Accountants assess the everyday fiscal runnings of businesses or individuals. They audit accounts, give advice on taxation and help organise payments. This can be for small businesses right through to international firms.
What is an accountant?
An accountant supports the financial operation of a business or individual. They’ll assess ingoings and outgoings, ensuring records are accurate and giving advice on healthy finances. They’re a vital part of the daily runnings of a business, ensuring they remain profitable and follow relevant financial legislation.
Accountants can work independently, as part of an accountancy firm brought in to support a business, or as a company accountant in a large organisation. They’ll work with various departments within a business and their overall workload will vary depending on the needs of the company or client.
A degree will give you a good grounding in accountancy principles, and prepare you for graduate accounting jobs.
Your responsibilities in accounting industry jobs will depend on whether you’re in-house, or part of a firm. Your duties will also depend on the type of company you’re providing accounting services for, and what they need from you. There are some common themes that run through accounting services, though:
- Auditing accounts, ensuring invoices and bills are up to date and recorded.
- Maintaining financial records for companies in preparation for taxation, ensuring a company has certified accounts.
- Ensuring companies are financial compliant, such as checking tax is paid accurately.
- Filing tax returns for companies and sole traders, ensuring relevant expenses are deducted and the correct amounts due to HMRC are paid.
- Offering financial advice for keeping businesses profitable.
- Giving advice on the affordability of new products, business deals and more.
- Offering advice and supporting businesses when working internationally, such as supporting payment methods and ensuring financial agreements are compliant across different countries and jurisdictions.
- Create annual or monthly statements on the outgoings for businesses or individuals (such as profit information for sole traders pursuing a mortgage).
- Liaise directly with clients, giving reports, recommendations and financial support where needed.
- Supporting clients with managing their accounting software in line with the government Making Tax Digital requirements.
An accountant salary depends on whether they work in-house, or as part of an external accountancy firm. Their salary will also depend on their time in the role, their experience, and if they have Chartered Accountant status.
Junior accountant jobs (or being a trainee accountant) can expect to earn around £20,000 to £25,000 a year. Part qualified accountant jobs can expect £30,000 - £45,000. If you begin your accountancy career via an apprenticeship, you can expect to earn the national apprentice wage, which is £4.81 per hour for those 19 and over and in their first year of work. Following your first year, you’ll earn minimum wage for your age.
Your earnings have fantastic potential as you progress in your career. A qualified accountant salary and chartered accountant salary sits around the £50,00 - £70,000 mark. More senior accountants, like Financial Directors, can earn £100,000 - £500,000 and beyond.
The vast majority of applicants to accountant jobs are graduates. Several degrees would set you in good stead to begin your career in financial services:
A degree will give you a good grounding in accountancy principles, and prepare you for graduate accounting jobs. It’s worth noting that a degree alone does not qualify you as an accountant unless it explicitly claims this. Most graduate accountants go on to take a trainee accountant role where they are paid a salary while working towards fully qualified accountant status. This will usually happen with a large accounting firm.
Once fully qualified, you can go on to earn chartered accountant status. Several organisational bodies offer courses to give you this status. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) offer the Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification at certificate, professional and advanced level. You can also take similar courses at ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants, Scotland) and CAI (Chartered Accountants Ireland - including Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland).
Many accountants will go on to apply for chartered accountant status, further improving their prospects and potential earnings.
You can also begin your career in accountancy via an apprenticeship. The ICAEW offer Level 4 and 7 apprenticeships, which require GCSEs and A Levels for entry.
Training and development
Training as an accounts professional is highly formalised. Once you begin your work as an accountant you’ll go through a qualification process, with a salary increase at part qualification and full qualification. Many accountants then go on to aim for chartered accountant status, working on the ACA qualification while in employment. You’ll also need to complete regular continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure you keep your status.
You could gain specialisms in particular areas of accounting, such as auditing, international accountancy or even forensic accountancy (spotting fraud). This would happen as part of progression within an employed role.
Accountancy skills combine excellent mathematical knowledge with reasoning skills and technical ability. These include:
- Excellent mathematical skills, including command of numbers and overall mathematical reasoning.
- An understanding of how businesses and their finances are run and organised.
- Ability to work within a wider team of finance professionals as well as working independently.
- Good communication skills - you’ll need to be able to communicate complex financial information to your clients, who may not have any mathematical background.
- Attention to detail - when auditing, you’ll need to spot minute discrepancies in business accounts and act on these to avoid damage to your clients.
- Robust understanding of taxation, including HMRC compliance.
- An awareness of relevant legislation for your clients.
- A good understanding of the different markets your firm or business operates in, from leisure through to hospitality, and how this might apply to a company’s accounts.
- Excellent written communication skills - you’ll be compiling detailed reports and need to combine detailed information with user-friendly language.
- Good bargaining skills - you may advise on business deals and mergers with clients, so having the ability to negotiate with potential suppliers will help.
- Being highly organised - you could be managing multiple accounts for different clients, so being able to work between them is key.
In order to apply to an accounting role, you’ll need to demonstrate you’ve spent time in practice, whether that be in a voluntary position, part of a sandwich course, an internship or an apprenticeship.
If you take an accountancy degree or apprenticeship, you should be able to spend time shadowing or interning in an established accounting firm. This is especially true for apprenticeships with the ICAEW, where you’ll be employed while studying. If this isn’t an advertised part of your degree course, it’s worth reaching out to your course connections and finding out if there are any graduate internships available, or contacts you could reach out to for shadowing.
Career prospects in accounting and finance are excellent. Once you begin as a trainee apprentice, you’ll move through salary brackets as you move towards qualified status. Many accountants will go on to apply for chartered accountant status, further improving their prospects and potential earnings.
An accountant supports the financial operation of a business or individual.
Many accountants specialise in particular areas of finance with time, such as auditing, becoming industrial accountants or working in corporate finance. You could even go global and move to an accountancy firm in another country, as your skills are incredibly valuable. With time, you could take on senior management roles, such as Financial Controller or Head of Finance. This could be within an accountancy firm, or in-house with a company.
Some accountants choose to go into private practice, running their own firm or working independently. With this route, you gain flexibility, especially if you have struggled to find part-time accounting jobs to fit around your family commitments. Self-employed accountancy practice jobs usually require chartered accountant status to ensure credibility.