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How to Become an Accountant

accountant notes

Accountancy is a dynamic career option. No matter whether you work for a multinational corporation or do most of your work for sole traders, you will have a big impact on their success. The field of accountancy is vast, and it can come as a surprise just how many different avenues it can offer for professional development.

Accounting is the process of producing financial information about a business or an individual. This information is recorded, summarised, interpreted and then communicated to relevant authorities.

Accountants don’t exist in a vacuum. They need to gain valuable skills in the field of information technology, something that is increasingly important in a digital world. An accountant also needs to understand financial law, how to produce and interpret statistics, and other complex information. They must have an in-depth understanding of business and economics.

An accountant will often have knowledge specific to the business sector that he or she works in, such as retail or industry. NCC Home Learning offer a diverse range of accounting courses to help you get started on your career path.

The Different Kinds of Accountants

Accountants offer a range of financial services to anyone who needs help to keep their financial affairs in order. Some of these areas are considered specialist fields within the broader field of accountancy.

Auditor

Companies, public bodies and government departments have many legal and financial obligations to meet.

As well as preparing financial statements within their own financial departments, a business may also work with an accountant or accountancy practice to produce annual financial records.

An auditor is an external accountant who checks these financial records for accuracy. This is not necessarily due to wrongdoing, but rather is an external process that can streamline how the firm or agency keeps accurate financial records. They also check that a company’s accounting processes are up to standard.

Auditors perform checks on many different aspects of a company’s finances.

They may ask to see all kinds of information and evidence, including receipts and accounting spread sheets. They may ask for expert valuations on buildings, machinery and other assets. An auditor may also check that everything in their financial reports and accounts matches with the ‘reality’ of the company. They then produce their own report and present their own independent findings to the company.

Auditors spend a lot of time on site with their clients, working in different locations when and as needed.

Auditors are objective, and they must sometimes be critical of financial processes. Their presence can be an intrusive interruption, and so they are not always welcomed. As an auditor, as an accountant, is expected to be polite, reasonable and tactful.

To be an external auditor, you will first need to be a registered chartered accountant. This means that you will likely have to have a degree in accountancy or a relevant financial field. You will also need to complete the National Audit Office’s 3-year auditing course and be a member in good standing of one of these professional bodies:

Financial Accounting

If you are generally organised and meticulous, and you enjoy things kept neat and tidy, financial accounting could be the right career path for you. Financial accountancy is the job that most people associate with the field in general.

This is the book-keeping side of accountancy, the columns and ledgers of numbers. An accountant must ensure that financial reports for stakeholders are easy to read with financial information presented clearly.

They do this by:

  • Tracking the company’s current financial position based on incomings, outgoings, liabilities and cash flow (they can do this for individuals, too).
  • Monitoring the share value of the company and making statements and financial forecasts.
  • Producing reports that are used externally, including for potential investors.

Every company has a different way of keeping their finances in order, from the financial software they use to how they gather and process financial information.

It is the accountant’s job to ensure that accurate records are kept, and then this financial information can be transcribed and interpreted alongside legal issues and compliance guidelines.

In some companies, the accountant is important in streamlining these processes, and they then have a larger say on the budget and how money is spent. 

To be this type of accountant, you may be surprised to learn that experience is more important that an accountancy degree. The reasons for this will become more and more clear throughout this guide.

Management Accounting

Are you strategic and ambitious? If so, management accountancy could be the ideal choice for you.

Management accounting is similar to financial accounting in many ways.  It still involves tracking the company’s financial position, but a management accountant also produces reports that are used internally.

They provide the financial information that managers need to make business decisions – e.g. they produce financial reports on aspects of the business that are not profitable. They may also include financial forecasts in this report.

They will produce charts and use other statistical tools to present data in a way that is easy to understand for key decision makers.

 At a senior level, Management Accountants make recommendations based on financial information, and they will often be part of the senior management team

In essence, management accounting is not just about producing figures; it is also about interpreting trends, making predictions and forecasts, both financially and non-financially. Do you have what it takes to work at this level?

Tax Accounting

Tax accounting is all about calculating a business’s or individual’s tax liabilities – in other words, how much tax they owe to the government. Self-employed and employed individuals have a wide range of tax liabilities, and for a company or organisation, the tax picture can be much more complex.

Tax rules continually change, and as a tax accountant you are expected to interpret these and apply new rulings to the company’s (or an individual’s) finances.

By tracking all transactions, a tax accountant calculates how much tax a company owes and how much it pays. They also try to find way to reduce tax liabilities within the legal tax framework.

With information provided to them by the business (or by investigating the accounts themselves internally) they complete all of the tax forms from HM revenue and Customs and ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid.

A tax account will often work with companies and small businesses, as well as with individuals. They will interpret complex information and solve problems. Does this sound like the type of accountancy you would like to do?

Being a Tax Accountant

There are many routes for school leavers and graduates into the role of a tax accountant.

A foundational degree in an accountancy related discipline will give you a head start but is not essential. For school leavers and graduates alike, work placements and experience are what counts when it comes to being accepted on an accredited tax accountancy course.

Tax advisers are usually chartered. This means they are highly skilled and qualified as recognised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT).

As well as demonstrating your existing qualifications, you will need to complete a 12-month course in order to earn the qualifications necessary to be called a Chartered Tax Adviser. You will need to continue developing your practice with at least 90 hours of continuing professional development each year in order to maintain your membership with the CIOT.

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accounts are like financial detectives, investigating financial crimes such as fraud and embezzlement. They use accounting techniques to detect and solve financial crimes that can be complex and far-reaching, and that might not be apparent to the layman’s eye.

They analyse a range of financial information in order to detect fraud and embezzlement – these types of financial crimes can be very well hidden, lying behind complex and multi-layered accounting.

A forensic accountant may also analyse information that will be used during legal proceedings – and example of this would be analysing a couple’s income to decide on a fair settlement.

At trial hearings, forensic accountants will often be called on to interpret complex financial information so that the jury can understand it.

Fraud, theft, embezzlement and other financial-related crimes happen all the time, costing companies, governments, charities, businesses of all kinds and taxpayers thousands of pounds in lost revenue every year.

If you have an interest in law and are analytical and logical in your approach, forensic accounting could be for you.

Being a Forensic Accountant

Most forensic accountants are qualified accountants with many years of experience and accreditation, and who have chosen to specialise in this exciting field.

However, there are now some universities offering specialist forensic accountancy degree courses, as well as post-graduate courses. Many standard courses will also allow you to specialise in forensic accounting or study it beyond just an introductory level. To succeed in this specialism, you will need a keen eye for detail, as well as well-developed detective skills that will help you to see through elaborate scams and fraudulent behaviour.

Other Specialist Areas of Accountancy Work

Accountants can explore and specialise in all kinds of financial work, including project accountancy, insolvency, internal audits and government accountancy.

With so many specialisms, it is no surprise that accountancy is seen as a dynamic career, and it is an increasingly popular choice with many people.

How to Become an Accountant

Get the Right Qualifications

Becoming an accountant demands a high level of concentration, along with an ability to focus on detail for long periods of time.

With the right qualifications, you can enjoy many avenues of accountancy work. Accountancy is open to anyone, from school leavers to graduates, and to people of all ages.

At GCSE level and A-Level education, you will need to show you have a high level of academic ability. In most cases, there are no prerequisites required to study accountancy courses. Qualifications in maths, economics, business studies or basic accountancy courses can be beneficial, but they are not a necessity. That means that even if this is a second or third career, you can enter into a course without boning up on pre-requisites.

The Degree Route

You don’t need a degree in accounting to be an accountant, but more and more accountants are coming to the market with increasingly sophisticated accounting degrees. Some accountants know which areas they want to specialise in before they begin to practice, and so they take a degree in this area.

An accountancy and financial degree can be useful if you want to work as:

  • An accounting technician
  • An actuarial analyst
  • A chartered accountant
  • A chartered certified accountant
  • A chartered management accountant
  • A chartered public finance accountant
  • A company secretary
  • A forensic accountant
  • A stockbroker

Accountancy degrees can also be useful for jobs such as:

  • An accounting technician
  • Actuary
  • Data analyst
  • Economist
  • Licensed conveyancer
  • Management consultant
  • Purchasing or procurement manager
  • Retail banker
  • Tax adviser

The Non-Degree Route

Many people study to become accountants by working alongside private clients and larger companies to gather experience before taking on their official qualifications.

For many employers (and those seeking the help of an accountant) an Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification is highly sought-after.

As with qualifications in all sectors and industries, qualifications should have a recognised accreditation process. This shows potential clients and employers that your range of skills and qualifications have value. In other words, you have the accounting, budgeting and analytical skills that they need.

There are many avenues open to you when it comes to gaining accounting qualifications, from attending a local college to online & distance learning accounting courses.

Online courses allow you to study at your own pace, at a time and place that is comfortable for you. Many people come to accounting from different backgrounds, often studying accounting qualifications whilst working at their ‘day job.’

For example, bookkeepers will often use accountancy for their career progression. Other people who want a change in career will study a new profession at home in their own time.

Continuing Professional Development

Financial accounting rules, regulations and guidelines are constantly changing to address our constantly changing world.

The biggest impact on how companies and individuals keep accounts has been the invention of the computer and sophisticated software, followed by the digital revolution.

At one time, a business accountant was responsible for the payroll, physically giving out wage packets at the end of the week.

Now, many of these processes are completed electronically, with an accountant and bookkeeper overseeing the payroll, as well as paying invoices and bills.

Credit control can also be an important part of a business’s accountancy needs. This means that you would help them to manage the cash flow into and out of a business.

An accountant will have other professionals who help them complete these tasks, such as a bookkeeper or accounting assistant. Many people use these openings as the first step on the ladder to becoming a fully-fledged accountant, using the experience to back up their qualifications.

Accountants must understand the important of staying relevant with their qualifications, completing courses that see them specialise in widely used software and processes, such as Sage Accounting.

Many accountants also take on a philanthropic approach by volunteering their services as a professional to local and national charities. In recent years, the increase of people in debt has meant that many charities struggle to assist all of people in need of their services. Accountants can help people who are suffering with money problems and who have crippling debt.

Debt counselling is the process of managing debt, dealing with creditors and maximising income over expenditure. Many accountants work with charities to help people whose lives are crippled with debt.

Gain Experience

Accountancy is an active field of work. You need to show potential employers that you not only have the right mix of qualifications and skills, but the right mix of experience too.

Initially, this means getting a wide range of experience. In addition to work experience with businesses and organisations, charities and community organisations will also welcome your financial skills in a voluntary way. In exchange, they will often provide you with a reference to highlight the key skills you have shown whilst volunteering on their project.

Become a Specialist

It is perfectly feasible to enjoy a long-lasting and widely varying career as a self-employed accountant or by managing your own accountancy practice.

If you want to specialise in one of the fields listed above, you will need to start the processes of specialising in this area of work. This means two things:

  1. Gaining specialist accountancy qualifications that specifically relate to your chosen area
  2. Getting work experience in this area to back up your qualifications and skills base.

Consider Becoming a Chartered Accountant

  • As you research accountancy, you will come across references to chartered accountancy. You may wonder about the difference between being a chartered accountant and a non-chartered accountant. But what is the difference?

    Simply put, an accountant provides a record of all monetary transactions of a business and must have the basic qualifications provided by a 12-month accountancy course. On the other hand, a chartered accountant is an expert in the field. They have undergone post-graduate credentials in accountancy, and they have more than 3 years of experience in the field.

A chartered accountant will generally have completed more training than a non-chartered accountant. Robust experience is required for this type of accountancy, with many accountants possessing accountancy specific certifications (but who may hold degrees in other fields of study).

In other words, after successfully completing an academic programme of study, the chartered accountant will have undergone a period of mentorship. This means they would have shadowed a senior accountant with vast experience and qualifications, working on tax returns and many other complex financial matters.

Once chartered, they work across a range of industries, as well as with private individuals and charities. There can be real benefits attached to being chartered. For employers and individual clients, these qualifications can imbue sense of trust and peace of mind in the accountant's ability to handle complex financial information.

How Much Can an Accountant Earn?

An accountant is a sought-after professional. As well as working for yourself, you could also be employed by various organisations and companies, including local authorities and Government departments.

The table shows a general guide to accountant scales of pay. Remember that location and your level of qualifications and experience will impact your earning potential.

Accountant

£17,000 to £90,000+ – running your own accountancy practice could bring large rewards. A Chartered Accountant can expect to earn in excess of £43,000 with some Chartered Accountants taking home a £90,000/annum salary. According to the Independent, the average salary of a CIMA-qualified finance professional £63,000.

Financial Auditor

The average salary drops down quite a bit for financial auditors, with payscale.com identifying the average at £28,000 per annum, although there are some auditor posts that can pay up to £79,000.

Career Progression

From a basic accountancy qualification, you can acquire all kinds of specialisms that place an increasing value on your skills and abilities.

Although qualifications are important, most accountants would stress that accountancy is an experienced-based profession. This means gaining knowledge and skills through working with the financial information of individuals, as well as with larger firms and organisations.

That said, the world of accountancy is changing. The digital era is upon us and with the UK Government announcing the end of ‘shoe box’ accounting with quarterly digital tax returns from 2018 onwards. Accountants must now adapt to working online with complex financial software.

Do you have what it takes to be an accountant?

Summary

Being an accountant means having a varied career. As well as helping individuals and companies file tax returns, you can also be at the leading edge of detecting financial crimes such as fraud.

Once qualified, you can work with businesses of all sizes or choose to be self-employed. You can also choose to become an accountant that specialises in certain accountancy areas, such as local authority finance.

Education Required

  • Good level of GCSE qualifications as well as specific and accredited accountancy courses. A degree is not necessary to be an accountant, but one will be required for anyone who wants to become a chartered accountant.

Average Salary UK

  • £17,000 starting salary, rising to £43,000. Some accountants, especially chartered accountants, can earn in excess of £100,000. Self-employed income will vary.

Job Growth

  • Accountancy is a fast-paced and dynamic career choice, with many opportunities to not only create your own vibrant practice but work for some of the biggest, global businesses too. There will, and always has been, a high demand for accountants.

Key Skills

  • Ability to understand complex data, enjoy working with numbers, ability to focus for long periods of time, understand and apply changes in tax laws and understand complex financial regulations, maintain a customer focus.

Qualifications Requirements

  • Online accountancy courses provide a range of opportunities to gain accredited and recognised accountancy qualifications. An Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) accredited courses means you can ‘sign off’ tax accounts of larger companies.