Accountant vs. CPA: What’s the difference?
May 9, 2023

Accountant vs. CPA: What’s the Difference?

The field of accounting is broader than most people realize. For professionals looking to get into this career—or even advance further within it—it’s important to understand the different roles and certifications available.

Accountants and chartered professional accountants (CPAs) have some overlap in the various financial tasks they complete for a given business or firm. However, the two roles are not interchangeable. CPAs have an additional set of qualifications that allows them to complete a more extensive range of financial tasks than an accountant.

The following guide breaks down the key differences between an accountant and CPA, as well as a brief explanation of the different career paths a professional might take in these roles.

What is an accountant?

Accountants are responsible for the day-to-day accounting needs of a specific business or firm. These tasks are typically completed by collecting data and then analyzing it before reporting the findings in a financial statement. In addition to data collection, accountants may also perform a wide range of other finance-related tasks for their employer or clients. 

Some of the most frequent responsibilities of an accountant include the following:

  • Ensuring all financial documents and tax returns are accurate, while also verifying they align with relevant laws, regulations, and tax codes.
  • If there isn’t a bookkeeper, accountants may record and classify financial transactions.
  • Prepare financial statements and related schedules and disclosures.
  • Provide recommendations for internal controls and financial best practices.
  • Offer guidance for a given business or firm looking to improve their finances in order to reach specific goals.

Typically, an accountant will hold a bachelor’s degree with some specialized training and workplace experience that enables them to perform a variety of different accounting work for their employer. Some additional tasks they may be asked to complete involve financial reporting, auditing, internal control, risk assessment, costing budgeting, and performance management.

Our accounting recruitment firm in Toronto has a team of experts who have worked in accounting for many years, and gained great networks, expertise, and trust throughout industries. With this knowledge, we aim to connect high-quality candidates with suitable employers that fit their career goals and aspirations.

What is a CPA?

All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. To become a chartered professional accountant, individuals must first complete a specialized form of training before obtaining a license from the government that allows them to perform certain accounting duties. 

This certification often means the CPA specializes in helping a business or firm plan their finances and reach specific financial goals. CPAs can conduct all the same tasks that are done by an accountant. However, an accountant cannot complete all the same tasks as a CPA.

While a CPA’s responsibilities also include analyzing and reporting on financial data, they have other duties that can include:

  • Establishing, updating, or maintaining a business’ or firm’s accounting policies and procedures, including bookkeeping methods, monitoring, and reporting.
  • Overseeing or participating in the creation of financial budgets.
  • Overseeing internal audits (to ensure accuracy of reporting).
  • Preparing and creating audit reports for government audits or for tax purposes.
  • Preparing and presenting financial statements to the business’ or firm’s management or board of directors, depending on the structural breakdown.
  • Reviewing and providing professional consultations on compensation, benefits, assets, and spending of company money.
  • Managing accounts payable and accounts receivable.
  • Staying up to date on changes in the finance industry, tax laws, and government regulation in order to ensure the business’ or firm’s financial policies and procedures are updated to conform with current best practice standards.

CPAs often hold the same education as an accountant—a bachelor’s degree—however, they must also complete an additional examination in order to obtain their certification. 

As part of the services at our accounting recruitment firm in Toronto, we cater to the needs of all candidates in different stages of their career and all employers in search of outstanding professionals. We understand the different skill sets and experience required to complete certain roles, making it easier for qualified candidates to connect with potential employers.

What makes a CPA different from an accountant?

Accountants are typically responsible for the day-to-day finances of a given business or firm. CPAs, though, can take on additional work as needed based on the combination of education, experience, and examinations they have completed. 

CPAs are different from an unlicensed accountant because:

  • CPAs are licensed by a professional governing body.
  • CPAs have requirements for continuing education in order to maintain their license.
  • CPAs are held to specific professional standards and a code of ethics.
  • CPAs are held to a fiduciary standard, meaning they are expected to put their clients’ interests first above all else.

How do the career paths differ between an accountant and a CPA?


Accountants who choose not to obtain their CPA license usually end up working in the private accounting sector. This means that they work for a single business or firm, focusing on the internal finances. 

The most popular industries for accountants often include finance, insurance, and management, as well as self-employment. In these cases, accountants typically choose to concentrate on specific areas such as:

  • Internal auditing
  • Management accounting
  • Budget analysis
  • Tax accounting


CPAs, on the other hand, are uniquely qualified to offer services within the public sector, often at a public accounting firm that serves a wide range of clients across different industries. These clients can include—but are not limited to—businesses, governments, or individuals, depending on the size, scope, and type of accounting firm they work for. 

With their additional credentials, CPAs often have their choice of firm, ranging from large international businesses to small, local accounting practices. It is common to find CPAs working in government agencies or public companies that are required to disclose their audited financial information. 

Similar to accountants, CPAs may choose to specialize in one area of accounting, such as:

  • Financial forensics
  • Business valuation
  • Personal financial planning
  • IT consulting

At AHK Accounting Recruiters, we aim to deliver continuous engagement in order to ensure employers receive the advantage they need when placing new, high-quality candidates. Our accounting recruitment firm in Toronto follows a unique approach that guarantees we bring forward those candidates who portray individual qualities and skills that are special to your team and business.

How does the salary differ between an accountant and CPA?

As a result of the higher education and training required to obtain a license, CPAs can expect to earn more than an unlicensed accountant. Often, in order to achieve the necessary credits, some CPAs will choose to complete a master’s degree, which may make them more desirable from an employer’s perspective. 

While salary expectations vary depending on the individual’s education, training, and experience level, CPAs typically have a higher income than accountants.

Hire an Accountant or CPA Today

To book a consultation with an expert at our accounting recruitment firm in Toronto, call AHK Accounting Recruiters at 833-399-1663 or email us at

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