The work done by professional services firms is normally divided into three broad areas: audit, tax and advisory. Here we look at each in a more detail, giving you a mental map to help you understand what being an accountant really means.
All companies are legally required to conduct audits on a regular basis, usually annually.
An audit is an investigation into all aspects of a company's business to ensure that its accounts accurately reflect the real status of that business. Audit work is predominantly financial, but may also cover evaluating a company's health and safety provisions, IT security and environmental impact.
For a more detailed explanation of audit, including an interview with a partner at KPMG, read Why you should consider becoming an auditor.
Those working in tax at a Big Four firm advise their clients on what they need to do to comply with their tax obligations, the implications of new tax legislation and on tax mitigation strategies, that is, the ways in which they are legally permitted to structure their affairs to minimise the amount of tax they pay.
For a more detailed description of the tax work done by professional services firms, read our interview with a tax partner at Deloitte.
Advisory work covers a broad spectrum of areas. It could involve advising clients on improving the performance of their business, rearranging their corporate structure, or dealing with risks they face.