Often referred to as the "language of business," the accounting field is a vast composition of subject matter that spans numerous industries. A majority of colleges and universities have some type of accounting program that prepares students to take either the certified management accountant (CMA) or certified public accountant (CPA) exam. The undergraduate curriculum begins with understanding the debit and credits that formulate the financial statements and advances into intermediate courses that detail the principles of taxation and auditing. The accounting field is historically separated into either financial or managerial accounting; financial accounting is the preparation of financial statements for external decision makers, while managerial accounting is designed to assist internal users within an organization. Historically, accountants have been categorized as either "tax" or "audit"; however, this classification has evolved due to the increased responsibilities of accountants and the expansion of the certification exams. An accounting professional need not obtain either a CMA or CPA to work in business, but certification could increase compensation.
Many accountants find it difficult to describe their profession to those without financial experience because of the technical nature of the accounting field. It can be a challenge to describe the purpose of an audit or the significance of financial reporting. A broad definition is that accounting is creating structure where there was once disorder so a decision can be made. The disorder can be the various amounts of revenue and expense figures that need to be classified and analyzed. The structure is the numerous financial reports and statements that are formulated, while management represents the decision-making body.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is the highest authority in establishing accounting standards and principles. It is a nongovernmental organization that develops and interprets accounting standards, and the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) has delegated this authority to the FASB. There are currently seven full-time FASB members, and they each serve five-year terms. Accountants adhere to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) developed and interpreted by the FASB. These GAAP regulations are used to prepare, present, and report financial statements for numerous entities, including not-for-profit organizations. In 2009, the FASB created a Not-for-Profit Advisory Committee (NAC) to obtain input from the various not-for-profit entities regarding how GAAP affects their job duties and financial reporting. This committee also assists the FASB in communicating these matters to the appropriate not-for-profit businesses. The NAC has developed three working groups whose purpose is to develop initiatives and recommendations that can improve the fiscal accountability of not-for-profit operations. The rules and regulations formulated by this committee will most likely have a significant impact on business accounting.
Other countries do not have to adhere to either GAAP or FASB regulations because they have their own internally created standards. An increasing trend within the accounting profession is how to handle accounting issues with the increase of globalization.
The rules and regulations that are contained within GAAP are guided by specific assumptions, principles, and constraints. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to describe all the rules of double-entry accounting; however, an underlying conceptual framework can be discussed. The four primary assumptions of accounting are economic entity, going concern, monetary unit, and periodicity. The economic entity assumption states that the affairs of the officers and managers are separate from those of an entity such as a hospital. The going-concern assumption states that unless otherwise stated each business will continue operating indefinitely, which means that the liquidation values of assets is not important. The monetary unit assumption states that accounting records are best examined when they are reported in terms of money. The final assumption is periodicity, which states that financial information is best reviewed on a periodic basis, such as monthly or quarterly.
In addition to assumptions, there are several principles that are referenced when reporting financial information. The revenue recognition principle determines when sales or gains should be recorded in financial statements. Revenues are recorded when they are realized, realizable, or earned. Realized means that cash has been given, while realizable translates to a receivable being created. Earned occurs when the goods or services have been rendered, which is usually at the time of delivery or sale. The matching principle is a second principle that requires a company to match expenses with related revenues to report a company's profitability during a specified time interval (2). This principle is a critical aspect of accounting because it symbolizes the cause and effect of revenue and expenses. Basically, the expenses that are incurred in one time period must correlate with the revenue that is formulated within that same time period. In other words, the expenses recorded in March must be from the sales made in March. This principle is associated with the periodicity assumption.
Constraints are used within accounting to limit the process of recognition in financial statements. Two constraints that are used in all industries would be the cost-benefit and materiality constraints. The cost-benefit restraint of accounting basically states that the cost of any project or initiative should not exceed its benefits. Materiality is another constraint that is consistently used in accounting, and the basic premise is that something is material if its omission or misstatement could influence a decision maker. The concept of materiality is often used as a threshold within variance analysis and auditing.