Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Calculated move
Usha Albuquerque

Accountancy is one career where you can never be in need of a job. Every organisation, large or small, whatever the business, good or bad, requires accountants. All transactions need to be reported, budgets made and analysed and financial reports generated. As the demand for financial information increases with the emergence of a global economy, the field grows larger.

While chartered accountants are mainly required for auditing, tax planning and management, there is also a need for general accountants, who handle the day-to-day financial working of an organisation. Maintaining financial records of an organisation is of utmost importance. Accountants plan, budget, analyse, verify and interpret financial transactions. They operate accounts, supervise and control income and expenditure, deal with wages and salaries, send out invoices, and also ensure that the records of these transactions are kept so that the information can at any time be extracted from them.

Accountants can also specialise in cost accountancy, evaluating operational efficiency and guiding managerial decisions. Cost accountants render valuable assistance to the management by collecting, collating, interpreting and condensing data relating to the business activities and converting them into money terms to enable non-financial executives to arrive at the right decisions or to select the right course of action at the right time.

Choice to count on

Cost and management accounting helps in planning, monitoring and controlling the cost and price of a product or a service. The process involves critical monitoring of relevant costs and overheads like material, labour, capital costs etc., involved in making a product or providing a service. Such accountants analyse the sales trend to strike a balance between the demand and supply, to prevent overproduction. They also monitor the performance, to spot and report on problems and prevent them from occurring in future. The job involves advice on product pricing, production planning and inventory control, product wise return on capital employed, investment proposals, preparing profit and loss reports etc. The cost accountant, therefore, monitors the companyís performance and efficiency, and guides managerial decisions by making financial forecasts. With the growing competition in the corporate sector, the role and importance of cost accountants has increased greatly, as they closely analyse costs and devise ways to reduce it as far as possible.

Cost accountants can be involved in internal audits of a company which can involve travelling if it is a large nationalised industry and business organisation. The work may also involve going onto the shop floor for information on costs and processes. Other than this, most of an accountantís time is spent at the desk, preparing accounts, planning budgets etc.

Eligibility

You can become an accountant with a degree or diploma in accountancy or commerce after plus two. Several universities, including the University of Mumbai, University of Rajasthan, Madurai Kamaraj University, University of Agra, offer diploma and degree courses in accountancy and finance. The Institute of Cost And Works Accountants of India (ICWAI), with its headquarters at Kolkata and four regional councils at Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai offers a cost and management accountants course. The course comprises of three stages: Foundation, Intermediate and Final. Candidates with plus two qualification can join the institute's intermediate course after qualifying for the foundation course examination of the institute. However, direct registration without appearing for the foundation course is open to graduates of any discipline.

There are also a number of courses at the masterís level in finance and accounting fields for those who wish to upgrade their skills and move into higher management roles. You can consider courses such as Masterís in Finance, the programme of Certified Public Accountants, financial analysis, and so on. There is also an MS (Accounting) programme offered by the ICFAI for accounting professionals which combines areas like management, information technology and E-Business US GAAP, code of ethics, and soft skills, along with the core areas like accounting, auditing, taxation and business law.

Job prospects

There is a sustained demand for qualified, trained and experienced accountants. After training, accountants have several career options: they can apply for jobs in the field of accounts, finance, taxation, audit and costing. There is a growing awareness amongst business entrepreneurs for the need of the services of cost accountants. This has further increased the demand for cost and management accounting services in all sectors of the economy. In government, they are treated on a par with other Class I services. In organisations like the Railways, Indian Army, nationalised banks, the services of cost accountants are often required for costing, budgeting, auditing purposes.

Apart from the opportunities available in the government sector, cost and management accountants can also look forward to the corporate world. They can work as executers, administrators, appraisers, valuers, secretarial and tax consultants, advisors etc. With advancement in career and experience, they can even rise to top positions like financial auditor, financial advisor, finance director etc. They can also pursue teaching in various universities as professors, readers, lecturers.

Diversified profiles

The present day complex tax systems, improved methods of computing costs and controlling budgets, the new fields of management accounting and the innovations in accounting methodology have increased the importance of the accountancy profession. By combining a knowledge of taxation and accountancy with management and quantitative techniques, cost accountants can bridge the responsibilities of a CA or MBA. It is for this reason that the government, industry and business are increasingly drawing upon these professionals for planning and executing their financial programmes.

Moreover, as a cost accountant you can also build up your own practice by obtaining a licence from the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (ICWA), either individually or with one or more members of the institute in practice. The field of practice ranges from management consultants, tax consultants to trustee executor, appraiser, cost auditor etc.

The qualification of a cost accountant along with additional qualifications such as a CA or MBA will greatly increase career options and improve career prospects.

Analytical and reasoning skills are the most important qualities that can help you in this career. Accountants should have academic and numerical ability, good judgement, tact in dealing with clients and employers, the ability to write and speak concisely, resourcefulness and a confident manner. As the work often deals with making future projections and forecasts regarding the transactions, costs, pricing etc, cost and management accountants must have a broad knowledge of the commercial world and conditions in the global environment. An objective outlook in assessing different business situations, ability to negotiate with people at all levels within an organisation, and good communication skills in order to present complex financial information simply and clearly to non-specialists can go a long way in creating a successful career.

Thus, if you have a nose for accounting and numbers, and in addition, determination, and staying power, then a career as an accountant may have you writing your own salary cheque.

The writer is a noted career expert