- Define accounting and explain the differences between managerial accounting and financial accounting.
- Identify some of the users of accounting information and explain how they use it.
Accounting is often called “the language of business.” Why? Because it communicates so much of the information that owners, managers, and investors need to evaluate a company’s financial performance. These people are all stakeholders in the business—they’re interested in its activities because they’re affected by them. In fact, the purpose of accounting is to help stakeholders make better business decisions by providing them with financial information. Obviously, you wouldn’t try to run an organization or make investment decisions without accurate and timely financial information, and it’s the accountant who prepares this information. More importantly, accountants make sure that stakeholders understand the meaning of financial information, and they work with both individuals and organizations to help them use financial information to deal with business problems. Actually, collecting all the numbers is the easy part—today, all you have to do is start up your accounting software. The hard part is analyzing, interpreting, and communicating the information. Of course, you also have to present everything clearly while effectively interacting with people from every business discipline. In any case, we’re now ready to define accounting as the process of measuring and summarizing business activities, interpreting financial information, and communicating the results to management and other decision makers.
Fields of Accounting
Accountants typically work in one of two major fields. Management accountants provide information and analysis to decision makers inside the organization in order to help them run it. Financial accountants furnish information to individuals and groups both inside and outside the organization in order to help them assess its financial performance.
In other words, management accounting helps you keep your business running while financial accounting tells you how well you’re running it.
Management accounting plays a key role in helping managers carry out their responsibilities. Because the information that it provides is intended for use by people who perform a wide variety of jobs, the format for reporting information is flexible. Reports are tailored to the needs of individual managers, and the purpose of such reports is to supply relevant, accurate, timely information in a format that will aid managers in making decisions. In preparing, analyzing, and communicating such information, accountants work with individuals from all the functional areas of the organization—human resources, operations, marketing, and finance.
Financial accounting is responsible for preparing the organization’s financial statements—including the income statement, the statement of owner’s equity, the balance sheet, and the statement of cash flows—that summarize a company’s past performance and evaluate its current financial condition. In preparing financial statements, financial accountants adhere to a uniform set of rules called generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)—the basic principles for financial reporting issued by an independent agency called the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Users want to be sure that financial statements have been prepared according to GAAP because they want to be sure that the information reported in them is accurate. They also know that they can compare the statements issued by one company to those of another company in the same industry.
While companies headquartered in the United States follow U.S.-based GAAP, many companies located outside the United States follow a different set of accounting principles called International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These multinational standards, which are issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), differ from U.S. GAAP in a number of important ways. IFRS, for example, is a little stricter about the ways you can calculate the costs of inventory, but we’re not going to dwell unnecessarily on such fine distinctions. Bear in mind, however, that, according to most experts, a single set of worldwide standards will eventually emerge to govern the accounting practices of both U.S. and non-U.S. companies.