The 4 Main Areas of Accounting and Finance

The first step to a successful career is knowing where you want to go and what you want to do. So often traditional academia does not properly explain what the different areas of accounting and finance are like in the real world. Students find themselves questioning what they really want to do in their career. They might gravitate toward certain areas, based on a certain professor they favored; or gravitate towards a certain field, like public accounting, due to conventional wisdom. But many young professionals find themselves redirecting their path after learning about various areas of the field through the process of trial and error, we’ll call experience.

Decide which area of Accounting or Finance you want to focus on.

1. Public Accounting – Work for a CPA Firm charging clients for your services

  • Audit – Audit clients on a regular cycle, render advice on internal control and accounting practices and procedures
  • Tax – Prepare tax returns, render tax advice
  • Forensic – Investigate potential fraud and embezzlement, make recommendations for prevention
  • IT and Systems Audit – Evaluate controls and work-flows in systems

2. Corporate Accounting – Work for a company in their accounting department

  • Audit and Compliance – Internal audit, SOX, and other compliance roles
  • Financial Accounting – Month, Quarter, Year-end journal entries, reconciliations, sometimes financial statement preparation and analysis
  • Management Accounting – BI, Budgeting, forecasting, financial statement preparation and analysis

3. Corporate Finance – Work for a company in the accounting or finance department

  • Treasury – Manage banking relationships, debt compliance, bank transaction work-flows and cash positions
  • Management Accounting – Support business decision making with budgets, forecasts, cost analysis, performance reporting such as KPIs and Dashboards
  • FP&A – A blend of management accounting and more typical corporate finance such as project analysis, ROI, NPV, and IRR

4. Investment Banking – Work for an investment banking firm who charges for services

  • Manage money – Work for a money manager, hedge fund, or investment bank managing investments
  • Merger and acquisition (M&A), IPO – Help companies buy each other or go public
  • Private Equity – Find established companies to buy and own as investments
  • Venture Capital – Find start-up ventures to fund as investments

It’s important to note that the above list is generalized and that I grouped some things together that people will tell me should be kept separate. This is just a simple way of laying out the landscape of Accounting and Finance field. I will write more articles on each of the bullet points listed and describe how the work in each of these areas differs.

Figure out which area is most interesting to you. Which one involves work you think you would enjoy? What areas pay in line with your future needs and expectations? How do the cultures in these areas compare to your personal values and work style? What about the hours? If you haven’t already answered these questions for yourself and thought about what the ideal work, compensation, and culture is then figure that out now. It’s better to do a little research, ask yourself some important questions, and help focus your direction toward what you feel you really want. That goal is something you can always change in the future, but having set that goal you can focus on opportunities you know will get you there.