While a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is always an accountant, not all accountants are CPAs. To become one, an accountant must take and pass a series of rigorous tests administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. A number of US states also require these individuals to pass state exams as well. Accordingly, there are a number of accountants who never pass the exam and, though they can perform a variety of accountancy chores, they are not allowed to perform certain tasks that only someone who is certified can do.
These accounting professionals handle a variety of jobs and tasks. They offer basic income tax preparation and advice for a range of clients including individuals, small businesses and corporations. Many perform basic business record keeping, auditing and consulting work. To maintain their license, they must take 120 hours of continuing education courses every three years in order to stay abreast of changes in their profession.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offers opportunities to people with this certification. In fact, to be considered for a position with the FBI, an applicant generally must be either an attorney or a CPA. Many other federal and state government agencies offer positions for those in this profession, as do corporations and small businesses alike. In such areas, these individuals hold positions as controllers, chief financial officer (CFO) and even chief executive officer (CEO).
One of the more important roles CPAs can perform is that of a consultant. In this role, the accountant may find himself researching a number of ways to save a corporation or small business money or developing financial plans that allow the business or corporation to look attractive to investors. Like lawyers, they are bound by a code of ethics, and they must give clients good, sound ethical advice. When they stray from their code of ethics, financial collapse can be the end result — as in the Enron scandal, where a number of corporate executives and CPAs from Arthur-Anderson, a well-known accounting firm, were indicted for illegal and unethical accounting practices.