What’s the Difference Between Accounting and Finance?

ACCOUNTING VS. FINANCE

If you’ve found yourself gravitating toward a degree—and career—in business, then you’re setting yourself up for a well-rounded education, with exposure to many different facets of how organizations run. Within such a broad discipline, however, you may also find that you want to specialize within a specific business area. Two important areas of study that have many similarities, and notable differences, are accounting and finance. While these fields have much in common and can sometimes lead to similar careers, there are significant differences that will impact your future career in accounting or career in finance. Let’s take a look at these two focus areas to see how they align and how they differ.

What are the Similarities and Differences between Accounting and Finance?

Both accounting and finance focus on the financial portion of running a business. In many businesses, one individual may serve in both capacities. Accounting is the more formal reporting side of the business. Data of a financial nature is captured by the accounting department to aid in producing the financial statements of the organization. This information encompasses the receipt of materials, costs related to the creation of a product, sale of goods, and collection of the accounts from customers. Bill paying and budgeting also occupy a major role in the data collection and use process. Accountants are valued members of the organization’s management team. Since accountants have visibility to cost data, sales information, and other financial materials, they oftentimes act in an advisory capacity to company management teams and work closely with them to supply key information for decision-making.

Finance is more about interpretation of the accounting information and analysis of current and past data to aid in forecasting/predicting future trends in the organization. Individuals with a finance degree may also be involved with assisting the organization in obtaining financing for physical assets, the raising of funds through the sale of bonds or stock, and budgeting.

Accounting and Finance at a Glance

Major

Accounting

Finance

Sample Job Roles

  • Cost Accounting
  • Tax Preparation
  • Payroll Accounting
  • Non-profit Organization Support
  • Credit Manager
  • Trust Administrator
  • Insurance Administrator
  • Director of Risk Management
  • Financial Planner
  • Financial Analyst
  • Finance Manager

Sample Functions

  • Data collection
  • Auditing
  • Budget analysis
  • Credit analysis
  • Financial examinations, preparation, and interpretation
  • Tax examinations and collections

 

  • Data analysis
  • Financial statement interpretation
  • Forecasting
  • Budgeting
  • Raising of capital
  • Credit analysis

Industries

  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Public Accounting
  • Tax
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Financial Services
  • Investment Brokerages
  • Banking

 

Should You Choose a Career in Accounting or Finance?

Which degree and career path you choose depends on your level of interest in the areas each position entails. Sometimes an individual may serve in both capacities. Some people move from the accounting side of the business to the financial side of the business over time and become proficient in both capacities. Some individuals with a degree in finance also end up working in the accounting field in some capacity, though the skill set for an accountant is somewhat more structured and follows specific rules, such as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Can You Switch from One Career to Another?

Experience tells us that accountants can make the transition to finance fairly easily since they already have the requisite financial background required of accountants in most organizations. However, some positions such as a stock broker may require additional education or certifications. Finance individuals may need some additional education in terms of the detailed accounting requirements needed in various areas of accounting, but generally they have the overall aptitude for accounting from working closely with that area of the organization and gathering data to analyze. Spreadsheet work is required in either profession.

A degree in accounting, at the master’s level or the undergraduate level, can be a good choice, as can a degree in finance. Both degrees have specific certifications that signify competence in the field, and the certifications selected will generally depend on the current position an individual occupies. Accountants may obtain certifications like a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CMA (Certified Management Accountant) or CIA (Certified Internal Auditor), just to name a few. Finance majors may obtain certifications like CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CCP (Certified Credit Professional), and many others.

Which degree is right for you depends on many factors, and it’s important to spend time mapping out your career goals, including how to achieve them.

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Written by Don Frey, CMA, Core Accounting Faculty, Forbes School of Business and Technology™.

Ashford University cannot guarantee that any student is prepared for any certification examination at the completion of their degree. You are encouraged to research the requirements of each organization so that you can see how your education and work experience can help prepare you for the designation you will need.

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