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What's the difference between financial accounting and management accounting?


You’re running a business, so you know the legal requirements around producing accounts and submitting tax returns. But do you genuinely understand WHY you’ve engaged an accountant? And do you see the value that a good accountant and business adviser can add to your company?

As a business owner, managing director or CEO, there are three main areas of the accounting proposition that you’re probably most interested in:

  1. Compliance work – this is the bookkeeping, financial accounting and tax work that’s legally required for you to be compliant with the law. On the whole, this compliance work looks backwards at your numbers from the past (your ‘actuals’), showing you where you have been rather than where you are going.

  2. Financial performance works – this is the work that aims to improve the financial health of your business. It includes the cashflow, cost management and funding work that helps you strengthen your balance sheet, manage your working capital and become a more stable financial proposition. The result is based on your historic actuals but also has an element of forward-looking forecasting and projections.

  3. High-value advisory work – this is the forward-focused, high-level strategic advice that helps you look to the future and plan out your business. This can include helping you define your personal and business goals, create a 5-year business plan, manage your company strategy, and focus on growth, value, eventual exit strategy, etc.

How does a management accountant differ from a financial accountant?

To succeed in your business and get the best value from your accountant, you need an adviser who can deliver in all of these three areas. But not all accountants are the same. As we’ll see, it’s essential to understand the difference between a financial accountant and a management accountant.

At the most basic level, these are the key differences:

  • Financial accountant – in general, a financial accountant focuses on the essential compliance work, with a small amount of financial performance work thrown into the mix. They make sure your bookkeeping is done and dusted, file your tax returns and use your historic numbers to produce statutory accounts. They’re ‘bean counters’, making sure you have a clear record of all the beans you’ve grown.

  • However, a management accountant – a management accountant, looks forwards rather than backwards and has a greater focus on the future. They will usually provide the compliance work and delve deeper into the financial performance and high-level advisory work. Rather than just ‘counting the beans’, they help you choose the right beans, decide how to plant them and make sure you nurture and grow these beans to bring in a better (and more profitable) harvest.

How does a management accountant deliver more value?

Looking to the future is a far more productive way of managing your finances than just counting what’s in the bank. A management accountant will empower you to understand your business and give you the tools and the knowledge to make good, well-considered decisions.

This additional help can be invaluable. With an experienced management accountant working alongside you, your financial thinking can be completely revolutionised.

For example, you will:

  • Stop looking backwards – your focus will be all about looking forwards to what you can change, not just recording your past transactions (the things you can’t now change, even if you wanted to).

  • Know your numbers inside out – you’ll have a far better understanding of your regular finances, thanks to the detail included in your standard monthly management accounts.

  • Get in control of your cashflow – you’ll be able to drill down into your cash inflows and outflows and, by doing so, improve the liquid capital and cashflow in the business.

  • Streamline your financial processes – you’ll refine and improve your internal accounting procedures so you’re more efficient and more productive.

  • Refine your pricing strategy – by reviewing your pricing model; you’ll be able to enhance your margins, boost revenue and make the whole company more profitable.

  • Stop unnecessary expenditure – you’ll analyse your overheads, expenses and cost base to reduce the money that’s leaking out of business.

  • Bring more money and investment into the business – with more robust accounts and projections; you’ll have better access to funding and private investment.

  • Get a firm grip on your business data – with meaningful metrics being tracked and monitored through your cloud accounting platform, you’ll significantly enhance your business intelligence and the evidence behind your decision-making.

  • Improve the quality of your advice – you’ll have an adviser on hand at all times, giving you access to your management accountant’s knowledge, experience and advice.

Talk to us about the benefits of management accounting for your business.


If you’re ambitious and keen to grow, switching to the benefits of management accounting could have a significant impact on your future destiny.


A financial accountant looks backwards, while a management accountant looks forwards. And it’s this fundamental difference in focus, ability and oversight that makes partnering with a firm of management accountants so rewarding.


Get in touch to talk about switching to management accounting.


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