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If one likens a company or business to a human body, the accountant may be seen as the circulatory system, ensuring that the financial resources are controlled and available as needed in order for the company to survive and profit. As such, an accountant is vital to the smooth running of the company.
An accountant is, by definition, more than a bookkeeper (see Uptasker’s articles on Bookkeepers for information). He (or she) has obtained a B.Com Accounting degree or an equivalent CA(SA) undergraduate qualification at a SAICA (South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) accredited university. Once the degree has been completed, it is necessary to complete the Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA), which focuses on Accounting, Auditing, Financial Management and Taxation.
The accountant then enters into a 3-year on-site apprenticeship and practical training period in a Registered Training Office (RTO) if planning to specialise in auditing, or an Approved Training Organisation (ATO) in order to specialise in financial management. This qualifies the accountant to accurately assess and control all financial matters through the keeping of detailed financial records, including the provision of advice and guidance relating to financial matters. There is a difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant, in that only an accountant is qualified to sign off annual accounts and present these to the external auditors for review.
An accountant may be permanently employed by a small company, business or organisation, or be part of the team of a large national or international corporation. Alternatively, an accountant may be employed as and when needed in the case of smaller companies or businesses which do not have high financial turnovers and therefore do not need a permanent full-time accountant. Self-employed accountants are an ideal solution for small enterprises, as they are able to assist when needed, but are not permanent employees which smaller businesses cannot afford.
In addition, there are external specialised forensic accountants who are independently appointed to look into possible financial irregularities or suspected fraud in companies. Such accountants are highly skilled and experienced in laws relating to financial affairs.
An accountant is responsible for all matters relating to the financial affairs of the organisation for which he or she works. Although there may be more junior clerical staff working under the accountant, it is the accountant’s responsibility to ensure that all matters of finance are accurate, up-to-date, in line with legal requirements, open to scrutiny and above reproach.
The accountant is tasked with ensuring that management is kept informed of the financial affairs of the company, and will provide advice and guidance when needed. He is given the overall responsibility of ensuring that creditors are paid timeously, and that debtors settle their accounts as agreed, thereby ensuring a steady flow of income into the company.
The accountant is also responsible for ensuring that the company’s employees are paid correctly and on time. The accountant is an integral and vital member of any business, for many reasons.
Accountants who form part of the permanent workforce are selected with extreme care, bearing in mind their qualifications, skills and experience. However, for those smaller businesses which choose to use an external accountant, it is wise to appoint an accountant who has an excellent reputation.
Whilst accountants can and do widely advertise their services, it is advisable to find out if they are well known, how long they have been in operation, whether they are reliable and affordable for your particular needs, and, if available, who else they are working for. Make use of a reliable and informative resource such as Uptasker where possible to check their reviews and range of services.
Even small businesses will find the services of an accountant invaluable, especially when it comes to taxation matters, collecting debtors’ payments and preparing annual accounts for inspection by the auditors (if you have a (Pty) Ltd company). A bookkeeper can assist you to a large degree, but an accountant is your safe haven at the end of the financial year.
For more tips, see our accountant articles.