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How to Become an Accountant

Accountancy is a stable and growing field that offers significant potential for professional growth. As an accountant, you can work in almost any industry, and you can also gain valuable transferable skills that will enable you to thrive in any environment.  If you’ve always enjoyed maths and are looking for a career where you can use those numeracy skills, then the field of accountancy could be the right course for you.

From what an accountant salary is to the kind of accountant jobs available, here’s everything you need to know about how to become an accountant:

What is an Accountant

An accountant is a business professional who prepares business accounts, giving an overview of financial status. Accountants are responsible for ensuring that businesses are running their finances smoothly, that cash is flowing in and out of the company with ease, and that everyone gets paid on time. Most accountants are responsible for a wide range of financial record keeping.

Regardless of whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, as an accountant you will fill an incredibly important role. If you have a head for numbers and enjoy problem-solving and attention to detail, then you could be perfectly placed to become an accountant.

Accountants usually choose to specialise in an area of the profession, depending on their interests and qualifications. Some of the most common specialisms include:

  • Financial Accountant. Financial accountants focus on monitoring a company’s financial transactions and ensuring that cash is flowing smoothly through a company. In this role, you will work as part of an accounting team, prepare financial statements for the senior management team, and advise those teams on how best to cut business costs
  • Management Accountant. The day-to-day role of a management accountant is very similar to that of a financial accountant. You will track a company’s financial performance and forecast financial projections. The main difference between a financial accountant and a management accountant is that whilst a financial accountant will prepare and share reports with internal and external agencies, the reports created by management accountants are for internal use only. The role of a management accountant is more strategic than that of a financial accountant
  • Tax Accountant. The role of a tax accountant is fairly self-explanatory: they help businesses with their tax returns and tax statements. As a tax accountant, you will advise your clients on ways that they can reduce their tax spending whilst still remaining within the law. Tax accountants are highly qualified and focus regularly on their continued professional development so that they are up to date with changing tax laws and can interpret these laws to the benefit of their clients
  • Forensic Accountant. Finally, if you have an analytic mind and a passion for puzzles then you might enjoy the role of a forensic accountant. A forensic accountant will use both accounting and investigation techniques to find money that has been hidden in complex financial accounts. Typically, forensic accountants will help to solve cases of fraud and embezzlement. They may also become involved in asset recovery or in civil cases such as insurance claims or trademark infringements

Accountants generally have fixed and regular working hours, working within the confines of the 9-5 business week. Weekend and evening work is rarely required in this role.

Personal Qualities of an Accountant

If you want to be a successful accountant, then you will need to have the following skills and personal qualities:

  • Great numeracy skills. It should go without saying, but as accountants work with numbers all day you should feel comfortable working with numbers and be able to regularly perform complex calculations
  • Strong attention to detail. Because accountants regularly deal with large sums of money and complex calculations, it is important that you have excellent attention to detail. You should be able to follow processes and ensure that accuracy is always maintained
  • Work well under pressure. You may not feel that accountancy is a high-pressure job, but if you make errors in your work then this could have huge financial ramifications, meaning that the role of an accountant is often a high-pressure one
  • Excellent communication skills. Your written and verbal communication skills should be of a high standard because, contrary to the old-fashioned image of accountants working alone, modern accountants often work as part of a team, regularly interact with clients, and share information with key people in their own organisations. You will also be expected to provide written reports of the projects you are engaging with
  • Meticulous organisational skills. Accountancy isn’t a place for the disorganised! The data you control is important, so your record-keeping capabilities should be meticulous
  • Self-motivated. Whilst you will work as part of a team, you will also spend a lot of time working alone. For this reason, you should be self-motivated and able to prioritise tasks and manage your time sufficiently
  • Discrete and reliable. As an accountant, you will have access to private financial information belonging to both companies and individual clients. That information should be kept confidential, and your clients should feel able to trust you with their financial information
  • Strong computer skills. Accounting uses advanced software packages, meaning that you will need strong computer skills to use these effectively
Financial Accounts

What an Accountant Does

At the highest level, accountants manage the financial accounts of others (working with both businesses and private individual clients). But if you choose to pursue a career as an accountant, what will you do all day? Whilst the specifics will vary from company to company, and will depend on what kind of accountant you become, here’s an overview of what an accountant does:

  • Prepare business accounts, providing a regular overview of their current financial status. Accountants work to track all of a company’s financial transactions. By doing so, they can quickly identify any irregularities or risks and can report these to a higher authority
  • Monitor, track and record a company’s or individual’s income and expenditure, ensuring that the two sums are always balanced and that all money is accounted for
  • Running payroll to ensure that all employees receive the correct salaries and that these are paid on time
  • Conducting both internal and external audits to ensure that company finances are being utilised correctly and that the correct procedures are being followed
  • Identifying and investigating financial risks or irregularities (including losses or suspected fraud). This may involve working with a multidisciplinary team or working with external agencies
  • Helping businesses to set their budgets and making recommendations on areas where they could cut costs, and ultimately increase profits, using your understanding of their business accounts to guide your advice
  • Calculating tax owed and filing tax returns

How Much Does an Accountant Earn

Because accountants tend to work in the private sector, your earning potential will vary slightly from company to company: your salary may also be impacted by which area of accounting you choose to specialise in. Fully qualified accountants tend to earn up to £35,000 per year, although this figure will be lower whilst you are still undergoing your accountancy training.

As your career progresses you may choose to work towards becoming a Finance Manager, where the average salary is around £50,000 and if you climb the ladder again, assuming the position of a Financial Director, then your average earning potential will be around £100,000.

Some accountants choose to set up their own accounting businesses and work independently. The benefits of this path are that you can choose your own working hours and set your own rates, however securing work can be more unreliable when you are self-employed, and you will also be responsible for paying your own taxes and other business expenses. Being a self-employed accountant can be an incredibly lucrative career choice though, particularly when you have grown your reputation and built up a portfolio of clients who use and promote your services. If you like the idea of working for yourself and have an entrepreneurial spirit, accountancy could be a great route.

Qualifications Needed for an Account

Many accountants hold a university degree, but this is not usually a requirement to work as an accountant. If specific employers require that you have a university degree then generally this can be in any subject, though prospective accountants who choose to attend university will often choose to study accounting or a maths-based subject. The most common route for accountants is to study maths and economics at A-level and then pursue an accounting degree.

If you don’t have a degree, then you can still train to become an accountant. At the most basic level, you will need to attain some accountancy qualifications, usually accredited by the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians). These accredited courses are made up of four qualifications across three levels (Levels 2-4), they combine industry knowledge and practical work skills. To secure a place on a level 2 course, you will need to have some GCSEs at above C grade, and two of these should be in English and maths. To enter at level 3 or 4 directly, you will also need at least two A Levels, one of which should be in maths.

Accounting can be a confusing path, because it is regulated by so many bodies and so many different boards offer recognised accounting qualifications. Some of the most popular accounting qualifications include:

  • ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualifications -You can study for this certificate at two levels: Fundamentals and Professionals. The modules cover a variety of topics from corporate and business law to audit and assurance
  • AIA (The Association of International Accountants) professional qualification – There are several different levels of award available from this organisation, but their highest award will give you qualified accountant status and membership of their global organisation
  • ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) chartered accountant status – This organisation is also referred to as the ACA. To achieve this qualification, you must undergo 450 days of practical work experience and then complete 15 exam modules
  • CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) business finance award – oversees the widely recognised CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant), which requires you to have already gained the postgraduate-level CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting (Cert BA) before you can begin studying

Each of these qualifications are highly regarded, and most accountancy firms will accept applications with qualifications from any board. If you have a specific specialism in mind or want to work with a specific firm, however, then it is well worth researching with the board they prefer before you begin your studies. A good example of this is that you will need to have the ACCA qualification in conjunction with three years experience if you wish to become a chartered accountant.

On the Job Training

If you’re ready to step straight into the world of work then it is possible to secure many of your accountancy qualifications whilst also completing on the job training, giving you the hands-on experience to support your online studies. You could secure an entry-level role, such as that of an accounting clerk who would conduct data entry tasks and verify calculations.

are also available for those who would like to investigate on the job training as an alternative route into accountancy. Accounting apprenticeships, such as those run by the AAT, are a viable alternative to university and they provide a fast-track to achieving chartered status with the main professional bodies including ICAEW and ACCA. Because these roles allow you to earn as you learn they can be incredibly competitive. To help you stand out from the crowd you may wish to consider securing a work placement or a voluntary role to support your application and demonstrate your commitment to working within the field.

Professional Bodies

There are six professional bodies for chartered accountants in the UK. Those bodies are:

Regardless of which professional body you choose, membership to a professional body will give you many benefits throughout your career. Just some of these benefits include access to learning opportunities and continued professional development tools, online and offline member networks which will enable you to build relationships with other accountants within your field, advocacy and mentoring tools to encourage you to develop within your career, and wellbeing tools which often include access to helplines and counsellors when needed.

If you are committed to pursuing a career in accountancy, then joining a professional body will put you on the right track and show that you are serious about your career aspirations.

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