Accounting has been defined by William A Paton, a Professor of Accounting at the University of Michigan, as having one basic function: “facilitating the administration of economic activity. This function has two closely related phases:
1) measuring and arraying economic data; and
2) communicating the results of this process to interested parties.”
As an example, a company’s accountants periodically measure the profit and loss for a month, a quarter or a fiscal year and publish these results in a statement of profit and loss that’s called an income statement. These statements include elements such as accounts receivable (what’s owed to the company) and accounts payable (what the company owes). It can also get pretty complicated with subjects like retained earnings and accelerated depreciation. This at the higher levels of accounting and in the organization.
Much of accounting though, is also concerned with basic bookkeeping. This is the process that records every transaction; every bill paid, every dime owed, every dollar and cent spent and accumulated.
But the owners of the company, which can be individual owners or millions of shareholders are most concerned with the summaries of these transactions, contained in the financial statement. The financial statement summarizes a company’s assets. A value of an asset is what it cost when it was first acquired. The financial statement also records what the sources of the assets were. Some assets are in the form of loans that have to be paid back. Profits are also an asset of the business.
In what’s called double-entry bookkeeping, the liabilities are also summarized. Obviously, a company wants to show a higher amount of assets to offset the liabilities and show a profit. The management of these two elements is the essence of accounting.
There is a system for doing this; not every company or individual can devise their own systems for accounting; the result would be chaos!
What Is Accounting Anyway?
Anyone who’s worked in an office at some point or another has had to go to accounting. They’re the people who pay and send out the bills that keep the business running. They do a lot more than that, though. Sometimes referred to as “bean counters” they also keep their eye on profits, costs and losses. Unless you’re running your own business and acting as your own accountant, you’d have no way of knowing just how profitable – or not – your business is without some form of accounting.
No matter what business you are involved with, even if all you do is balance a checkbook, you are still using accounting.
Accounting is critical in almost all forms of business. Even farmers need to follow careful accounting procedures. Many of them run their farms year to year by taking loans to plant the crops. If it’s a good year, a profitable one, then they can pay off their loan; if not, they might have to carry the loan over, and accrue more interest charges.
Every business and every individual needs to have some kind of accounting system in their lives or else their finances can get away from them. Without accounting, you wouldn’t know what you have spent or what you can expect as a profit or a loss from your business. Staying on top of accounting, whether it’s for a multi-billion dollar business or for a personal checking account is a necessary activity on a daily basis if you’re smart. Not doing so can mean anything from a bounced check or posting a loss to a company’s shareholders. Both scenarios can be equally devastating.
Accounting is basically information, and this information is published periodically in business as a profit and loss statement, or an income statement.