Accountant vs. Auditor: Differences and Similarities

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 24, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

People and businesses need the expertise of auditors and accountants to help manage their financial records and statements. Both occupations require specific qualifications and competencies in order to practice and serve clients effectively. Learning about these two professions can help you make a more informed decision about which one aligns with your skill set and career goals. In this article, we discuss the differences and similarities between an accountant vs. auditor, including details on how you can advance in both careers.

Related: A Guide to Finance Careers

What does an auditor do?

An auditor ensures the accuracy of the reported financial information for a company or individual. Their tasks include the following:

  • gathering information about a company's financial processes

  • interacting with a variety of staff members to discuss finances

  • analyzing accounting records

  • investigating financial accounts for fraudulent activity

  • providing information to correct accounting errors

  • analyzing inventory processes and reporting

  • reviewing tax information and documentation to verify the accuracy of reported information

What does an accountant do?

Accountants create and maintain records and calculations for financial transactions. They may work for a business or individual. Their responsibilities include these tasks:

  • reviewing documents to ensure compliance with accounting standards and practices

  • adding financial data to a company balance sheet

  • preparing information for tax liability statements for businesses and individuals

  • reconciling accounts with credit card statements, vendor payments, and other business transactions

  • creating financial reports on a daily, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis

  • preparing budgets for a business

  • determining company profits and losses

Related: 12 Skills Accountants Need For Workplace Success

Similarities between an accountant vs. auditor

Both occupations have financial professionals who work with clients to review monetary transactions, investments, and tax liabilities. Here are some notable similarities between an accountant vs. auditor:

Job functions

Accountants and auditors share similar job responsibilities, such as:

  • preparing and reviewing tax documents

  • advising about financial processes and reporting methods

  • analyzing expenses for a company or individual

  • analyzing the details of a company's finances

  • working with a company's chief financial officer (CFO) to discuss financial decisions

  • acting as consultants regarding financial decisions and processes

  • verifying the accuracy of financial reports

  • reviewing financial documents for signs of fraudulent activity or mistakes

Job opportunities

Accounting and auditing professionals work for a wide range of companies and in nearly any industry. Although, larger businesses usually have a greater number of auditors and accountants on their payroll, as there's more money that they need to manage. Well-established companies usually hire their employees for in-house work, while smaller businesses commonly outsource their financial reporting work to accountants and auditors from external firms and agencies.

In addition to internal employment opportunities with businesses, many accountants and auditors work for government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Many accountants perform their duties as independent contractors for individuals or business clients. These professionals don't typically work exclusively for an employer and may manage several accounts. They can also choose to open their own private accounting practice and hire financial experts to work for them.

Related: 12 Jobs You Can Get With a Degree in Finance

Academic requirements

Professionals in both occupations usually need at least a four-year undergraduate degree, though sometimes an associate is acceptable depending on the employer. Degrees that are most beneficial to accountants and auditors are accounting, finance, economics, or another similar subject related to money. While the coursework may differ to a fair degree, the same fundamentals and principles still apply. Students pursuing either career path can expect to learn about financial reporting, financial management, and other highly intricate and complex industry calculations.

Differences between auditors vs. accountants

Auditors and accountants differ in the types of positions they fill in the workplace and in how they earn credentials within their field. Here are some of the key differences between an auditor and an accountant:

Types of accountants

Here are the main types of accountants:

  • Public accountant: A public accountant works with a variety of clients to prepare financial reports, tax documents, and other statements. They review financial records to ensure the company is following all accounting policies and principles.

  • Management accountant: These accountants work primarily within a larger organization to create financial reports for internal use. A management accountant also provides an analysis of accounting methods to offer insight and new methods into the way a business uses its financial resources.

  • Government accountant: Government accountants oversee the proper use and regulation of funds across government institutions or businesses that require close supervision regarding the spending of federal funds.

  • Forensic accountant: A forensic accountant serves to investigate suspected fraud within the financial reporting of a business or organization. Once they find and report on matters of fraudulent activity, a forensic accountant may work with management to advise on internal controls to prevent future incidents.

Related:

  • Differences Between Public Accounting and Private Accounting

  • How To Become a Chartered Accountant: Definition and Steps

Types of auditors

These are the main types of auditors:

  • Internal auditor: Internal auditors work within an organization to audit financial records with the intent to find any mismanaged funds or signs of fraud. Internal auditors also analyze company processes to minimize waste and maximize financial resources and follow standards set forth by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

  • External auditor: An external auditor works on staff within a financial reporting firm to perform audits of a company's finances when contracted by a client. They perform many of the duties of an internal auditor contractually.

  • Information technology auditor: These auditors work specifically with an organization's computer systems to verify that the digital accounts of a company's finances have accurate reporting and calculations.

Certifications

While there is a wide selection of certifications to help an individual meet their goals, the most prominent and highly regarded qualification for auditors is the Certified Internal Auditor certification (CIA). CIA is beneficial because it can provide you with higher-paying job opportunities and a greater selection of jobs for you to choose from. The benefits of this certification can apply both nationally and globally. With this qualification, you become eligible to transition into leadership positions like internal audit director and vice president of internal audits.

For accountants, there are several certifications that help with professional development. One of the most distinguished certifications is the Chartered Professional Accountant designation (CPA) from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This organization maintains the national academic standards for this field. The CPA program is highly sophisticated and provides a graduate-level education to participants. If you pursue this credential, you can expect to become more familiar with several accounting areas, like financial reporting, assurance, and taxation. At the end of the certification program, there is a common final examination students must pass.

Salary

Auditors typically earn more money than accountants because employers tend to pay for their services at higher rates. The national average salary for an auditor is $19.33 per hour. Toronto-based auditors make the most money, at an average salary of $34.39 per hour. The national average salary for an accountant is $53,329 per year. The city that pays accountants the most is Vancouver, with an average salary of $61,685 per year.

How to advance in your accounting or auditing career

Follow these three steps to help you advance in your career as an accountant or auditor:

1. Gain more experience

For both occupations, gaining more work experience can help to expedite your career opportunities. After you achieve your initial degree, start searching for entry-level jobs. If you need additional work after gaining some entry-level job experience, consult someone in your academic or professional network who can help you find a new job. You might also look for these open positions on a job board or career site.

2. Obtain an advanced qualification and essential certifications

When you're ready, consider obtaining an advanced qualification or degree in either of these fields. Getting a master's degree can help to improve your credentials and demonstrates your expertise. With an advanced qualification, you're more likely to have access to a wider variety of high-paying positions.

After you gain a few years of working experience as an accountant or auditor, consider earning certifications to advance your career. There are many certifications available for either occupation. Look for the opportunities that most closely align with your career endeavours.

3. Pursue a role in leadership

If you want to advance into a more lucrative career, look for a managerial or leadership role within your workplace or at another company. As a senior or executive accountant, you can expect to manage junior accountants and perform tasks for more high-profile accounts like for c-suite executives or very notable clients. As an auditor, you can pursue becoming a director of internal audits. In this role, you're likely to oversee the activities of an entire auditing department, communicate with top-level authorities in your company, and audit classified or more complex financial reports.

Related: What To Know About Becoming an Accounting Major (With FAQs)

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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