Next in my Accounting Basics Series: Public Accounting vs Private (Industrial) Accounting.
The old accounting text book defines public accounting as: offering accounting and related services for a fee to companies, other organizations and the general public. The other services can include auditing, tax services and consulting. The certification offered for this type of accountancy is a Certified Public Accountant. The exam is prepared and administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Private (or industrial accounting) is the opposite. Instead of providing services to many clients, a private accountant provides services to a single business. In a business consisting of many accountants, the 'head accountant is typically called the controller. Private accountants may or may not be CPA's. The National Association of Accountants does offer a certificate for private accountants called a Certificate in Management Accounting (CMA). Private accountants are often much more specialized and have to adapt to the needs of their company (controlling costs, budgeting, accounting systems, etc.)