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Thinking About a Career in Accountancy? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Written by: Joshua Boynton
Published on: 9 Mar 2022


Accountancy has always represented an attractive choice for those seeking a lucrative and satisfying career. Yet, many people only have a loose understanding of what it means to be an accountant and what it takes to become qualified.

There are several different pathways into the profession. There are also numerous qualifications that you could pursue in an effort to solidify your employability and professional credibility. In this article, you’ll find information about what it takes to become an accountant, and the steps you’ll need to follow if that is your objective.

  • What Is an Accountant?

    Before we get into the specifics of how to become an accountant, it’s important to understand the role of accountants.

    In short, accountants analyse, interpret, and report financial information on behalf of individuals or companies. They provide financial advice, improving the ways that these parties manage their finances and, ultimately, increase their profitability.

    The day-to-day activities of an accountant will vary depending on the type of accounting specialism, but the types of work they regularly deal with include financial reporting, tax advice, auditing, forecasting, and budgeting.

    While “accountant” is not a protected title, it is worth noting that this is not the case for “chartered accountant”. To become a chartered accountant, you must pass a series of exams before completing years of work experience.


  • Types of Accountants

    There are several different types of accountants with varying purposes and responsibilities. Here are five examples that might interest you:

    • Practice Accountants support businesses by helping to manage their finances on a daily basis. In general, they are employed by accountancy firms and work with numerous clients.
    • Tax Accountants help businesses fulfil their tax responsibilities. They ensure that the business pays the right amount in taxes each year, but they also offer advice on how to reduce legal tax exposure.
    • Management Accountants offer real utility to businesses by managing budgets and taking steps to make a business more profitable. Many management accountant jobs require individuals to look to the future, with both forecasting and strategic planning regular duties.
    • Financial Accountants keep an eye on a company’s financial transactions, including income, expenses, and liabilities. They seek to understand how money is processed through the company, prepare financial statements, and even offer financial advice to management.
    • Forensic Accountants seek understanding of complicated financial matters through a mixture of accounting knowledge and investigative analysis. Forensic accountants are often required to help with the investigation of fraud or embezzlement.

  • Essential Skills for Accountants

    While the roles of accountants vary considerably from one specialism to the next, there is a significant level of crossover when it comes to their professional skills. If you are planning to pursue a career in accountancy, you will need the following skills:

     1. Numeracy Skills Since you will be dealing with numbers on a day-to-day basis, numeracy skills are essential. That certainly does not mean you need to be a maths wizard but having the comfort and capability to work with numbers is a must.
     2. Attention to Detail Accounting work often involves paying attention to the tiniest details, looking for discrepancies or mistakes that aren’t easily spotted. You will need a keen attention to detail, since even seemingly minor errors can have dire consequences.
     3. IT Skills While you aren’t going to need to fix IT issues as an accountant, the chances are that you will have to use relatively complex software to carry out your work. Those who are comfortable with computers will be able to leverage artificial intelligence and cloud computing software to take on the mundane aspects of their work.
     4. Organisational Skills Many accountants have to deal with large volumes of data, which can quickly become overwhelming if you are not an organised individual. This is made even more challenging since other duties will also keep the pressure on. The ability to stay organised and prioritise tasks accordingly is essential.
     5. Communication Skills Most accounting roles are not isolated these days. Accountants often work with various aspects of the business, many of which will not be financially knowledgeable. Being able to convey financial information to those without that type of background requires strong communication skills.

  • Leading Accountancy Qualifications

    If you believe that accountancy is a good fit for your profile, then it’s time to look into the various routes into the profession. As stated previously, there are quite a few avenues for you to explore, with several different professional qualifications to choose from.

    AAT Qualifications

    For those who are completely new to the accounting profession, qualifications from Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) are an obvious first step. You will have three options to choose from with the AAT:

    • Foundation Certificate (Level 2)
    • Advanced Diploma (Level 3)
    • Professional Diploma (Level 4)

    These globally recognised qualifications can be studied online or in person and are widely considered the minimum standard for accountants. These courses combine industry knowledge with the practical work skills that you’ll need to forge a successful career as an accountant. By getting your AAT qualifications first, you can actually reduce the amount of work you need to carry out to achieve other, higher-level qualifications.

    ACCA Qualification

    The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is one of the top Chartered Accountancy bodies in the world, boasting more than 200,000 members. Comprised of two levels – Fundamentals and Professionals – the qualifications work through a broad range of topics.

    You need three GCSEs and two A-levels – including maths and English – along with three years of work experience to gain access to this course.

    ICAEW Qualification

    This qualification is offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and is also commonly known as an ACA qualification.

    To achieve this qualification, you will need to complete 450 days of practical work experience and pass 15 exam modules. The ICAEW is a well-respected organisation, with more than 150,000 members, so this is a valuable qualification to attain.

    CIMA Qualification

    Offering the CIMA professional qualification, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants has a global reputation.

    The course is split into three “pillars” and consists of 12 exams. After working through the three pillars, you will achieve Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) status – a renowned qualification in the field.

    AIA Qualification

    The Association of International Accountants (AIA) is another well-respected organisation with a global reputation.

    If you follow the necessary steps to achieve their highest qualification, you can attain qualified accountant status. Again, you will need a minimum of 2 A Level and 3 GCSE passes (including maths and English) to gain entry to this programme.

    CIPFA Qualification

    The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) is the professional body for people working in public finance.

    If you have aspirations to help manage funds for governments or other public sector bodies, this is the qualification for you. You will need to complete 12 modules to achieve the Professional Accountancy Qualification they offer.

    All of these qualifications have clear value for a career in accountancy, especially since many accountancy firms and employers will accept qualifications from any of these bodies. Still, if you have an accountancy specialism in mind, it is worth choosing a qualification that best fits that field.

  • What Are Accountancy Specialisms?

    There are plenty of options when it comes to accountancy specialisms. To build a satisfying and enduring career in accountancy, you should try to pick a specialism and acquire the skills and qualifications that best match that field.

    In general, careers in accounting are split into two broad categories: financial accounting and management accounting. Beyond these, there are many other specialist fields of accounting. The primary difference between these two categories is that management accounting is concerned with delivering information to people within a company, whereas financial accounting provides information to those who are external to the organisation.

    The majority of accountants start out in financial accountancy. If you choose to follow this route, you could get involved in:

    • Audit and Assurance
    • Business Recovery
    • Insolvency
    • Corporate Finance
    • Tax
    • Forensic Accounting  

    These are just a few examples of specialisms that you might pursue in the accounting profession. You ought to investigate different accountancy specialisms before committing to a professional qualification. This will ensure that you have a qualification that best matches your career aspirations.

  • How to Secure an Accountancy Job or Work Experience

    To build a successful career and gain access to accountant jobs across a variety of specialisms, qualifications are essential. Still, there is no substitute for professional work experience. This is why you’ll see that many of the professional qualifications you can secure require that you spend a certain amount of time gaining practical work experience – it isn’t just studying.

    You should try to obtain a training contract that enables you to work while studying for your accountancy qualification. Many organisations offer jobs to part qualified accountants who are still studying. You can also get work through finance graduate schemes, though it is important to note that degrees are far from a necessity.

    Accounting apprenticeships are another alternative you might want to explore. Apprenticeships allow you to gain practical experience, earn a wage, and receive typical employment benefits (such as annual leave) all at the same time.

    If you are struggling to find paid work, you should consider work experience or voluntary positions. Building this practical experience will make you more employable and bulks out your accounting CV. Many employers are more likely to consider you for a training contract if they see you already have some work experience under your belt.

  • How Much Do Accountants Earn?

    As you probably realise by this point, there are many different types of accountants. Accordingly, salaries can also vary by quite a large margin. The 2021 GAAPweb Audience Insight Report showed us that accountants were earning around £44,000 that year, which is an increase on the previous year.

    Yet, many accountants use their qualifications and professional knowledge to reach the highest finance positions in companies. Depending on how you specialise, you could become a Chief Financial Officer, Head of Finance, or Finance Director. In these jobs, salaries can certainly exceed £100,000.

  • Is Accountancy Right for You?

    By now, you should have a good idea of whether a career in accountancy is the right choice for you. If you have a suitable natural aptitude, consider the various accountancy specialisms and qualification routes to find a niche that fits you best.