There is no typical day in the life of a public accountant. If you go into this profession, what your workday looks like will depend on the size of the firm you work for, where you are in your career, the aspects of accounting you specialize in and whether it's tax season. In this article, we look at the workdays of two experienced CPAs to give you an idea of what it might be like to pursue a career as a public accountant.Amy Zhang, CPA, Affinity Fund Services
Amy Zhang is the founder and a managing member of San Francisco-based hedge-fund accounting firm Affinity Fund Services, started in 2010. Zhang holds both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in accounting. Earlier in her career, she worked for 10 years as an auditor and accountant for two companies, PricewaterhouseCoopers and a regional accounting firm. "To pursue my dream of becoming that go-to person for accounting professionals in the alternative investment space, I am building up my career path from Big Four to regional firm to now my own," she says.
As a business owner, Zhang's experience as a public accountant is different from that of a public accountant employed by a firm. In addition, her daily tasks differ depending on the time of month and time of year.
During the first week of each month, she spends 90% of her time on month-end closing activities for her hedge fund clients. These activities include downloading monthly bank and broker statements, reviewing capital transactions, calculating management or performance fees and performing reconciliations of net asset value. After her clients approve these draft accounting records, she sends them official final copies along with an invoice.
During the last three weeks of the month, Zhang's workload changes significantly. Her first task of the morning is to check for emails from clients or from the service providers who work with her clients. Next, she dedicates one to two hours to technical training, which consists of reading industry news such as CalCPA Daily Clips, HFMWeek and FINalternatives. She shares interesting news through her business social media accounts. She also attends continuing education classes for accounting.
Zhang typically dedicates another two to four hours of her day to marketing and public relations. She attends hedge fund seminars and conferences to meet with prospects at least once a week and has coffee meetings with existing clients and referrals at least once a month. She also speaks at industry conferences such as the Alternative Asset Summit in Las Vegas.
Monthly, Zhang attends board meetings of the San Francisco chapter of the California Society of CPAs, and every other month she hosts a financial entrepreneurs forum in the city's financial district. These volunteer activities help her stay in touch with her accounting peers since she's no longer with a large firm. These occasions also offer an opportunity to brainstorm with fellow entrepreneurs on operational strategies, business development and related issues.
While Zhang works regular hours during the week, she also works weekends, which she says is her choice as a business owner. She responds to all client requests for advice or assistance within 24 hours. "Most of my clients are start-up fund managers, and I want to make their already hectic life as easy as possible," she says.
Despite working weekends, Zhang says she has a great work-life balance since she can work from anywhere as long as she has her laptop, phone service and Internet access. She once spent a month overseas for family events while continuing to work for her clients.
Tax season is a different story. This hectic time of year requires her to work 10 to 12 hours a day on weekdays and another five or so hours over the weekend. She spends 90% of her time on audit and tax projects, where her daily tasks consist of collecting information, performing audit and tax procedures and preparing financial and audit reports. Administrative issues, like project planning and billing, take up additional time.
Zhang says that in a firm environment, staff accountants are usually allowed to take a long vacation after tax season, especially if they have accrued paid time off from working overtime. She says accountants may still have audit or tax projects during the rest of the year, but one-third of their time may be spent attending trainings and conferences, recruiting on campus and in office, performing internal quality reviews, engaging in marketing activities, such as visiting clients, and attending office functions such as picnics, ballgames and charity activities. Different firms have different practices and priorities, and whether you are staff, senior staff, a manager or a partner will determine how you spend your work hours, she says.
Zhang's job allows her to work with various clients and teams - such as auditors, tax preparers, lawyers and prime brokers - while remaining focused on one key skill set, accounting. "I love my life as a public accountant," Zhang says.Richard A. Melancon, CPA
Richard Melancon runs his own CPA firm in Metairie, La. He has been a CPA since 1985 and started his firm in 1989. His company emphasizes helping small and mid-sized companies to grow and establish themselves in the market. He has also helped start-ups with business plans, loan applications and venture capital funding. Along with business tax planning, financial planning and income-tax preparation, his firm offers business training, consulting services and computer security assessments. He also teaches and speaks about personal money management and is a professional member of the National Speakers Association. He earned bachelor's degrees in management and accounting and holds an MBA.