The first level is the practical one within the business workforce. Here the accountant is distinguished from the rest of the workforce as the one who looks after the money by counting and recording (accounting) for what is earned and what is spent.
The second level of what is an accountant, is deciding the level of competence or qualification of the “accountant” in question. It is quite common for the term accountant to be used as a job definition without reference to the specific competence of the person. The distinction between the status of individual accountants will come from the level of qualification and competence which they have attained.
In almost all jurisdictions, there will be a professional body which is responsible for approving the qualifications and competence of its membership and for maintaining professional standards. This professional body is also likely to be involved in the establishment of accounting standards and will also be involved in disciplining members to ensure that the level of professionalism is maintained.
The identification of what is an accountant at a professional level is mostly distinguished by the right of a fully qualified accountant to use a “title” such as Chartered Accountant or Chartered Professional Accountant.
If you want to know whether someone is a “professional accountant” you should check carefully:
- what their qualifications are,
- whether they are a member of a recognised professional institution;
- whether they are required to undertake continuing professional development;
- whether they are bound by a code of professional ethics;
- whether they are subject to disciplinary procedures, and;
- whether their professional practice is subject to review on a regular basis if they offer services to the public.
As a guide, a fully qualified professional accountant is likely to have followed a course of study which equates to about seven years of endeavour and will be a member of a professional institution which requires all of the above.
The information to test what is an accountant in your jurisdiction is readily available from professional accounting bodies such as the American Institute of CPAs in the United States, the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies in the United Kingdom, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia, and the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants. Members of the last two bodies have recently voted in favour of creating one new Institute.
The third and final level of what is an accountant, is the measure of a professionally qualified accountant to work internationally. This is generally achieved by the ability to obtain approvals from the local accountants’ organisation. International acceptance of qualifications varies from organisation to organisation so it is important to test the precise situation by contacting the local organisation to verify whether specific international qualifications are valid where you are operating.
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