Private accountants work inside companies managing their accounts while public accountants work outside companies or for the government as advisers. Private accountants work for only one company as an employee. Public accountants provide consulting and auditing services for many companies.
Private accountants serve as bookkeepers for their employers. They set up accounts, give financial advice, complete tax forms, ensure legal requirements are met and supervise other employees working on the company finances. Some private accountants work on a freelance basis for one company only. Private accountants that work for a corporation are referred to as corporate accountants.
Public accountants often work for independent accounting firms. They provide companies with third-party oversight to ensure company finances are handled properly. Independent financial audits by public accountants provide investors with valuable information about a company's financial practices. Public accountants also provide tax and other financial consulting services to outside firms. Some public accountants work independently providing outside services to many companies on a freelance basis. Other public accountants work for government agencies delving into the legal side of finances.
Public accountants usually pursue certification as CPAs. This designation shows a high level of knowledge about accounting, auditing practices, legal requirements and related ethics. All CPA licensed accountants pass an exam demonstrating their knowledge and regularly complete continuing education requirements.