The Definitive Guide: How To Become An Accountant
Published: 29 Sep 2016
So you’d like to become an accountant? The good news is an accountant’s shoes are a great pair of shoes to fill (there’s always going to be plenty of work for you) while the not so good news is it takes some time to become qualified…
Don’t let that put you off, though, accountancy training might be tough and pretty lengthy too but it can lead to a rewarding, lifelong career. Following a course or two, you might later choose to work as a self-employed accountant or join a company in-house to keep on top of their day-to-day finances.
Accountancy careers are popular for a few key reasons – and here are just a handful of them:
- All businesses of a certain size will require the services of an accountant at some point, which means you’ll never be out of work.
- Once you’ve become qualified as an accountant, there are various job advancements open to you.
- As accountants are continually in demand, you can be sure of a stable and secure job
- According to the Better Online Degrees site, accountants experience high job satisfaction – which could be something to do with their eventual salary!
What is an Accountant's Salary?
When it comes down to it we all want to know the answer to 'So what does an accountant earn?’ Well, the average accountant salary is £28,306 per annum but this can vary and can be between £17,343 and £51,411.
It’s not unheard of for accountants to enjoy a six-figure salary either!
What is Accounting?
So what exactly is accountancy – and what exactly does it entail?
In short, accounting is the art of recording, reporting, summarising and analysing an individual’s or a company’s financial transactions. Some accountants might be sought to take care of a firm’s tax return on a yearly basis, while some will be required year-round to handle the day-to-day financial ins and outs of a company.
So, what does an accountant do in terms of day-to-day duties?
The typical day in the life of an accountant includes all sorts of responsibilities. In fact, their job is a very responsible one in general; they’re in charge of ensuring a company doesn’t go bankrupt and, in doing so, they’ll be expected to advise the CEO or managing director of any cause for concern. This can include a company’s over-expenditure, for example, or simply ways in which the firm can save money.
Hours of Work
In terms of hours spent in the role, most accountants will work standard full-time hours – 9am to 5pm, or 9am to 5.30am, five days a week – while others might work on a freelance basis, fitting their work in around family.
Anything from 35 hours to 45 per week is standard, with some accountants working more hours at peak times. This can be when they’re needed to meet client deadlines, either at the end of a month or at the end of a financial year.
Covering lots of different areas, the role of a chartered accountant might include the following regular responsibilities:
- The running and management of financial systems and budgets
- Financial audits – which is basically an independent check of a firm’s financial position
- Financial advice
When dealing with the public, the tasks a chartered accountant might be expected to carry out will include any of the following:
- Conversing with clients, including individuals and businesses
- Providing financial advice and information
- Analysing risk by reviewing a company’s existing financial systems
- Advising clients on tax planning and any issues associated with business mergers and acquisitions
- Performing tests to monitor systems and financial information
- Keeping on top of a company’s accounting records
- Preparing accounts and management information for smaller businesses
- Giving clients advice when it comes to improving their business
- Dealing with insolvency and detecting and preventing fraud – this is known as forensic accounting.
Occasionally, accountants in a senior position may also be required to manage and help their accounts assistant colleagues. This can drastically add to their long list of responsibilities but can prove a very rewarding experience for someone who’s worked hard to get to the top of their game.
Key Accountancy Qualifications
So, what qualifications do you need to be an accountant?
In the case of non-certified chartered accountants, entry is open to all graduates of all disciplines. Some graduates might, for example, have a business-related degree, while others might hold a degree in any of the following subjects:
- Social Sciences
Budding accountants might also want to take a Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB), which can be a good route for those who’ve taken a degree but haven’t yet landed an accountancy role.
The good news is that entry without a degree or HND is possible. That said, it’s a really competitive industry and some graduates might find that they have a slight edge over other candidates.
As a general rule of thumb – and something to definitely think about if you’re hoping to enter the accountancy profession – is that those with a degree are usually selected for roles with larger employers, over those with a HND.
If you’re really fortunate, you might find a position which allows you to train while learning on the job. Some employers will send you to do the necessary training – usually the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Accounting Qualification. You don’t need a degree to take this qualification but it can still lead on to training for chartered accountancy status.
In the UK, there are three separate professional bodies for chartered accountants – and these are:
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland, which oversees Ireland and Northern Ireland
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
While entry regulations vary a little between the three institutes above, in some cases you might only need a handful of GCSEs and two A ‘levels to become enrolled onto the course.
If you’d rather secure a training contract with an employer, you will probably need a minimum of 260 UCAS points. In some cases, over 300 points are required in order to get onto a course, alongside a good degree. On top of this, you may be required to be able to demonstrate good knowledge of maths or a fair ability in the subject.
Want to become a chartered certified accountant? In this instance, you’ll need to have studied for the Association of Chartered Certificate Accountants (ACCA) certificate, as well as becoming a member of ACCA.
You may also find that knowledge in business or management, economics or maths is an advantage.
So what do you need to get onto the ACCA qualification?
- A minimum of three GCSEs and two A ‘levels in a handful of separate subjects. These can include English and maths
- A good A ‘level or degree performance – usually a 2:1 classification if the latter
- Good maths and English GCSEs
- Language skills)
Vital Accounting Skills
Alongside professional qualifications, accountants are generally expected to have a number of other key skills or personal traits in order to be successful in the role. These include:
- Business interest & awareness
- Organisational & time management
- IT proficiency
- Commitment and willingness to learn & study while working
- Leadership qualities
At a certified level, an accountant may also be expected to have good commercial awareness, as well as the ability to communicate with a range of clients.
You might also need good negotiation skills, flexibility and a proactive approach to your work. Tact and discretion are also plus points in an accountancy role too.
How To Become An Accountant
So, how do you become an accountant then? Follow our step-by-step guide to making it:
Demonstrate a Strong Background in Maths - You can do this by taking a course at one of the top universities here in the UK. Here are some of the best-known universities when it comes to accounting and finance:
Secure a Training Course Through a Role – If you’re really fortunate, you might be able to get onto a training course while earning money too. In order to train for the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification, you can apply for a training agreement with one of ICAEW’s many authorised employers – there are over 2,850 worldwide. Once enrolled, you’ll receive support from your employer, paid tuition, mentoring and all the study leave you need. You don’t even need a background in accountancy; you will need at least two A2 levels and three GCSE passes, or their equivalents. Alternatively, you might need a minimum of 280 UCAS points in order to enrol. Training can take up to seven years though, so do keep this in mind.
Get Some Work Experience – It’s always helpful to sign up for some relevant pre-entry work experience, which will stand you in good stead when applying for a position at an accountancy firm.
Apprenticeships - Have you considered an accountancy apprenticeship? An apprenticeship could help launch your career in the industry, as well as give you some hands-on experience of what a job as an accountant will entail.
How To Develop Your Accounting Career
So you've been working as an accountant for a while and want to know where you can go next?
Typically, the next steps for you could be:
Becoming a Partner of an Accountancy Firm
Once you’re a respected senior accountant, you might want to take part ownership of the business you currently work for. You’ll make a financial investment in it, in return for owning a proportion of it.
Taking on the Role of Finance Director
Don’t fancy being a partner of a firm? You could become a finance director – someone who leads an internal finance team of a large institution.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Guess what? Having good finance and business knowledge are useful skills when it comes to the possibility of setting up your own company.
So there you have it; everything you need to set out on the road to a new accountancy career!
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