How to become an accountant…

If you’ve got a head for figures, are well-organised and enjoy working with people, a career in accountancy might be a good choice for you.

It isn’t just about crunching the numbers these days as qualified Accountants increasingly take on the role of business adviser in the private sector.

Accounting offers dynamic and diverse career opportunities once you’re qualified.

You could work at home or abroad within an accountancy practice or industry, in the public sector, or even set up your own practice and enjoy a little autonomy.

What does an Accountant do?

As an Accountant, you could cover a wide range of roles depending on where you want to specialise.

If you work in practice, you might spend time away from the office, auditing clients’ financial records, advising on tax or helping them set up new accounting systems and processes.

Choosing management accountancy means you’d focus more on financial organisation and planning within commerce or industry, whereas a Public Service Accountant monitors the collection of income, also carrying out budgeting and cost analysis for public bodies.

What do Accountants typically earn?

Newly-qualified Financial and Management Accountants can earn between £35,000 and £45,000 a year, with those in corporate tax taking home an annual salary of between £40,000 and £50,000.

Your earnings will depend on your experience, location, and the size of the company you work for, but as your career progresses you could earn up to £110,000 as a senior manager.

How do I get started as an Accountant?

You can take an undergraduate degree in accounting, or choose a finance-related degree that includes accounting modules, such as business management or economics. Full-time courses at university generally take three years to complete.

Two other popular routes into accountancy are via the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification and the accountancy apprenticeship scheme.

The AAT qualification can be taken part-time while you work for a finance-related employer and allows you to put theory into practice on a day-to-day basis.

Accounting apprenticeships are offered by the major accounting firms, with KPMG reporting an increase of 40% in the number of new apprentices they’ve hired in 2017.

Whichever route you choose, you’ll need to follow it up with a professional qualification from an accounting body, and this takes a further three to five years during which time you’ll combine work with study.

The UK accounting bodies offering internationally-recognised qualifications include:

  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants for Scotland (ICAS)
  • Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)
  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)

What advise skills do I need to become an Accountant?

Accountancy can be a highly pressured environment where people depend on you to find answers to often complex technical problems.

The following key skills will help you deal with the day-to-day challenges of the profession:

  • Clear communication
  • Good organisational ability
  • A head for figures
  • Ability to explain complex topics to people who aren’t financially-minded
  • Excellent problem-solving
  • An analytical mind
  • Advanced IT skills
  • An eye for detail

Ethics are a huge issue in accountancy, so you’ll need to be trustworthy and display integrity in all your dealings with clients, as ACCA Global explains.

What do Accountants do day-to-day?

As an Accountant, you’ll typically work a 40-hour week, but may be required to work longer hours at busy times of the year.

You might spend the week auditing a client’s business at their premises or advising clients about tax, so you won’t necessarily be in your office all the time.

Day-to-day tasks could include:

  • Tracking income and expenditure
  • Administering payroll
  • Completing company accounts and tax returns
  • Budgeting and forecasting
  • Tax planning
  • Setting up accounting systems
  • Trouble-shooting financial problems
  • Invoicing and chasing payments

Once I’m an Accountant, what career progression is available?

Whether you choose to work in practice, industry, or the public sector, accountancy offers you a great deal of scope for progression to higher level roles such as Senior Accountant, Finance Manager or Finance Director.

You could be in charge of a large finance team, or be the finance director of a global conglomerate – the only limitations are your own ambition.

UK professional accounting qualifications are recognised globally, so if you have designs on working abroad, accountancy could be a good choice for a career.

What are the best bits about being an Accountant?

Accountancy is diverse and rewarding and can take you around the world.

On the other hand, it can also be a great career if you want the flexibility that comes from setting up your own business or working from a home office.

Cloud technology provides remote access to clients’ systems, allowing you to work wherever there’s an internet connection, troubleshooting problems instantly. You’ll be called upon to explain complex technical issues, which is great if you’re a numbers person as well as a people person.

What are the challenges of being an Accountant?

As an Accountant, you’ll work in a high-pressure environment that often requires quick thinking and decisive action.

You’ll need to ensure clients comply with HMRC’s stringent requirements, which is quite a challenging task when they don’t always readily provide the information you need.

Another issue faced by Accountants is that even the smallest error can have a significant impact on a client’s business, so being methodical and attentive are traits that you’ll need in abundance.

You may need to work long hours whilst you get established, working and studying at the same time. There will also be considerable competition from your peers for the valuable training contract places with sought-after employers.

This career is for you if…

If you’re a problem-solver and have the staying power to gain professional qualifications over a number of years, you’ll reap the rewards of an accountancy career. You’ll need to be naturally conscientious and trustworthy, and fine-tune your people skills to cope with the inevitable problems that clients will bring to your door.

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