How to Become an Accountant
Accountancy might have been voted the UK’s most boring profession by 44% of Brits, but there’s much more to it than simply calculating tax.
Read on to discover why you should consider this intellectually stimulating career.
Is a Career in Accounting Right for Me?
While strong numeracy skills are essential for an accountant, you’ll also need an analytical mind, an ability to solve problems methodically and an eye for detail. Being a good communicator is equally important, as you’ll have to gain your clients’ trust, explain complex financial concepts and write up recommendations and analyses.
In a world that no longer promises a job for life, accountancy roles tend to be relatively secure. But this doesn’t mean that they’re not challenging. As financial deadlines approach, accountants often have to cope with working in a dynamic, pressured environment, knowing that the smallest error could harm their client’s business.
What Does an Accounting Career Involve?
Areas of Accounting
There are two main areas of accounting:
communicates the financial position of a company. It involves preparing mandatory financial statements following accounting principles.
is carried out for the benefit of company managers and involves preparing accounts that help with decision making. As these are optional, they can be prepared in any format.
of employers rate experience as the most popular qualification on accounting applications
How Can I Become a Qualified Accountant?
Option 1. Complete an accounting degree
While you don’t need an accounting degree to become a chartered accountant, having one can give you an advantage when it comes to finding work. Alternatively, you could opt for a business management or economics degree, as these often include accounting modules. If you choose this route, you’ll need three good A-Levels, preferably including maths, economics or business studies.
The job market for accountancy graduates is dominated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte. Each big accountancy firm employs 1,200-2,000 graduates a year and entry requirements focus on strengths and experience as well as academic performance. To land a job, you’ll usually need a 2:1 in any degree subject, as well as a C in GCSE English and maths.
Option 2. Gain an AAT qualification
If you don’t have a degree, you can access a variety of entry level accounting jobs by training with the Association of Accounting technicians. Made up of three qualifications across three levels, AAT training combines industry knowledge and practical skills. There are no formal entry requirements.
Many aspiring accountants work in an entry level finance related job while studying with the AAT. This kind of role is likely to include basic duties such as entering client details into tax preparation software.
Option 3. Complete an accountancy apprenticeship
Accountancy apprenticeships enable you to gain experience of working in an accounts department while you work towards a recognised qualification. There are three levels and each one provides training for particular roles.
Level 2 apprenticeships open the door to becoming an accounts assistant/clerk, a cashier, a finance assistant or a sales ledger clerk, while level three apprenticeships prepare you for life as an assistant accountant or a trainee accounting technician.
If you opt for a higher or degree level apprenticeship, you could find work as an accounting technician or accounts manager. Degree apprenticeships also give you the opportunity to gain a bachelor’s degree or a masters.
Accounting apprenticeships are offered by professional accounting bodies and major accounting firms including KPMG, which recently increased the number of new apprentices it hired by 40%.
What Do Accountants Earn?
Average Starting Salary
Finance Manager Salary
Senior Managers earn up to
Finance Directors earn up to
Whether you opt for a degree, an AAT qualification or an apprenticeship, you need to follow it up with a professional qualification from an accounting body. This step takes 3-5 years and you’ll be working while you study.
Professional bodies offering internationally recognised accounting qualifications include:
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
The ACCA has
members and 480,000 students
in 178 countries
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
Also known as the ACA
of FTSE 100 CEOs hold an ACA Chartered Accountancy qualification
The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
The CIMA has
members and students in 176 countries
How Can I Become a Qualified Accountant?
If you join a top accountancy firm you’ll be working with large companies and will probably specialise early on in your career. Specialist areas include audit, tax, corporate, forensic accounting and more. Another option is to work for a tax consultancy. These tend to deal with niche tax issues, so you’ll be giving tailored advice and planning for special tax situations.
Prefer to keep your options open? Then we recommend working for a smaller company, as you’ll learn about every aspect of their clients’ business affairs. Once you’ve gained plenty of experience, you could even consider becoming self-employed. Freelance accountants usually give advice on tax compliance as well as providing accounting and financial services.
Working for HMRC is also an interesting option once you’ve qualified, as it tends to include investigative work and tribunal representation. Experienced accountants can also move into education, which involves either training companies or teaching undergraduates.
However you become a qualified accountant, there’s plenty of scope for career progression. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to apply for roles such as senior accountant, finance manager and finance director. Fancy working abroad? You’re in luck, as UK qualifications are accepted globally.