A Career in Accountancy
Fancy a career in accountancy or perhaps you are returning to the profession after a career break? Here you will find some tips on the kind of skills you need and the kind of jobs on offer.
Accountancy embraces not just the standard chartered accountant work, but includes a broader spectrum of jobs such as financial adviser or accounting technician. Accountants work in all parts of business, from the voluntary and public sector to private industry. Working in a private accountancy firm gives a good overview of the kind of skills you might need for working in industry or other areas and many accountants choose this as a good path into other areas of accountancy work.
Chartered accountancy involves giving professional advice to organisations on a wide range of business and finance issues. This includes high-level strategic advice on financial issues, financial reporting, taxation, auditing, forensic accounting, corporate finance and dealing with insolvency. Auditors, for instance, review a business’s financial and business systems and check the information provided. They also give advice on areas for business improvement. Forensic accountants investigate fraud and provide evidence to the police and other bodies. They work with lawyers on court cases and conduct research and analyse financial papers and reports. Accountants dealing with insolvency cases advise on business improvement and guide a company through the winding up process. Tax professionals help with the completion of tax information for individuals and companies, advise on the tax implications of legal decisions or contracts and make recommendations to limit tax payments within the law. Financial accountants maintain financial records and make projections and cash-flow projections about businesses and formulate accounting policies.
Skills and qualifications
You might think that you need to be extremely good at figures to be an accountant, but you do not necessarily have to have a raft of mathematical qualifications to be an accountant – a good GCSE in maths is sufficient, but you will need to attain a good standard in the numeracy tests which usually form part of employers’ selection processes. You don’t necessarily need a degree, but most accountants have one. It is not necessarily in accountancy or business administration, though. You can have a degree in any subject, but you do need to have a good degree. Most accountants have first or 2.1s. If you don’t have a degree, though, you can do a recognised course with the Institute of Chartered Accountants or the Association of Accounting Technicians and even study while you work. Other skills include good communication and teamworking skills and self-motivation.
To qualify as a chartered accountant you will have to sit a number of exams which you can do while working as an accountant. These are extremely competitive and require a lot of preparation. The most well recognised accountancy qualifications is the Associated Chartered Accountant exam. Although the entry requirements are two A-Levels and three GCSEs, including good grades in maths and English, most of those who sit this exam are graduates. Nevertheless, a growing number of organisations will train accountants on the job. There are more than 2,000 organisations providing authorised training in the UK. Training takes at least three years and you need to complete 450 days of technical work experience and pass both examination stages – with 11 exams in total so you need to be good at taking exams. For more information, visit the Institute of Chartered Accountants website.
There are four main accounting bodies – The Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants are largely practice-based. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants focus mainly on commercial business and The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy is the body for those wanting to work in the public sector.
Returning to accountancy
It can be daunting going back to a profession such as accountancy after a career break, but there is help at hand. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, for instance, run a Narrowing the Gap programme which focuses on helping support its members prepare for a career break, return to work after a career break and with their career progression. It offers events, network opportunities and access to online resources. The Institute also offers a range of further qualifications and learning, including the new Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business, the Corporate Finance qualification and Diploma in Charity Accounting, which can help to brush up and extend your skills.
For those who don’t want to become a chartered accountant, there are other routes into the accountancy profession, such as accounting clerks or technicians. Accounting technicians, for instance, work in all areas of finance. They usually start in a support role in accounts or finance departments or in an accountancy firm. With more experience, they may become self-employed and provide a variety of accountancy and taxation service to SMEs. Roles include managing the staff payroll and dealing with basic book-keeping. There are no basic requirements, except general literacy and numeracy skills. Usuall entry is via on-the-job training while studying part-time or via distance learning. You can qualify as an accounting technician through schemes run by either the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) or the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). The AAT offers two routes to the AAT accountancy qualification: the NVQ/SVQ and the diploma. Both courses are vocational, providing the practical knowledge and skills required to perform the tasks demanded by the role. "Accountancy is one of the professions where your training and working life can be flexible," says AAT Chief Executive Jane Scott Paul. "Every year over 60 per cent of our training intake are mature students who find that a career in accounting and finance gives them the flexibility they want to have a happy work-life balance." "An AAT qualified accounting technician can earn significantly more than their unqualified colleagues so this can make a real difference to a household income."
Salary for accountants varies depending on experience and the nature of the organisation you work for, but at the top of the profession financial analysts can earn around £250,000. For qualified accounting technicians, the typical London salary is between £23-25,000 a year and around £20,000 nationally. General account clerks earn around £19,000 a year in London and £15,000 nationally.