Becoming an accountant is a sound proposition in a world where finance rules, keeping track of money is a central demand of most businesses. It is a career option that allows you to work in large multinationals or with sole traders, and at each level, have a significant impact on their success. While accountancy might seem like a straightforward profession, it is a vast area of work with many areas for professional development. This article will explain how to start a career in accountancy.
What is an accountant’s role?
Accountants are required to create and collate the financial information about an individual or about a business. They record, summarise, interpret, and then communicate those records to the relevant people, usually different authorities.
Being an accountant is more than just compiling these records. The professional needs relatively advanced digital skills, as well as detailed knowledge of financial law. Part of the role is statistical analysis and taking on board complex information. The best accountants also have a detailed knowledge of business strategies and wider economics.
While it is possible to move between fields with generic accountancy skills, an accountant will often be sector-specific, such as in retail or manufacturing. You will likely take a specific accountancy course for the area of specialism you are interested in. We cover some of these areas in this article.
As an auditor, you come into a business to check on the different aspects of finances within an organisation. There will be internal auditors who are employed by the company who will guide the financial affairs, and a team of external auditors who checks the financial statements for accuracy. While there is a sense that these auditors are there to check for wrongdoing, it is also a way to help a company streamline how they keep accurate financial records. Auditors often issue reports and recommendations which add value to a company, similar to how consultants would.
Being an auditor isn’t easy, and it requires detailed knowledge of accounting processes, financial markets, economics and law – and the appropriate standards a company should be keeping to. There are many things to keep in mind, and you will likely be a chartered accountant, having taken a lot of examinations to get to your position.
The breadth and depth of an external auditor’s role make audit an ideal role for trainee accountants to hone their craft. Their exposure to a variety of different accounting processes in place at many different client businesses allows them to immerse themselves in how business works, much better even than the best business books could ever teach.
Financial accounting could be for you if you love being organised and with close attention to detail. Your role is to keep the accounts for your organisation neat and tidy, and ready for scrutiny.
In past years, this role was known as the bookkeeper. You ensure the ledgers balance, and you produce the relevant reports for different stakeholders.
Each company will have a different way of keeping these records and will employ different software. You will be responsible for using these methods accurately and producing financial information when required. For this reason, having experience is more important than an accountancy degree, as the more systems you work with, the more adept you become. However, if you want to climb the ladder, you will need a degree to stretch beyond this role.
If you have a strategic mindset and are ambitious to make a difference, you will enjoy management accounting. It is like financial accounting, except you are responsible for tracking its financial position and offering forecasts and controlling expenditure. You will likely supervise an internal team of accounting technicians and then complete the internal audits to oversee work.
As a management accountant, you are no longer just responsible for the recording and reporting on the finances of a company. You are involved with the organisation’s senior leadership, interpreting trends, making forecasts and predictions, and managing the work of other accountants who work in the organisation.
As a tax accountant, you will calculate the business or individual tax liabilities for the client you work for. You essentially work out how much tax they pay. While this sounds straightforward, tax is complex, and there are many rules and ways of interpreting these rules. Your role is to ensure the client pays the legally expected amount, not more or less than this amount.
As a tax advisor, you are likely a chartered accountant and considered highly skilled and qualified. As well as demonstrating basic accounting qualifications, you will have completed a year-long course to achieve the necessary status as a Chartered Tax Advisor. To maintain this status is a big commitment, as you are expected to complete 9 hours of continuing professional development every year to maintain your membership with the Chartered Institute of Taxation.
If you fancy a bit of detective work, then forensic accounting is just right for you. You will investigate financial crimes, such as embezzlement and fraud. You will use accounting techniques to detect crime and solve it, and these may well be so complex that a normal person may not notice they are happening.
As a forensic accountant, you will be qualified as an accountant and have multiple years of experience. You will specialise in this field after some time in the profession before undertaking post-graduate courses to enhance your qualifications. Forensic accountants rarely began their careers in this particular specialism. The best forensic accounting books give a real insight into the types of money laundering and financial crime you would be trying to detect as a forensic accountant.
Some standard accountancy courses allow you to specialise in this area and develop the detective skills needed to spot scams and fraud.
These are just a few of the different areas of specialism. You can also go into government work, insolvency, accountancy projects and more.
How to become an accountant
You need the right qualifications to become an accountant. While it is open to school leavers through to graduates, there are expected levels of achievement at each step.
At GCSE and A-level, you will need to demonstrate that you have a high level of academic ability and can concentrate on highly detailed work for a long time. While you don’t have to gain specific accounting qualifications, they help. What you are looking to do at this level is gain Level 2 and 3 qualifications in subjects such as maths, economics, and business studies.
You may equally wish to go on to get a degree. The degree doesn’t need to be accounting, but you should have your future career progression in mind and the sort of specialism you are thinking of pursuing.
There is also a non-degree route into accounting, as you work as an accounting technician. You can get to this level through online accounting courses and do these in your own time while working. The best accounting books will help you develop technical knowledge in your own time. Alternatively, you might aspire to get to the top of the profession and get chartered status.
There are benefits to becoming a chartered accountant, not least that you will be able to work on more complex matters and demand much higher fees. Be aware that the level of qualifications needed is higher; you will be expected to gain a lot of experience and shadow someone more senior for a period. However, you will benefit from much greater flexibility in your career once this is achieved.
While the average earnings for an accountant are more than £60k, the amount you earn varies massively based on your qualifications, experience, and level of seniority within a company. As a graduate, you can expect to earn £23k-£26k a year, to begin with.
Being an accountant offers secure work across a range of sectors. You will always be needed, and your services will be highly prized. What is most appealing is that you can go the academic route or learn as you work. You can reach the highest levels in a variety of ways. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about how to start a career in accountancy.