Key Functions of Your Accounting Department

accounting department roles and functions

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Who’s watching your bottom line?

The functions of the accounting and finance department in any business can get a little confusing.  Entrepreneurs tend think and move quickly, so ensuring the accounting department is stable is pivotal in the growth of your business.

Over the next few articles, we’ll discuss how you can clearly define roles and responsibilities of your accounting department, starting with the basics.

What are the Key Roles of the Accounting Department?

While some people may have a differing opinion, the essential roles and duties of virtually any accounting department should include the following:

  • Money out – making payments and keeping the bills paid
  • Money in – processing incoming payments
  • Payroll – make sure everyone gets paid (including the government)
  • Reporting – preparing financial reports, e.g. P&L, Balance sheets and budgets
  • Financial Controls – to avoid errors, fraud and theft

Accounting Department Responsibilities in Detail

  1.  Accounts Payable (money out) – In order to maintain great relationships with vendors  making sure that everyone gets paid on time is a vital role. The role of the accounting department includes keeping an eye on opportunities to save money, for example, determining if there are discounts or incentives available for paying certain vendors more quickly.  At the very least, AP should be scheduled to assure that the least amount of money has to go out per payment, i.e., no late payment charges!
  2. Accounts Receivable and Revenue Tracking (money in) – Another critical duty of the accounting department is to account for and track receivables, including outstanding invoices and any required collection actions. Accounts receivable is responsible for creating and tracking invoices.  The responsibility here includes assuring that customers pay those invoices on time, so a system of friendly reminders is crucial.
  3. Payroll – Payroll is a critical function of the accounting department and includes making sure all employees are paid accurately and timely. In addition, proper tax is assessed and tax payments are on time with state and federal government agencies.
  4. Reporting and Financial Statements – The primary reason you collect data properly in your accounting software is to prepare financial reports that can be used for budgeting, forecasting and other decision making processes. In addition, these and other reports are needed for communication to investors, banks and other professionals that play a role in the growth of your business.
  5. Financial Controls – Financial controls include reconciliations, dividing the responsibilities and following the GAAP standards of accounting principles, all of which are implemented with view toward compliance, fraud and theft prevention.  The role of the Controller is to ensure procedures are set up properly to manage that process without errors.

Key Positions in an Accounting Department

Now that you know the roles of the accounting department, who are the key players. These are the key positions that you’ll find across most business accounting units.

Chief Financial Officer (or CFO)– CFOs are typically the head financial executive of large businesses. They oversee the financial strategy, health of the business, and manage the rest of the financial department. CFO’s are very forward thinking and will help businesses navigate through growth stages and downturns. With their knowledge of company finances, they help senior management understand the financial impact of real-time decisions to ensure the fiscal success of the business.

Their duties include financial planning, reporting and controls, short and long term business strategy, investments, hedging, mergers and acquisitions, cash management, internal risk management, corporate finance, auditing and accounting.

Financial Controller – Financial Controllers are key players within accounting departments and work alongside CFO’s, COO’s, and Financial Directors. Their function and responsibilities include financial accounting, preparation, reporting, analysis, budgeting, project management and more. Their key role tends to focus on immediate financial issues and management.

Treasury Manager – The treasury manager’s role in the accounting department revolves around the formulation and development of treasure policies. This includes identifying the best investment opportunities, developing great banking relations, optimizing credit facilities, and minimizing finance costs.

Accounting Manager – An accounting manager is responsible for a company’s accounting activities that include maintaining and reporting on both the cost and financial sets of accounts but does not handle or negotiate. The accounting manager establishes and enforces the accounting principles based on statutory requirements and auditing policy.

Chief Accounting – The chief accountant holds the same responsibilities as the accounting manager, but the role simply differs in terms of the job title.

Accounting Supervisor – Shares the same responsibilities as an accounting manager and provides support as a member of his/her team.

Accountant – Accountants play a key role in finance departments such as the measurement and interpretation of financial information. The results of their work ensure compliance, and provide the groundwork for greater financial strategies.

Bookkeepers – Bookkeepers provide the day-to-day efforts needed to record and assess basic accounting data. They typically do not take a strategic role.

These are just some of the main roles and functions of the accounting department in businesses, there are many more responsibilities the accounting department is responsible for and a number of subcategories. Those will depend upon the specific nature of your business. For instance, inventory control and tracking, government forms and tax filings and fund raising might be other essential areas of focus that your accounting department would be responsible for.

Defining those responsibilities is essential for your business.  While the specific roles may vary from business to business, one thing is certain:  if your accounting department does not perform these key functions effectively and efficiently, you could be headed for some serious (and not so pleasant) surprises.

The great news is that if these functions are covered well, you’ll find that your accounting department creates a solid base and the most important measurement tool for your company’s entire operation. If you think you need some help getting your accounting department in order, or would like to outsource it (many companies prefer to do this!), then check out our Accounting Services to learn more.