The difference between financial and managerial accounting

A common question is to explain the differences between financial accounting and managerial accounting, since each one involves a distinctly different career path. In general, financial accounting refers to the aggregation of accounting information into financial statements, while managerial accounting refers to the internal processes used to account for business transactions. There are a number of differences between financial and managerial accounting, which fall into the following categories:

  • Aggregation. Financial accounting reports on the results of an entire business. Managerial accounting almost always reports at a more detailed level, such as profits by product, product line, customer, and geographic region.
  • Efficiency. Financial accounting reports on the profitability (and therefore the efficiency) of a business, whereas managerial accounting reports on specifically what is causing problems and how to fix them.
  • Proven information. Financial accounting requires that records be kept with considerable precision, which is needed to prove that the financial statements are correct. Managerial accounting frequently deals with estimates, rather than proven and verifiable facts.
  • Reporting focus. Financial accounting is oriented toward the creation of financial statements, which are distributed both within and outside of a company. Managerial accounting is more concerned with operational reports, which are only distributed within a company.
  • Standards. Financial accounting must comply with various accounting standards, whereas managerial accounting does not have to comply with any standards when information is compiled for internal consumption.
  • Systems. Financial accounting pays no attention to the overall system that a company has for generating a profit, only its outcome. Conversely, managerial accounting is interested in the location of bottleneck operations, and the various ways to enhance profits by resolving bottleneck issues.
  • Time period. Financial accounting is concerned with the financial results that a business has already achieved, so it has a historical orientation. Managerial accounting may address budgets and forecasts, and so can have a future orientation.
  • Timing. Financial accounting requires that financial statements be issued following the end of an accounting period. Managerial accounting may issue reports much more frequently, since the information it provides is of most relevance if managers can see it right away.
  • Valuation. Financial accounting addresses the proper valuation of assets and liabilities, and so is involved with impairments, revaluations, and so forth. Managerial accounting is not concerned with the value of these items, only their productivity.

There is also a difference in the accounting certifications typically found in each of these areas. People with the Certified Public Accountant designation have been trained in financial accounting, while those with the Certified Management Accountant designation have been trained in managerial accounting.

Pay levels tend to be higher in the area of financial accounting and somewhat lower for managerial accounting, perhaps because there is a perception that more training is required to be fully conversant in financial accounting.