How Does A Company’s Accounting Department Work?

Many people who attend accounting school spend at least some of their career working within an accounting department at an agency or business. But what does an accounting department look like? What is the structure and hierarchy of your average accounting department? And what trajectory might your career in one take? Here's a short guide.

The Teams In an Accounting Department

The term "accounting department" is a bit of a catch-all concept that is comprised of a variety of different functions that all add to the financial management of the company. It generally includes five basic teams, or sub-departments, to handle different roles. These are:

  • Accounts Receivable
  • Accounts Payable
  • Payroll
  • Financial Management
  • Financial Statements

These teams generally have their own internal management and structure, but they adhere to the goals and procedures of the overall accounting department. Each team feeds information into the "books" of the company and sends it to management who make decisions. 

Roles Within the Teams

Within each team, you often have similar roles and levels of responsibility. The most junior role — often a beginner role — is a data entry technician. This position is very detail-oriented and enters or process a lot of bulk data on a daily basis. 

Next up the chain is the accounting technician. Technicians also do significant data entry but also perform analysis and problem-solving. A payroll technician, for instance, may not only enter data from timecards but also work with supervisors to answer employees' questions. Accounting technicians often work their way up from lower-level technicians to higher-level ones. 

Supervising the technicians is usually the job of accountants and their assistants. Each team may have its own accountant or assistant accountant who supervises the work within their team, but some may share. That accountant focuses on analysis and presentation and reports directly to the accounting manager.

Accounting teams are usually managed by a controller. However, there may also be accounting managers depending on the business. Controllers receive all the information from the teams and turn it into actionable reports and recommendations used by management and other company departments. 

How Accounting Departments Affect You

Accounting has no set career path. Some professionals enjoy working with particular departments or at particular levels (with or without supervisory responsibility) and may even switch between teams. Others move upward in a relatively straight line. Still, others use their experience as a stepping stone to work with clients in public accounting. But when you know what to expect, you can more easily find your path and be more successful. 

Want to know more about the career path available within an accounting department? Start by meeting with a counselor at an accounting school near you today. And then you can begin your career, no matter where it may lead, tomorrow.