All about careers in Accountancy

Accounting professionals are integral to the stability and growth of individual businesses.

Accountancy is concerned with the provision and analysis of information for a variety of decision-making, accountability, managerial, regulatory, and resource allocation purposes. It is practised, in part, within a professional service context.

Accounting professionals are integral to the stability and growth of individual businesses. From ensuring that company finances remain ‘healthy’, to analysing if the organisation can afford to expand or diversify, accountancy professionals are a valued asset across the workforce. From financial accountancy, forensic accounting, corporate finance, to tax consultancy and insolvency, there is a career in accountancy for everyone.

There is always a high demand for qualified accountants. Every business needs to file a record of their accounts for tax purposes. Due to the complex nature of the current tax system in the United Kingdom many individuals and smaller businesses are put off from undertaking such a daunting task themselves.

Combine this with the fact that due to the current economic climate cash flow is more critical than ever the demand for book-keeping and accountancy services is greater today than it has ever been. Now is a great time to become an accountant. As a qualified accountant you have several options available to you. You can work for an accountancy practice that provides both accountancy and book-keeping services to their clients.

You may also apply for jobs within large businesses. Large businesses more often than not carry out a certain amount of the book-keeping and accountancy tasks in house. Many will also employ a Finance Director to keep control of financial planning and strategy. Lastly as a qualified accountant you can set up your own practice and take on your own clients.

How to become an accountant

There are three main bodies responsible for awarding chartered accountant qualifications. Therefore your first decision will be to decide which body to train with. Training usually takes in the region of three years and more often than not your training will be paid for by your employer as part of a training contract.

The syllabus will vary slightly between institution’s but you will generally cover the same wide range of topics from the pricipals of taxation through to financial reporting

What is the best way to become an accountant?

You do not have to have a degree in accountancy to become an accountant

Neither do you need a degree in business administration, maths or any other specific subject – graduates in all subjects, from Anthropology to Zoology can and do become successful accountants.

What you do need is a good academic record, particularly at A-level (two Bs and a C is the minimum standard for most firms); good communication and teamworking skills; determination and motivation. Numeracy is, of course, important but most employers require no more than a good GSCE in Maths and a good standard in the numeracy tests which are likely to form part of their selection process.

Accountancy is a career which offers a graduate environment, variety, people contact, a professional qualification, high salaries and opportunities to work internationally. (Who said accountancy was boring?). Many accountants use their qualification to move into general management or to set up their own business

Accountants work in all areas of business, plus the public and voluntary sector. Many work in firms of chartered or certified accountants (this is referred to as working in “private practice” or, confusingly, as “public practice”). Others are employed by banks, manufacturing companies, local authorities, charities, publishers, film companies, hospital trusts, insurance companies, universities – you name it!

Work in private practice is centered on audit: visiting clients as part of an audit team and reviewing their business operations and financial records to establish the validity of the company’s accounts. Auditing gives you a chance to visit 10 or 20 companies a year, examine their finances and strategies and ask questions about the way they work. You see what makes some profitable, some fail, some good places to work and others bad: after 3 years training you have a unique insight into what makes a business successful.

Other work includes tax consultancy, business advice and insolvency work. This gives a broad insight into many different businesses and areas of business, which is why many accountants choose to qualify in private practice before moving into industry and other areas. If you train in private practice you will qualify with one of the chartered accountancy institutes or with the Association of Chartered Certifed Accountants (ACCA)

Accountants in industry and commerce use their financial expertise to inform management decision-making, to advise other departments within their organisation and to maximise its profitability and effectiveness. In the public sector they perform a similar role but with the emphasis on ensuring value for money.

There are several different professional bodies which regulate the training and work of accountants in the UK (see below) but, as a general rule, qualifying as an accountant will involve three years of study, exams and relevant employment. Training for professional exams is provided by employers. Early responsibility and fast promotion is available if your work and exam results are satisfactory.

Accountancy is concerned with the provision and analysis of information for a variety of decision-making, accountability, managerial, regulatory, and resource allocation purposes. It is practised, in part, within a professional service context. The study of accounting involves the consideration of conceptual and applied aspects, including at least some of the theoretical considerations underlying the subject. If accountancy is studied in combination with a significant amount of finance, the course content will also cover the operation and design of financial systems, risk, financial structures, and financial instruments

Students are required to study how the design, operation and validation of accounting systems affects, and is affected by, individuals, organisations, markets and society. Such perspectives may include the behavioural, the economic, the political, and the sociological. In everyday speech, ‘finance’ is often used synonymously with ‘accounting’ whereas, in accounting and in economics, finance is restricted to the science or study of the management of fund. Some students will pursue a professional accountancy qualification on graduation. Others consider the subject to be a useful introduction to the worlds of business and finance. Some students study accounting predominantly as an intellectual pursuit. A degree in accounting is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for progress towards professional qualification and the content of degrees is not prescribed by professional bodies.

There are several different ways for you to learn how to become an accountant, which will not only require you to complete a University education. However, University is easily the most popular way for persons to get the training they desire when they want to start accountant careers. The option which many individuals consider for a career will be accountancy.

In order to obtain a slace for an accounting course at University level you are usually expected to possess excellent GCSE grades in Mathematics, English and Science, some institutions want no less than a grade C. It’s also essential to get 3 A levels and most Universities have a preference for A levels in accounting, business or economics. Generally, it is important to have a good educational background in mathematics since this is essential for an accounting degree program.

The very best program for University accountancy degree is actually an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants or ACA. Mainly because ACA is the leading finance and business certification which is acknowledged internationally and consequently will open opportunities to numerous career prospects in the future.

However, there are other avenues to take if you want to become an accountant which include qualifications and courses from AAT or the Association of Accounting Technicians. The AAT is divided into three levels, which include a level 2 Certificate for Accounting; level 3 Diploma and also a level 4 Diploma, all of which can provide the knowledge and skills needed to advance in this career. Essentially, AAT is a fast track way to start a career in this field without having to attend a University.

It is not necessary to have qualifications in order to study for the lowest level of AAT and when you have qualifications like A-levels, you could possible go directly into a higher AAT level.

You can also be a chartered accountant if you have a qualification from a recognised equivalent body from another Commonwealth country.

A graduate in accountancy typically will:

  • be able to critically evaluate arguments and evidence
  • be able to analyse and draw reasoned conclusions concerning structured and unstructured problems, from both given data and data that must be acquired
  • be able to locate, extract and analyse data from multiple sources
  • self-manage their learning
  • be numerate, including being able to manipulate financial and other numerical data and to appreciate statistical concepts
  • be effective in ICT including using spreadsheets, word processing software and online databases
  • be able to present quantitative and qualitative information, together with analysis, argument and commentary, in a form appropriate to the intended audience
  • have effective interpersonal skills, including the ability to work in teams
  • understanding the contexts in which accounting operates, including the legal and social environment, the accountancy profession, the business entity, the capital markets and the public sector
  • understand the current technical language and practices of accounting (for example, recognition, measurement and disclosure in financial statements, managerial accounting, auditing, and taxation) in a specified field
  • understand some of the alternative technical language and practices of accounting (for example, alternative recognition rules and valuation bases, accounting rules followed in other socio-economic domains, alternative managerial accounting approaches to control and decision making)
  • be skilled in recording and summarising transactions and other economic events, preparing financial statements, analysing the operations of business
  • understand contemporary theories and empirical evidence concerning accounting in at least one of its contexts and have the ability to critically evaluate such theories and evidence
  • understand theories and empirical evidence concerning financial management, risk and the operation of capital markets (in cases of degrees with significant finance content).

How do I find a job?

Many employers in the accountancy and business services industry attend careers fairs and give presentations on campus throughout the autumn term. It is advisable to prepare well before you attend such events. Jobs related to this industry can also be found by searching company websites, careers service vacancy boards and through networking.

Graduate training schemes are common in this sector and applications are often made through online forms. Some jobs also require the completion of a psychometric test which can usually be taken online.

If you are successful, you may be invited to an assessment centre and possibly a second round of interviews. Smaller firms often use just a CV and covering letter.

Big accountancy firms start recruiting at the beginning of the academic year (from September) but many vacancies are open year-round on a rolling recruitment basis.

Tax and audit are the areas with the biggest intake of graduates.

What skills do I need?

Recruiters in this sector look for a combination of strengths, values and skills (refer to the section on work experience to find out how to develop these skills) detailed as follows:

  • ability to work within a team and to convey information;
  • a genuine interest in the sector;
  • an analytical, logical approach to work;
  • business and commercial awareness;
  • drive and motivation;
  • excellent communication, numeracy and problem solving skills;
  • self-discipline and self-management, especially if you are studying towards a qualification.

In addition, applicants usually need a good academic record including high UCAS points and a 2:1 degree or above. Once you meet the entry requirements, evidence of work experience and extra-curricular activities helps to demonstrate your enthusiasm and skills

Where can I find work experience?

The ‘Big Four’ and large accountancy firms offer summer and 12 month internship schemes for penultimate-year students, which can often result in an offer for a permanent position at the end of the internship.

Internships or volunteering in other areas might be useful, as you are given the opportunity to develop relevant skills such as communication, teamwork and numerical skills.

The application method is very similar to the graduate recruitment process – either online application forms or CV and covering letter.

Involvement with university societies and reading relevant media sources are ways for you to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest in the sector.

Is postgraduate study useful?

Postgraduate study is not necessary in this industry but it has become more popular in recent years. It may prove to be an advantage as a way of showing your interest in the subject, especially when applying to smaller firms.

The ‘Big Four’ and other organisations recruit huge numbers of graduates from a range of disciplines with the intention of training them and helping them to obtain accountancy qualifications.
Accountancy and business services employers support their new hires throughout the qualification process. There are various accountancy bodies that offer qualifications. These include ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) which offers a Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business.
Part-time distance learning MBAs may also be useful as they can elevate your knowledge and career progression.

How can my career develop?

Once you are qualified, there are many different career routes and opportunities for post-qualification progression. Overseas secondments are possible in large international firms.

Career progression varies, depending on individual aspirations and abilities, but it is possible to progress to finance director of a major company within 10-15 years’ post-qualification.

For those choosing to stay within the professional service providers or in practice, partnership is the ultimate aim.

Those choosing to work as internal providers (in industry, commerce or the public sector), may find themselves progressing to manager roles within two to five years after obtaining the qualification.

Increasingly, accountants are taking on a more strategic role in business. Those who aim high may make it to finance director or even chief executive.