What is Accounting? An Overview for the Beginners

Accounting, the systematic business language, records, summarizes, analyzes and reports financial transactions. Its crucial role affects decisions for businesses and individuals. The article focuses on accounting’s history, its integral concepts and principles, basic financial statements, and the function of accountants and bookkeepers.

What is Accounting? An Overview for the Beginners

History of Accounting

1. Accounting Roots in Antiquity

Accounting traces its origins to ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Rome, which instituted basic record-keeping systems for managing transactions, assets, and liabilities.

2. Development of Accounting Strategies Over Centuries

As trade and commerce increased in complexity over the ages, accounting practices adapted accordingly. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the significant introduction of double-entry bookkeeping, marking a key evolution in accounting methods.

3. Establishment of Contemporary Accounting Norms

The currently utilised accounting standards, notably the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), were devised to promote uniformity, transparency, and comparability in financial reports across varying industries and nations.

Key Accounting Concepts and Principles

1. Accrual Accounting vs. Cash Accounting

Accrual accounting records financial transactions when they are incurred, regardless of when cash is exchanged. In contrast, cash accounting records transactions only when cash is received or paid. Accrual accounting provides a more accurate representation of a company’s financial health and is the preferred method for most businesses.

2. Double-Entry Bookkeeping System

The double-entry bookkeeping system is the foundation of modern accounting. It requires that every transaction be recorded as both a debit and a credit in corresponding accounts, ensuring that the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) remains balanced.

3. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

GAAP is a set of accounting principles and guidelines used in the United States to ensure consistency and comparability in financial reporting. It is established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and is followed by publicly traded companies, private companies, and non-profit organizations.

4. International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)

IFRS is a set of global accounting standards developed by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to promote consistency and comparability in financial reporting worldwide. Many countries, including India, have adopted IFRS or converged their local accounting standards with IFRS.

Basic Financial Statements

1. Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a snapshot of a company’s financial position at a specific point in time. It is divided into three main sections:

i) Assets: Resources owned by a company, such as cash, inventory, and property, plant, and equipment.

ii) Liabilities: Financial obligations a company owes to others, such as loans, accounts payable, and taxes payable.

iii) Equity: The residual interest in the assets of a company after deducting liabilities, representing the owners’ claim on the company’s net assets.

2. Income Statement

The income statement shows a company’s financial performance over a specific period, typically a quarter or a year. It includes the following components:

i) Revenues: Money earned from the sale of goods or services.

ii) Expenses: Costs incurred in generating revenues, such as wages, rent, and depreciation.

iii) Net Income: The difference between revenues and expenses, representing the company’s profit or loss for the period.

3. Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement tracks the inflows and outflows of cash from three primary activities:

i) Operating Activities: Cash flows related to the company’s core business operations, such as cash received from customers and cash paid for expenses.

ii) Investing Activities: Cash flows related to the acquisition or disposal of long-term assets, such as property, plant, equipment, and investments.

iii) Financing Activities: Cash flows related to the company’s financing activities, such as issuing or repaying debt, issuing or repurchasing equity, and paying dividends.

4. Statement of Retained Earnings

The statement of retained earnings shows the changes in a company’s retained earnings over a specific period. It starts with the beginning retained earnings balance, adds net income or subtracts net loss, and deducts any dividends paid to shareholders during the period.

Accounting Cycle

The accounting cycle is a series of steps performed by businesses to ensure accurate financial reporting. The key stages include:

i) Transaction Identification and Documentation: Identifying and gathering documentation for financial transactions.

ii) Journalizing Transactions: Recording transactions in the general journal using debits and credits.

iii) Posting to General Ledger: Transferring journal entries to the general ledger accounts.

iv) Preparing Trial Balance: Creating a trial balance to ensure that debits equal credits for all accounts.

v) Making Adjusting Entries: Recording adjustments for accruals, deferrals, and estimates.

vi) Preparing Adjusted Trial Balance: Creating an adjusted trial balance after considering adjusting entries.

vii) Creating Financial Statements: Preparing the balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and statement of retained earnings using the adjusted trial balance.

viii) Closing the Books and Preparing Post-Closing Trial Balance: Closing temporary accounts, transferring their balances to the retained earnings account, and preparing a post-closing trial balance.

The Role of Accountants and Bookkeepers

1. Differences Between Accountants and Book-keepers

Bookkeepers are responsible for recording and maintaining accurate financial records, while accountants analyze, interpret, and communicate financial information to support decision-making.

2. Ethical Considerations in Accounting

Accountants and bookkeepers must adhere to ethical standards to maintain the integrity of financial reporting, safeguard public trust, and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

Professional Certifications in the Indian Context

In India, several professional certifications are available for aspiring accountants and finance professionals. These certifications not only enhance their skills and knowledge but also improve their credibility and career prospects. Here is a list of some prominent certifications tailored to the Indian context:

1. Chartered Accountant (CA)

The Chartered Accountant certification is one of the most prestigious and sought-after accounting qualifications in India. It is administered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). CAs possess expertise in various areas, including taxation, auditing, financial reporting, corporate finance, and financial management. The rigorous CA curriculum consists of three levels: CA Foundation, CA Intermediate, and CA Final, along with a mandatory articleship (practical training) of 3 years.

2. Cost and Management Accountant (CMA)

The Cost and Management Accountant certification, formerly known as the Cost Accountant, is offered by the Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICAI). CMAs specialize in cost accounting, management accounting, financial analysis, and strategic planning. The CMA course comprises three stages: CMA Foundation, CMA Intermediate, and CMA Final, with practical training requirements as well.

3. Company Secretary (CS)

Although not exclusively an accounting certification, the Company Secretary qualification is another esteemed professional certification in India. It is administered by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI). Company Secretaries are experts in corporate law, governance, compliance, and secretarial practices. The CS course consists of three levels: CS Foundation, CS Executive, and CS Professional, along with practical training components.

4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The Chartered Financial Analyst certification is a globally recognized credential for finance professionals, including those in India. It is administered by the CFA Institute and focuses on investment analysis, portfolio management, and ethical practices in finance. The CFA program is divided into three levels, and candidates must pass each level sequentially while also meeting the work experience requirements.

5. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

While not specific to India, these international accounting certifications are increasingly popular among Indian accounting professionals. The CPA certification is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and focuses on U.S. GAAP, financial reporting, and taxation. The ACCA certification is governed by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and covers IFRS, financial management, and auditing.

These professional certifications are valuable assets for accounting and finance professionals in India. They not only provide a solid foundation in accounting principles and practices but also enhance an individual’s credibility and career growth potential.

Accounting Software and Technology

1. Benefits of Using Accounting Software

Accounting software automates the accounting process, improves accuracy, streamlines financial management, and provides real-time financial data for decision-making.

2. Popular Accounting Software Options

Numerous accounting software solutions cater to businesses of various sizes and industries, such as QuickBooks, Tally, Zoho Books, and FreshBooks.

3. The Impact of Technology on the Accounting Profession

Technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, are transforming the accounting profession by automating routine tasks, enhancing analytical capabilities, and providing new opportunities for accountants to add value as strategic advisors.


Understanding the basics of accounting is essential for success in business and personal finance. By mastering key concepts, financial statements, and the accounting cycle, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions and improve their financial management. With the ever-evolving landscape of technology and accounting standards, continuous learning is crucial to stay abreast of best practices and industry developments.

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