Career insights: Become an Accountant
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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.Auditors
Auditors perform checks on many different aspects of a company’s finances. Companies employ them to help with their financial affairs. They are basically 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. Becoming an auditor isn’t easy, and there are a lot of ‘hoops’ to jump through. For example, to become an auditor within the public sector you need to become a registered chartered accountant[i]. You also need to be a member of one of three professional bodies (ACCA, ICAEW, AIA)
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. This is achieved 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.
To be this type of accountant, you may be surprised to learn that experience is more important that an accountancy degree. However, a degree makes it easier to enter the field initially, and at a higher wage[ii].Management Accountant
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 and has the following responsibilities[iii]:-
- At a senior level, Management Accountants make recommendations based on financial information, and they will often be part of the senior management team
- Supervising teams of accounting technicians
- Complete internal audits and financial admin
- Controlling/forecasting income & expenditure
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 – as well as managing other accountants.Tax Accountant
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) finance
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 Accountant
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.
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[iv], 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
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.
- GCSE’s & A-Levels
Becoming an accountant demands a high level of concentration, along with an ability to focus on detail for long periods of time.
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 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.
- 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 seen as a necessary, base level qualification to take on any type of accountancy[v].
Online accounting 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.’
- 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?
According to 2018 figures from ICAEW, the average salary for a UK accountant is £62,042 per annum[vi]. However, this varies a lot depending on qualifications and years of experience. They also reported that 69% of respondents to their survey had a pension included as one of their job benefits.
Graduates can expect to earn up to £30,000 a year, with a potential to earn up to £60,000 whilst training[vii].
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.
ICAEW, 2018. Just The Job. [Online] Available at: https://www.icaew.com/-/media/corporate/files/technical/business-and-financial-management/financial-management-faculty/ffm-updates/bam-february-2019-articles/full-article-2018-salary-guide.ashx?la=en [Accessed January 2021].
Masters Portal, n.d. Forensic Accounting degrees. [Online] Available at: https://www.mastersportal.com/study-options/268927215/forensic-accounting-united-kingdom.html [Accessed January 2021].
National Careers Service, n.d. How to become an auditor. [Online] Available at: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/auditor [Accessed January 2021].
Prospects, 2020. Chartered accountant. [Online] Available at: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/chartered-accountant [Accessed January 2021].
Skoulding, L., 2018. Salary Survey 2018: what are UK accountants earning right now?. [Online] Available at: https://www.accountancyage.com/2018/04/18/salary-survey-2018-uk-accountants-earning-right-now/ [Accessed January 2021].
Sparks Group, 2020. Accounting Degree vs. Experience: What's More Important?. [Online] Available at: https://blog.sparksgroupinc.com/candidate/accounting-degree-vs.-experience-whats-more-important [Accessed January 2021].
TARGET Jobs, n.d. MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANT: JOB DESCRIPTION. [Online] Available at: https://targetjobs.co.uk/careers-advice/job-descriptions/280595-management-accountant-job-description [Accessed January 2021].
UCAS, 2021. ACCOUNTANT. [Online] Available at: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/after-gcses/find-career-ideas/explore-jobs/job-profile/accountant [Accessed January 2021].