Accounting departments serve as the financial backbone of companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Account officers handle a range of accounting functions, from processing payroll to collecting revenue from customers. Educational requirements for account officers vary by employer. While account officers can earn a livable income, the field’s employment outlook places limits on the number of new account officers the market is likely to need.
What Is an Account Officer?
The term “account officer” is not common in the United States job market. However, in countries such as Australia, England and Ireland, the term refers to positions found in most accounting offices. The American equivalent to an account officer job can include positions such as accounts payable associates, accounts receivable associates and collections associates. Typically, they work under the supervision of an accounting manager, controller or chief financial officer.
Accounts Payable Associates
Accounts payable associates process incoming invoices and make payments to providers of goods and services. They issue and record purchase orders and reconcile work orders with invoices.
An accounts payable department plays numerous roles in the financial health of a business, government agency or nonprofit group. In some organizations, the accounts payable department establishes purchasing guidelines, which may involve researching the market to find the best value on items such as office supplies, computer hardware and office furniture. Accounts payable professionals might establish internal purchasing guidelines and help financial managers establish quarterly or annual budgets. They might also help write the organization’s purchasing policies and procedures.
Accounts payable associates process employee expense reports and payroll, adhering to reimbursement and payday schedules. Associates must analyze expense reports to reconcile line items with receipts and calculate totals for payment. Payroll duties may involve setting up direct deposits with employees’ banks, processing time-sheet reports and processing direct deposit paychecks. For employees who receive traditional paychecks, an accounts payable associate must print checks and secure the signatures of appropriate company officers. In some organizations, accounts payable associates process payroll payments via wire transfers or electronic payment systems such as PayPal.
Before making payments to service providers or vendors, accounts payable associates typically obtain approval from department heads or accounting department management. They enter transactions into a ledger to maintain a historical record of outgoing funds. Many associates reconcile ledgers and produce periodic expenditure reports.
Accounts payable staff members file invoices and check stubs according to their organization’s filing system, which may involve digitizing original paper records. In some instances, accounts payable associates administer a code system, which delineates types of payments, payment periods or internal departments associated with payments. In purchasing roles, accounts payable associates often establish accounts with vendors and ensure that payments adhere to the terms of purchase agreements. Some accounts payable associates manage employee expense accounts or company-issued credit cards.
Accounts payable associates reconcile company bank statements and may support accounting staff or outside auditors during periodic financial audits.
Most accounts payable associates work during regular business hours, and 75 percent work full time. Although many full-time accounts payable associates work around 40 hours per week, some work overtime during tax season or audits.
Accounts Receivable Associates
Accounts receivable associates manage an organization’s revenue from goods or services sold in the marketplace. They create and distribute invoices to clients, and periodically issue account statements. Accounts receivable associates enter payments into ledgers and process electronic payments made by wire transfers, automatic bank account debits or online payment services.
Customer service is a major aspect of an accounts receivable associate’s job. They must respond to customer billing inquiries and resolve billing irregularities and disputes. To properly address customers’ issues, accounts receivable associates must stay abreast of the terms and conditions under which their companies’ conduct business with customers. They must understand and follow billing guidelines within their industry and adhere to local, state and federal regulations. In some instances, accounts receivable associates process refunds for faulty products or uncompleted services, or apply rebates based on sales promotions.
Accounts receivable associates must keep impeccable records to maintain a functional billing system. This can involve maintaining current product or service pricing in billing databases and consistently reconciling customer accounts. The accounts receivable department must regularly communicate billing policies and procedures, along with customer terms and conditions, with sales staff.
Accounts receivable associates generate monthly, quarterly and annual financial reports, which accounting managers and company executives use to gauge sales performance, product viability and revenue flow. Some associates participate in the company’s annual budget planning or the development of sales promotions.
Typically, an accounts receivable associate performs a host of clerical tasks, such as preparing and making bank deposits; filing invoices; copying customer checks; and producing digital records of invoices, checks, customer statements and bank records. In some accounts receivable offices, staff members file records according to a coding system, which may define the time in which they receive payments, revenue according to company divisions or the types of goods or services sold.
Accounts receivable personnel often evaluate customer credit requests, submit credit applications to credit bureaus and help customers set up electronic payments. To resolve delinquent accounts, the accounts receivable associates may work with clients to establish a payment plan or request the help of collections associates.
The majority of accounts receivable associates work full time, typically around 40 hours per week. They may work overtime during tax time, holiday seasons and financial audits.
Collections associates focus on collecting overdue payments from delinquent accounts. They offer customers repayment options such as payment schedules or reduced interest payments to help them reduce overdue balances.
Collections associates often work in call centers, but they also draft letters and prepare account statements for mail delivery. They might make calls to customers’ homes, places of employment or their cellphones. When making calls to customers, collections associates must follow industry ethics standards, as well as state and federal laws that govern placing unsolicited calls and settling delinquent accounts.
Collections associates must listen to customers to understand their financial situations and determine their ability to pay the money they owe. If a customer cannot pay the debt, the collections associate must explain the additional actions the company may take to collect the funds, which can include legal action.
Collections associates maintain a record of all calls, letters, responses and payments of past due balances. Their documentation helps inform colleagues such as accounts receivable associates and account managers, and may support legal actions taken by the company such as wage garnishments, property liens, automobile repossessions or home foreclosures.
Some collections associates work within an accounts receivable office, while others work for outside companies that specialize in debt collection. Collections associates deal with all types of past due debt, including car or mortgage payments, student loans, credit card payments, and payments for goods and services.
Most collections associates work full time. Some work nights and weekends in order to reach customers at home.
Account Associates' Education
Many employers look for account associates who have earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. However, some small organizations accept applicants who have worked in an accounting office or completed accounting coursework in high school.
Some community colleges offer associate’s degree programs in accounting. For example, City College of San Francisco (CCSF) in San Francisco, California, has a two-year Associate in Science Degree in Accounting program, which allows you to transfer your credits to a four-year college after you complete the course. CCSF also offers tuition-free, noncredit accounting classes.
Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona, has a two-year Associate in Business in Accounting program that allows you to transfer your credits to Arizona State University if you choose to further your education. Houston Community College has an online Associate of Applied Science in Accounting program, which takes about two years to complete.
Most colleges and universities that have a business school offer bachelor’s degree programs in accounting. For example, Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs in accounting. The programs prepare students for careers as loan officers, bookkeepers, accounting associates, budget analysts, collection associates or tax examiners.
Bachelor’s degree accounting programs typically include coursework in subjects such as business law, finance, management and accounting. To obtain a Certified Public Accountant license, most states only accept candidates who have completed 150 credit hours at a college or university. Because many degree programs require just 120 credit hours of study, some schools offer five-year, 150-hour accounting programs that enable students to obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the same program.
Some account associates choose to earn certifications to enhance or further their careers. For example, the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers offers the Certified Bookkeeper certificate, which highlights competence in skills such as account balancing and payroll management. Many certification programs require candidates to have a few years of professional accounting experience.
Account Associates' Skills and Personal Qualities
In addition to education and on-the-job training, account associates must possess certain personal and professional skills and attributes. They must have good computer skills, including knowledge of standard business applications such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook. Account associates must have the ability to understand industry-standard accounting applications such as Quicken and SAP programs.
Account associates have to understand detailed instructions and communicate clearly in verbal and written conversations. Their attention to detail is vital in preparing accurate customer statements, logging account activities and analyzing complex financial situations.
Account associates must have good math skills and the ability to operate a calculator. Many companies look for account associates with 10-key experience – the ability to operate a calculator by touch.
Because account associates often work on deadlines in preparing payroll or reports, they must work independently and maintain a schedule. They must be able to work under pressure, solve problems and remain organized. Account associates must have good interpersonal skills when working with coworkers and dealing with customers in person, through email and over the phone. Associates working in accounts receivable and collections benefit from the ability to understand the financial difficulties of their customers.
Integrity is one of the most important qualities of an account associate. They must uphold ethical standards, follow laws and maintain confidentiality of customer accounts and organization finances at all times.
Account Associates' Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accounting associates earned a median salary of nearly $40,000 in 2017. The median salary represents the center of the occupation’s pay scale. Top earners made more than $60,000. Top-paying employers include companies that provide technical, professional and scientific products and services, followed by businesses in the finance sector.
According to the PayScale website, collections associates earned a slightly higher median salary of around $46,000. Some collections associates also earn bonuses and commissions on the debt they collect.
Accounting Positions Jobs Outlook
In 2016, about 1.7 million accounting associates, bookkeepers, collections associates and auditing associates worked in the United States, according to the BLS. The Bureau expects job opportunities for account associates to remain at current levels, from now until 2026.
Outsourcing and computer programs that automate accounting processes may lead some employers to reduce their accounting staffs.