What is an Accounting Assistant?

What is an Accounting Assistant?

On your way to becoming an Accountant, you may consider being an accounting assistant after taking some core classes in an accredited accounting program. It takes a certain kind of numbers person to enter the field of accounting, but it fills an essential need that every company has.

Larger companies, especially, employ accounting assistants and accounting clerks to augment their financial departments. Some accounting assistants, however, work as free agents. While the job is sometimes viewed as a step to becoming an accountant, people employed in this position for several years can work their way up to management positions.

Job Description

What is an Accounting Assistant?

Accounting assistants provide administrative support to accountants. They typically work on payroll, bookkeeping, reporting, and miscellaneous tasks for the accountant. During the tax reporting season, Accounting Assistants can expect to be completing tax returns for simple accounts, and possibly preparing paperwork for more difficult accounts.

The position is mostly a 9-5 day job, but can include night and weekend shifts during end of month and tax seasons. Accounting assistants need to be familiar with most accounting software, like Quickbooks or Microsoft Money, and be able to compile and run reports using spreadsheets and databases,  according to the Houston Chronicle. A typical salary range for accounting assistants is between $25k and $46k per year based on prior experience and education, according to PayScale. Many companies offer benefits, retirement, and will assist you in completing your Accounting degree or CPA licensing.

Duties may include :
• Drafting and sending invoices
• Process payments made by or to the company
• Keeping track of overdue accounts and sending reminders to clients
• Reconcile employment hours with statements
• Reconcile bank statements
• Manage insurance claims
• Other clerical duties
A small number of accountant assistants work as freelancers, filling in and augmenting staff during peak seasons. These people can work from a home office or at the client’s business.

A Changing Field

Accounting, as a whole, is experiencing a lot of change, and that includes the role of the accounting assistant. For one thing, this type of job might once have been viewed as drudgery. Bob Cratchit is an example of an antiquated image of an accounting assistant. Dickens pictured him toiling day-in-and-day-out in his cubicle with his nose in his ledgers. Today’s accounting assistants have more types of responsibilities and use technology to perform quality control and ensure accuracy. An article in Forbes Magazine asserts that, although many people believe that robots and artificial intelligence will take over the jobs done today by assistants in accounting, there will always be a need for the human factor.
What will change is the need for people in this occupation to acquire expertise in computer use, especially in software like Quickbooks, Word and Excel. As accountants with bachelor’s and advanced degrees in accounting take on the role of advisors in finance for corporations, analyzing and interpreting financial data for management, companies will need employees to enter the data and to manage incoming and outgoing finances. There will also be a need for customer service in contacting people about overdue bills and other issues.
While the job is still usually performed in the office, there are some exceptions. To meet the need for expended proficiency in entry-level positions, many accountant assistants find they are more mobile, attending meetings and workshops that are often held off-site.

Accounting Assistant or Accounting Clerk

Another change is in the job titles “accounting assistant” and “accounting clerk.” Once viewed as being synonymous, a split has occurred identifying these as two separate occupations. According to Biz Fluent.com, an accounting clerk is a mostly clerical position, while accounting assistants have more of the responsibilities of an accountant.
The accounting clerk enters daily data into a ledger, answers telephones and handles various other tasks such making copies, sending emails or letters and other clerical duties. For this job, a high school diploma is usually sufficient because much of the work that is specific to accounting is learned through on-the-job training. These workers do have to know how to use accounting software, however.
Accounting assistants perform many different types of duties in their support of the accountants in a business. They may take much of the responsibility for getting the payroll out and for direct customer contact. While people can become accounting assistants with high school diplomas, employers prefer them to have a minimum of an associate degree, and sometimes a bachelor’s degree. Accounting clerks may eventually work their way up to becoming an accounting assistant, but accounting assistants, after several years of experience, can assume management positions.

Education

What is an Accounting Assistant?

Most accounting assistant job postings list a high school diploma as the minimum requirement, but the positions are most likely filled by students in an accounting program or by individuals with accounting experience. It is possible to attain the position without experience or education but you will be competing for a limited number of openings with candidates that may have those additional qualifications.

There are various accounting assistant certifications and diplomas that are offered at different colleges including an Accounting Clerk Certification. Most certificate and diploma programs cover similar areas including:

• Financial accounting: This is recording, understanding and generating reports about business financial transactions.
• Principles of management: This is the study of using human capital and other resources to effectively run a business.
• Managerial accounting: Managerial accounting involves managing cash flow, pricing products and using other factors to present reports to management that will help them make more informed decisions.
• Accounting software applications: As stated earlier, the field of accounting is turning to technology to help track financial data, trends, legislation and other pertinent information. Students must become comfortable in using such technology.

There are some certifications specific to spreadsheet applications as well. These recognitions can be obtained while taking classes toward a bachelor’s degree in accounting. At many colleges, the certifications are included in the curriculum as you progress through the program.

Work Environment

As an accounting assistant you can expect to work at a desk in an office setting. You may have an office or a cubicle, and you will be using a computer for most of the work that needs to be completed. As for the types of places accountant assistants are employed, these include healthcare facilities, government agencies, insurance companies, brick-and-mortar retail companies and online shopping companies. They work in small and in large businesses. Smaller businesses may require the assistants to do more of the jobs of a certified accountant while larger businesses with more staff may require a specific role for assistants. A recent job listing online was for an entry-level position in accounting, auditing and finance at a corrections facility in Kansas. Others were for banks, insurance companies, hospitals and nursing homes and many retail and service establishments including city offices.

Organizations

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, or ACCA, offers membership at any level and certifications after three years in the field. The certification can take up to 4 years to complete and consists of up to 14 examinations to complete, including an ethics module. The American Accounting Association, or AAA, was founded in 1916 and offers valuable publications and research tools. They have a diverse membership and claim to shape the future of accounting.

Related Resource: Certified Fraud Examiner

To be an accounting assistant, you need to have a passion for numbers, accounting, and for accuracy. You need to have attention to detail and determination to solve sometimes difficult problems within general ledgers and spreadsheets full of data. Confidentiality is an important factor when dealing with corporate or personal accounts. It can be a great lifelong career, or it can be a way to earn valuable experience and education on the way to becoming an accountant.

Glassdoor.com lists several requirements beyond these for someone who wants to become an accounting assistant. One is an ability to communicate well in verbal or written forms. That is because these assistants work to assist professional accountants and must be able to explain their findings as well as to generate written reports. Another requisite is the ability to work independently after being given an assignment. Accountant assistants should be able to work well in a team setting as well, especially when working for a large firm with many employees. As with most jobs today, being bilingual can be a big asset. The ability to multitask and prioritize is important because these workers often have several ongoing projects with different deadlines.

Becoming an accountant assistant can begin with a high school diploma but getting ahead in the job requires keeping abreast of new developments in the field. Getting an associate degree, or even a bachelor’s degree can be a great help. Many people take evening classes or even sign up for community education courses in things such as understanding computers and digital spreadsheets. Today’s technology will not replace humans in this field, but it might make it possible to do the same work with fewer employees. That means, especially in large businesses, that assistants will still be needed but competition for those jobs will be greater. As accountants rise to higher levels and begin to work in management, assistants will need to be able to do more complicated tasks and assume more responsibilities as well.

How to Become an Accounting Assistant

What is an Accounting Assistant?

Take Courses

While people do find jobs with only a high school diploma, it is increasingly hard to get a good position without at least an associate degree. If you have only a diploma, it would be wise to take some certification courses, or even audit some courses, to add to your resume.

Get a Degree

For those who want to get a more advanced position, it becomes imperative to have a degree. An associate program usually takes from 18 months to two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree takes four years, but it is possible to earn both online. That means someone could take a position as an accountant assistant with a diploma and then work on a degree while they were employed and gaining experience. Taking an internship, if you could afford the time, could also pay for itself in experience.

Become Certified

Professional certifications can be valuable. This is not the certified public accountant credential. To earn that you must have a minimum number of college credits and pass an exam among other requisites. This is certification in using Excel, for instance, or in reading spreadsheets. Many of these are offered by professional organizations and are affordable or even free.
Other certifications available include the Certified Bookkeeper credential offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. Another is the Certified Accountant credential, offered by the National Association of Certified Public Accountants that requires applicants to pass an exam by offers study materials for the test. Accountant assistants might also consider the Certified Accounting Paraprofessional credential, for which you must have an associate or bachelor’s degree and one year of accounting or bookkeeping experience.

These, and other certifications tell a future employer that you are serious about the profession and that you intend to stay current in new developments and legalities in the field.

Conclusion

Accountant assistants are valuable to most large businesses to assist them in time of added business volume. In small businesses, they may assume many of the responsibilities that certified accountants usually perform. They augment the workforce and free certified accountants such as CPA’s to perform more complex tasks. No longer are they merely responsible for clerical work, but they are experienced in the use of technology and in many aspects of accounting that were formerly only for those with higher college degrees. The key to getting great job is to accept a starting position and to gain the knowledge and experience that is available. That includes taking community college courses or courses offered by professional organizations, showing enthusiasm on the job and being responsible for working independently and meeting deadlines. You may decide to make the accounting assistant position your career and to leverage your experience to advance to management, or to use it as a foundation for becoming a fully licensed and competent certified professional accountant through further study and certification.

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