Accounting And Business Career
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The field of business is a tremendously large one; thousands of people find employment in it, and there is room for thousands more. But though so many may enter the business world, those who are surest of making their way in it are the ones who go into it as specially trained professionals, able and ready to do some one difficult thing so well that their services will always be in demand.
Since ancient times, when trading first arose among men, it has always been customary to keep some account of the business done; and at present, when business transactions are becoming constantly more and more complex and elaborate, the accounting systems are of the greatest importance. It is through them that the financial state of individual businesses can be told, and thus, indirectly, that of business as a whole. In other words, accounts are a kind of key to the prosperity of a nation and, besides this, accountancy and the other professions connected with it are so very important for the successful carrying on and regulating of business that men trained in these professions find a large and profitable field for their labors.
Some people think that accountancy is simply another name for bookkeeping, but this is by no means the case. The duties of the accountant are entirely different from, and his responsibilities far greater than, those of the bookkeeper. The account-ant must devise systems of accounts which will be most suitable to the business or undertaking for which they are intended. In order to do this, he must, in a general way, be familiar with the various fields of business, and in addition, make himself especially familiar with the particular features of each undertaking for which he is to devise a system of accounts. When he has found a system which will be most suitable, he must be able to see it installed—started on its way—after which it is left to the bookkeepers to carry on the daily work of "keeping the books."
The accountant not only devises new systems, but also supervises the carrying out of systems already installed. One of his duties is auditing the books to determine whether there has been any fraud and, when there is no question of fraud, to see whether the accounts are otherwise perfectly accurate. In the case of a concern which is doing business it is often the accountant's duty to draw up reports of the gains, losses and dividends declared, and of the general financial condition of the concern; and he is held responsible for the accuracy of such reports. Not only going concerns demand his services, but those who are going out of business for any reason whatever have an accountant report upon their financial state and upon the distribution of their assets.
There are times, too, when unusual conditions arise in the business world, and on such occasions accountants are employed as special investigators and consulted as business advisers. In these cases it is usually a Certified Public Accountant who is engaged. He is an accountant who has passed certain examinations given by the State Department of Education, and who has received the degree of Certified Public Accountant. The C. P. A. is usually a "free lance;" he accepts various business engagements, as would a lawyer, for instance. Some accountants are permanently employed by some firm or other enterprise, but these are usually not men with the C. P. A. degree.
Accountancy is, too, the basis of the other business professions. The duties of the auditor are more a matter of routine than those of the accountant, though they are in some ways similar to his; but the auditor's responsibilities are not so great as the accountant's. It is the business of the auditor to check up the work of the bookkeepers, to see that the books are in shape for the drawing up of financial statements, and for making analyses of the business. He makes, also, official statements as to the condition of the books, and is held responsible for their accuracy. And, in addition, he acts as an aid to the accountant, whom he assists in making up new, or in changing old accounting systems.
The duties of the cost accountant are much more specialized than those of the general accountant. He devotes himself to determining the costs of producing either merchandise or service, and he analyzes costs in order to bring about the most economic and efficient management of an enterprise. The cost accountant must be a well trained bookkeeper, must understand the principles of accounting, and have some knowledge of factory conditions.
Then there is the systematizer—the man who, several years ago, was popularly known as the "efficiency expert." His chief duty is to provide forms and records through which a maximum of information may be obtained at the smallest possible expenditure of time, money and energy. He thoroughly investigates any enterprise into which he is called, and if he finds that waste of any kind is taking place, he reorganizes the business so as to eliminate this waste and to get the greatest possible results from the time, money and energy spent on the work.
The business engineer is a man especially trained to undertake the problems of organizing and managing industrial plants from the technical viewpoint. He approaches the problems of manufacturing, transportation—in fact, of production and distribution in general scientifically, and yet as a business man. Still another business professional is the business counselor, or consulting accountant. He is usually a man of long and varied experience, whose advice is likely to be of great practical value. He is consulted by younger men concerning financial matters of unusual character and great importance, as some well-known medical specialist might be consulted by other physicians in a serious illness.
It is because the business processes of today are so complicated that accountancy has risen to the rank of the professions. In order to cope successfully with the big problems which are constantly arising, the accountant must have a thorough and specialized training, which, when carried far enough, entitles him to a degree. Every boy who wishes to take up the study of accountancy must have at least a high school education or its equivalent and, though it is not absolutely necessary, it is never inadvisable to have a college education. In high school the student should take as much work as possible in mathematics and English, and courses also in logic, modern languages and economics. If the boy attends a high school where commercial courses are given, he should also take advantage of the work in bookkeeping and business practice.
There are many studies included in the actual training for accountancy. Especially is this the case when this training is taken at a university. At present many of the large American universities have departments, or at least give courses, in the allied subjects of commerce) accounts and finance. Besides a thorough training in the principles and practice of accounting, bookkeeping and auditing, the student will find useful many of the courses which are included under the headings of commerce and finance, and which give information that later will be found to be a necessary part of the accountant's equipment. There are, for instance, courses in business organization and administration, in commercial law, in industrial processes, in domestic and foreign exchange, in banking practice and in many other subjects which will tend to give the student a better insight into business as a whole.
But no amount of study alone can ever produce a thoroughly efficient accountant. Acquaintance with, and experience in, real business are absolutely necessary. It is very useful to have a fund of practical information such as is gained in from two to four years at a school, but actual experience gives the would-be accountant additional training of a kind not to be found in school work. The New York State Department of Education recognizes this fact, for, in addition to the academic requirements which the student must fulfil before receiving the C. P. A. degree, at least three years' experience in an accountant's office is demanded. In many other states there are similar requirements. It is usual for the young man who wishes to become an accountant to work, while he is still in school, in some subordinate position in an office. Then, when he has completed his course, he has a certain background of practical experience which makes him fit to enter a more important position, or to undertake the responsibilities of independent practice.
There are numerous business schools in every city giving courses in accountancy, But probably the fullest and broadest business training may be obtained in the universities which give commercial courses. Courses in accountancy are given also in evening high schools and by the Y. M. C. A. and other similar institutions. Some of these schools offer evening courses and in some, too, there is no charge for tuition. At a university, how-ever, whether day or evening courses are taken, there is usually a charge, the cost varying from about $300 to $500. Exact and complete information as to schools and costs may be obtained by applying to the schools themselves, or to the American Institute of Accountants, in New York City. The latter will also recommend to the student good textbooks and other reading matter on accountancy and the business professions.
But even the fullest educational and actual business training cannot produce an accountant or other business professional unless the student has certain special qualities of mind and character. First of all must come industry and honesty, which are essential to success in every vocation. It will easily be seen how necessary it is that the business professional have an alert and analytic mind. He must be awake to every phase of any situation in which he may find himself. The business professional who cannot adjust himself to the conditions and surroundings of the enterprise with which he is busy at the time will not be able to understand, and thus fully to satisfy the needs of that enterprise.
Adaptability is an exceedingly necessary requirement, because of the conditions under which the accountant is often forced to work. He must often do his work under high pressure, in a short time, and he must be prepared for long and irregular hours. Executive or managerial ability is also a desirable quality. With its help, the accountant will be able more successfully to arrange and supervise his work, and he will, at the same time, inspire greater confidence in his employers and assistants.
For the well-trained, capable young man, accountancy is a desirable field. The profession is not, like some others, over-crowded, and it is one which has many advantages. The work is useful, interesting and very remunerative. Students can earn an average of about $1,000 a year, and an accountant seldom starts with a salary of less than $2,500. Once he is started on his way, the good accountant can make from $100 a week upward.
At present there is practically unlimited opportunity for the man who goes into the newest field of accountancy—that of municipal accounting. This is concerned with the regulation of the public finances of towns, cities and states, and is a field of great public service.
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HATFIELD, HENRY RAND: "Modern Accounting," D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1919.
KLEIN, JOHN J.: "Accountancy and the Business Professions," The Students' Aid Committee of the High School Teachers' Association of New York City, 1910.
Business Law Journal, Business Law Journal, New York.
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