Accountants and financial managers primarily work with finances and financial documents. While the work of these two professions is similar, there are some differences. If you are interested in becoming an accountant or financial manager, understanding the differences can help you choose the proper career path.
An accountant works to measure and report an organization’s financial status. For example, accountants prepare tax returns and financial filings in accordance with government regulations. Many accountants also provide investment planning and related services. Financial managers plan and manage an organization’s financial strategy. For example, a financial manager may oversee the implementation of an expansion project or manage an organization’s finances to reduce risk. Financial managers generally supervise the production of reports created by accountants.
Most accounting positions require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. However, you will have better job prospects if you have a master’s degree in accounting or a related field and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification. Though some financial manager positions require only a bachelor’s degree, you'll need a master’s degree in business administration, finance or economics to qualify for most positions. If you are working in a related position, some companies may also offer you a formal financial management training program to learn the skills needed to work as a financial manager.
Whether you work as an accountant or a financial manager, you will generally work in an office setting. However, there are many differences in working conditions of accountants and financial managers. Accountants generally work a 40-hour week, though tax accountants may work longer hours during tax season. Financial managers commonly work 50 or more hours in a week. Many accountants are self-employed, often working for individuals and companies on a contract basis. However, financial mangers work almost exclusively as an employee of a company, government agency or other organization. Both accountants and financial managers may travel frequently to other offices or to meet with clients.
Generally, you will earn a much higher level of compensation as a financial manager than as an accountant. As of May 2010, the average annual income of a financial manager was $116,970, while the average annual income of an accountant was $68,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, you may find that is easier to find a position as an accountant than as a financial manager. As of May 2010, the BLS reported more than a million accountants were working in the United States, while there were less than half a million working financial managers. In addition, the BLS expects the number of accounting positions to grow faster than the number of financial manager positions.