. The primary concern of both sectors is the collection, organization, and reporting of financial data. The motivation behind these activities is control: in private accounting, control of an organization’s scarce resources; in public accounting, control to effect reliable financial information made available to the public or financial institutions.
Public accounting is the area of accounting specifically concerned with the preparation of financial statements in a fair and consistent manner for external use of investors, creditors, and analysts. Public accounting is performed by accountants, in most cases Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
Public accounting firms are typically organized as partnerships, and vary in size from large, international firms employing thousands of people to small firms or even individual practitioners serving the needs of a local area.
These firms offer varied services to the general public, their clients. The types of services rendered vary according to firm size and orientation. There are four major areas of work within the public accounting field:
- accounting and auditing
- management consulting
- entrepreneurial services.
In the smaller firms, the areas may not be formally divided. A group of giant, multinational CPA firms is known as the Big Four because four firms comprise this group. This group of CPA firms audit the majority of companies represented in the Fortune 1000. These Big Four firms are:
- Deloitte & Touche
- Ernst & Young
The private accounting field, also known as industrial or management accounting, encompasses all accountants who, in varying capacities, handle the accounting needs of a single employer. The field is composed of both profit-making and non-profit organizations (e.g. hospitals, colleges, and charities).
The public accountant’s independent status does not exist for the private accountant, who must acquire an intimate knowledge of his or her company’s operations, including both internal and external forces affecting its welfare.
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