How to become an accountant: A guide

A career in accountancy can be a varied and interesting path with plenty of opportunity for career development. If you work well with numbers and have an analytical mind, you could find this work both interesting and fulfilling.

A career in accountancy has the potential to be both varied and exciting, and accountants can find themselves working in many different settings and environments, working on a number of different financial and business related tasks. This guide provides some career advice for those who feel they may be interested in building their knowledge of this field and help them become an accountant.

how to become an accountantWhat does an accountant do?

In simple terms, an accountant manages the finances for an organisation, or for clients. This can involve working with tax, carrying out financial reporting, budgeting, managing salaries and many other financial based tasks.

Accountants can specialise in one of several fields:

  • Management accounting (which involves giving advice within an organisation including working with budgets, forecasting and cost reporting)
  • Financial accounting (involving giving advice outside an organisation, for instance sharing information with shareholders)
  • Tax accounting (advising organisations on how to manage their tax, or helping self-employed workers to manage their finances and complete their self-assessment tax returns)

You may choose to complete certain qualifications (outlined below) to progress to the status of a chartered accountant. Chartered accountants are typically more experienced and provide advice on complex business matters such as cash-flow forecasting within a business, forensic accounting in cases of corporate fraud, and matters relating to corporate finance such as mergers and acquisitions.

Skills needed to become an accountant

If you are considering a career in accountancy, you might want to think about whether you have the skills that are necessary for success in this field. Consider whether you have the following:

  • A strong interest in and understanding of business
  • Strong self-motivation and organisational skills
  • Strong numeracy skills
  • IT skills
  • The ability to analyse and problem-solve
  • Communication skills
  • Attention to detail and accuracy
  • Trustworthiness and integrity

How to qualify as an accountant

In order to gain work as an accountant, it is desirable (though not always necessary) to have a university degree. Unlike some industries, it is not strictly necessary for your degree to be in a field or subject relevant to accountancy. An accountant is required, however, to have undergone certain accountancy-specific training and to have achieved certain professional qualifications. There are several training and qualification options to choose from, and there are several major accountancy awarding bodies that provide recognised qualifications, including:

  • AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)- The AAT offers foundation qualifications at Levels 2-4 that are essential to qualifying as an accountant. On completion of the Level 4 AAT qualification, you will be eligible to apply to become a full AAT member, with the ability to run your own business as a licensed accountant and provide a full range of financial services. The AAT Level 4 qualification is the minimum training requirement for becoming a professional accountant, after which it is possible to carry out further training to gain chartered status. Each AAT course takes between 6-18 months to complete. There are no entry requirements for enrolling on the AAT’s courses. The AAT also runs accounting apprenticeships which allow students to gain work experience and accountancy skills whilst also earning a wage.
  • ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)- This well respected training body provides the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification. This training is carried out alongside professional work and involves passing a series of exams. To apply for the ACA’s qualifications, you must have at least three GCSEs and two A Levels or equivalent level qualifications.
  • ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) Qualification- To apply for the ACCA qualification, you must have at least three GCSEs and two A Levels in five separate subjects including Maths and English- or equivalent secondary school or college level qualifications. The course is carried out alongside professional work and takes on average 3-4 years. Throughout the course of this qualification, you will carry out up to 13 exams.
  • CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) also provide a variety of training and accounting qualifications at different levels.

For some courses, exam exemptions apply for students who have already completed relevant degree courses or qualifications.

Most chartered accountancy qualifications are carried out as part of a training contract with a firm approved by the relevant awarding body. These training contracts can be highly competitive, and in order to gain a position you will most likely need to carry out certain numeracy tests. For university graduates seeking training contracts in accountancy, it is advisable to start making applications at the beginning of your final year of university.

Some employers will have certain preferences or specifications as to which courses, qualifications and trainings they expect potential applicants to have.  If there is a particular company or type of company you are interested in working for, it can be helpful to check any specifications before you choose your course of study.

Gaining work experience

Many large accounting firms offer formal summer internships. These are highly competitive, but can provide a brilliant boost to your graduate CV. Even if you are not lucky enough to secure one of these internships, it can be extremely useful to obtain relevant experience by seeking a job placement or a voluntary or part-time role at a smaller company or local firm.

Salaries

A career in accountancy offers a good level of financial stability.

The average base salary for an accountant in the UK is around £30,000 per year, with base salaries for more experienced accountants peaking at around £49,000.

For those with chartered status, the average base salary is around £36,000 per year, peaking at around £54,000 for more experienced practitioners.

Source: https://www.payscale.com

Where you will work

Accountants are employed in a wide variety of sectors and organisations including public and private sectors and in businesses of all different sizes. The job is generally office-based, but can involve some travel if you are carrying out client audits. Examples of the types of businesses who typically employ accountants are:

  • Private accountancy firms
  • Professional services firms
  • Commercial and corporate firms
  • Industrial organisations
  • The public sector
  • Government bodies
  • Charities and non-profits
  • Some accountants, particularly those specialising in tax, are self-employed or run their own businesses.

What to expect from the job

A career in accountancy can involve a lot of hard work, and often necessitates long working hours and demanding deadlines. It is possible to find accountancy work in most areas of the UK and even abroad, however the majority of job opportunities (and particularly those with the best prospects for career progression) can be found in large towns and cities.

Summary

If this guide has sparked your interest and you feel that accountancy may be the career for you, do consider investigating the various different training routes and professional bodies listed above!  A career in accountancy will offer you plenty of options for specialising, carrying out further training and progressing your career so could be the perfect career path for anyone looking for a numeracy-based career with the potential to take you places!