Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Susan SpainTell us about your work -what do you do? I am a CPA for a medium sized public accounting firm . We are a firm that has the goal of being your "one stop shop" when it comes to accounting, tax and financial consulting . My title of Principal allows me to supervise various people who do the detail work. I work mainly with small businesses. I can provide them with financial statements, tax returns and consult on QuickBooks . Preparing financial statements includes data entry for the checks and deposits into the software and making adjustments to complete the financial statements. It can also mean taking their accounting information in the form of a trial balance, making adjustments and presenting our clients with financial statements. We can receive information electronically (such as QuickBooks sent over the internet), review and make adjustments to the data and send it back over the Internet too. In most cases, someone else will prepare the information for a financial statement and I will assist by answering questions and reviewing the work papers and statements. Preparing tax returns will take up most of my time during the year. I will review 90% of the returns that cross my desk. Every year I do prepare a few just so I can keep abreast of changes and consequences. Work papers are considered very important to an accountant. The preparer must be trained on what accounts to substantiate and detail in the work papers. As a reveiwer, it is my job to make sure the tax returns or financial statements are substantially correct and that the preparer has detailed known information in the work papers. The consulting I do can be accounting consulting , tax research , QuickBooks training and consulting and human resource consulting . I am an outside controller to many small firms . An outside controller is someone who can assist in loan applications, reviewing of internally prepared financial statements, assisting with payroll and payroll reports or being the bookkeeper when the client's bookkeeper is gone . Because we are a medium sized firm, we have many opportunities to do a variety of jobs each day. During November and December, I also do management work to get our firm ready for tax season. This entails designing internally used forms, checklists, electronic filing procedures and training of personnel. There are many others who assist in getting ready for tax season. It takes all of us working together to streamline all of our procedures so that tax season runs smoothly. What skills are needed? An accountant in a public accounting firm will need organizational, communication, business writing, teamwork, and research skills . Basic psychology skills also help when working with clients and their problems or when dealing with the IRS . What was your major? I majored in business administration with an emphasis in accounting . How did you get started in your career? In high school, I took my first bookkeeping class. The teacher had me assist other students when they needed help. It seems I took to debits and credits very easily. After high school, I did not go straight to college. I became a bookkeeper for a few years with various small companies. However at age 26, I began taking college classes at KSU part time. I graduated 10 and Y2 years later. All during this time, I was working for Varney and Associates as a para-professional doing accounting work and tax returns. Upon graduation, I became a staff accountant with additional responsibilities and now have moved up to Principal with the firm. What experience do you need in this job? The most valuable experience I had was working as a bookkeeper for a pest control company for 6 years beginning when I was a junior in high school. I did everything from answering the phone, making deposits, writing checks, doing payroll and preparing financial statements. I cannot stress enough how important it is to try to get this type of job in high school or during college. During the past five years, I have had the opportunity to interview potential employees for our firm. When we have hired people with absolutely no bookkeeping experience, we have to do so much more training. To have bookkeeping experience is a big advantage to the applicant. Describe your "typical" workday: I try to get to work before 8:00 everyday and it usually takes a few minutes to answer emails and get phone messages off of voice mail. I will try to complete the job I was working on the day before. This job could be reviewing a tax return or a financial statement prepared by someone else. If there are changes that need to be made, I try to inform the preparer in person about the changes. During the day there will be many phone calls -- questions about accounting from clients, QuickBooks questions, and internal phone calls and questions. Our office tries to maintain an open door policy during the day. From 8:00 to 5:00 I am free to ask questions and get assistance from others in our office or they can come to me. We all have our areas of specific knowledge. The people in the office can be very helpful. Many of our small businesses incorporate their businesses each year. That means all new identification numbers, new tax years, new filing reports. I assist clients in preparing these forms and making sure their bookkeeping records are started properly. Every day is a training opportunity with staff accountants and para-professionals. We have new people every year and our firm has standards for work papers and tax returns. It is easier to review these forms if everyone prepares their work in the same basic way. It saves time too. The company I work for has a wonderful "corporate culture". We all treat each other with courtesy and civility. We truly do get along with each other very well. Many of the people I work with I consider to be very good friends. What is the hardest aspect of your job? Our clients have different expectations than we realize. They expect us to have a broad base of tax knowledge. They expect us to use it wisely and to their advantage all within the realm of the tax code. Many times clients will expect an answer to a question immediately. But, sometimes it takes many hours of research and planning to do the most advantageous work for your client. These expectations are what I find to be the hardest aspect of my job. Meeting their needs and helping them is my goal. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? A job well done. Because of our client expectations, I try to do the very best job I can. When the client and I do work together, and we see their goals realized, then I feel I have lived up to their expectations and they are happy with my work. Businesses and their owners need someone who is willing to feel their pain and their joys. When we do this together, it is very rewarding. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? The most important skills a public accountant will need are communication and writing skills along with the ability to adapt and change. The first two skills are obvious. The ability to change is inherent in this profession. Tax law is forever changing. We are seeing changes in the accounting profession with regard to auditing and accounting also. Client expectations are changing and we are seeing decreasing loyalties to "our bankers," "our lawyers," and "our accountants." Some clients will change their trusted advisors frequently. Keeping a client loyal to you may require you to change in ways you never thought possible.