All businesses will need the services of an accountant at some point, whether they contract in their service or have a whole finance department. Like many careers, there are different levels. These can range from bookkeeping (making sure all the numbers add up, bills are paid, invoices chased…) to running an international business and all their subsidiaries. Times have changed and a university degree is no longer necessarily required.
Accountants keep and manage financial accounts for anyone from companies to the government and individual clients. Working either for an accountancy firm, in a company, or being self-employed, there are a wide range of opportunities and many pathways to get there.
What can I do?
The range of jobs in accounting is huge, but all require a keen eye for detail and a passion for numbers, especially making them balance. Depending on the level of qualification, jobs can start from simply keeping records on transactions or even just one part of the process such as Accounts Receivable and up from there. At the highest level, Financial Directors are often second only to the CEO in making sure a business succeeds or fails.
With this in mind, as well as excellent mathematical skills, a good accountant needs to possess strong interpersonal and communication skills, whether dealing with clients or even senior management. It also means being very organised and up-to-date with the current business situation as you may be involved in making important decisions.
You don’t have to be a math genius though! Most accountants work with basic calculations and let computers do the difficult work. If you like Sudoku, accounting may be just the thing, as it is about spotting trends, anomalies and being able to analyse what the numbers are saying.
Did you know…
…before they were famous, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and Eddie Izzard all worked in accounting?
Examples of accounting jobs and labour market information
The table below shows information about accounting careers, salaries and tasks:
*Powered by LMI for All. To find out more about other careers and labour market information visit Careerometer.
How to get into accounting
To become an accountant, you need to gain a formal qualification or a degree. You do not need a university degree, as there are many different routes to the job, but being good with numbers is essential for success!
As a career, it can get busy as the financial year comes to a close as tax returns and other matters need to be dealt with. However, it can be quieter at other times, allowing the workload to balance out over the course of the year.
As you gain education and experience within accounting you can become a certified or even chartered accountant, which allows you a higher level of expertise and opportunities to move into management or specialisation in a particular area, such as tax or forensic accounting.
Here are some accounting qualifications and pathways available:
Licensed AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) members provide accounting, tax and business advice to more than 400,000 UK businesses! You can go on a course straight from school or do an apprenticeship. There are lots of choices for a pathway that depends on experience, other qualifications and preference on study. The best way to find the best route is to use the AAT Qualifications Navigator for suggestions of the best fit.
You may be surprised to find out that you do not have to go to university to be an accountant. In fact, gaining an AAT qualification can lead to a fast track to becoming a Chartered Accountant and can be a quicker route than going to University.
ACA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
Not to be confused with ACCA! The ICAEW has stricter and rigorous requirements for membership than the ACCA. The ACA generally takes 3 – 4 years to complete, whereas the CCA takes 2. To become an ICEAW Accountant, you will need to pass 15 exam modules on different aspects of accountancy, finance and business. To find out which path to qualify, you can take the step-by-step questionnaire or use the live chat.
CCA (Chartered and Certified Accountant)
A Chartered Certified Accountant must be a member of Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants (ACCA) and comply with its regulations. This includes completion of up to 13 professional examinations and three years of supervised relevant accounting experience, but there are range of entry level qualifications to start on the ladder. For instance, Foundations in Accountancy (FIA) is a great entry point for anyone new to accounting and finance. You don’t even need to meet the minimum entry requirements for the full ACCA (which is three GCSEs and 2 A Levels or equivalent, in five separate subjects).
You can do courses at university that include the ACCA qualification. Or if you do a different degree, you can add the ACCA and start at a higher level than foundation.
With this accountancy qualification, you can work anywhere in the world, and the job is extremely flexible, whether running a corporation or working part-time for small to medium size businesses. There are good salaries and progression can be quick. You can work in any sector and the job often brings a wide variety of work on different projects.
CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
CIMA qualifications focus more on business management. They give a good understanding of business practice as well as finance. There are no formal entry requirements and if you have any AAT qualifications, you can get a jump onto higher CIMA qualifications.
CPFA (Chartered Public Finance Accountant)
This qualification is designed specifically for working as a professional accountant in public financial management. The public sector includes central government, local government and public organisations, such as education, emergency services, healthcare, law enforcement, etc. Think of the BBC, the world’s oldest and largest broadcasting company, the British Army, the Cabinet Office, and many more. In fact, in June 2018, there were 5.34 million people working in the public sector!
You can study for CPFA qualifications on face-to-face courses or by self-study with online support. There are also CIPFA’s Professional Accountancy Apprenticeships at Levels 3, 4 and 7.
Why study accounting
If you’re keen to start your career in accounting, you’re probably wondering how you break into the sector and why you should study accounting. There are lots of different career routes which will enable you to qualify as an accountant. These include:
If university is not for you, there are many accounting apprenticeships available. These allow you to earn while you learn and work toward an accounting qualification. There are three levels of accounting apprenticeships: Intermediate (Level 2 or equivalent to GCSE) for jobs such as finance assistants and sales ledger clerks; Advanced (Level 3, equivalent to A Levels) to work as trainee account technician roles; and Higher (Level 4-7 or equivalent to Foundation Degree) or Degree (Levels 6 & 7 that is degree level or even Masters degree). Higher and Degree Apprenticeships can offer a full Bachelors or Masters Degree without the cost of going to university. With it, you could work as an accountant manager or technician.
Accounting Degrees at University
Type in ‘accounting’ in the search on UCAS, and you will be faced with nearly 800 courses! Be prepared to narrow down your options by thinking about what you like to study and what you would like to do once you complete your degree. Many of the courses mix business and finance together, also there are courses that are sector specific, such as Music Business and Music Performance or Construction Management. Some of the courses provide exemption from the UK’s professional accountancy bodies’ papers (eg: ACCA, CIMA, ICAEW, CIPFA…), but you will still need to gain the separate qualification from them.
You can also look at mixing banking, mathematics, law, and more. It is wise to look carefully at each course, what it provides and what qualifications you could gain alongside the degree. It is important to go to Open Days for each university on your short list. They are all different, from how the courses are run and what support is given to location and type of uni (such as a city university or a campus). It takes a lot of studying to get your degree, be honest about the type of person you are and how much support you will need (think about how disciplined you are!)
Increasing numbers of organisations are recruiting talent for the finance function from alternative degree disciplines. This stems from the need for well-rounded finance functions to evolve with the changing face of business. This means, you do not have to do an accountancy related degree. If you decide to do accounting later, you can do the qualifications directly from the accountancy bodies.
Careers and jobs in accountancy are available in small and medium organisations, not just the big banks.
Types of jobs in this sector include accountants, treasurers, bankers, actuaries, financial advisers and analysts, financial traders, tax inspectors and stockbrokers. You could work for a private firm, in the public sector or be self-employed.
Accounting jobs include:
Now you know everything there is to know about a career in accounting, the power is in your hands. If you’re still eager to forge a career in accountancy then you have to choose a qualification route which is right for you. Whether you want an accounting apprenticeship or a degree at university, Careermap has lots of opportunities available for you.