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Accountant (Professional)

Accountant (Professional)

Tell me about it
Professionally qualified accountants (sometimes known as chartered or certified accountants) work with financial and management information, using their specialist knowledge to advise a range of clients, from individuals to large organisations.  There are several different professional bodies in accountancy and the first years of employment could be linked to the specialist activities of a particular body. In practice, however, there is considerable overlap between the various professional qualifications and accountants regularly move between sectors later in their career. In fact, some of the major bodies have been involved in merger negotiations.

Areas of work include private practice (also known, confusingly, as public practice), the public sector and industry/commerce. In the first of these, accountants work in a specialist firm of accountants offering services ranging from basic bookkeeping to audit (independent assessment of a client's current financial position), taxation advice, management consultancy and corporate financial planning.  Accountants working in the public sector handle very large budgets in local or central government, the National Health Service, colleges or universities. In industry/commerce, they might be involved in keeping financial records for a company, overseeing credit control systems and possibly participating in strategic planning for the organisation's future development.

Entry level
To gain recognition as a qualified accountant, you would need to spend several years pursuing the professional training route of one of the six main bodies. While most of the bodies would accept you with at least two A level or equivalent qualifications, together with three GCSE passes A-C, including English and maths, in practice, the most common entry route to professional accountancy training is with a degree in any academic subject. If you choose an accountancy-related degree subject, you should gain exemption from some of the exams set by the professional bodies.

Making the grade
With so many different bodies, there are many routes to professional qualification. Most take three to five years and usually involve work experience in an approved organisation, part-time study and lots of exams. 

Alongside the exam training, employers provide in-house training on technical and general skills to help you perform well in your job. Professional accountants must remain up to date on technical and business issues, so there is a strong emphasis on continuing professional development after qualification.

You may also opt to start as an accounting technician and then work your way towards professional status.

Personal qualities
You would need to be very methodical, with good IT skills. You would not have to be brilliant at maths but you should enjoy working with figures and problem solving, as well as being extremely accurate.  Employers look for skills such as leadership, communication, numeracy, interest in finance and business, self-motivation and commitment.

Looking ahead
An accountancy qualification is a very useful tool and demand for accountants is currently growing in all sectors. As your career develops, you could choose to work for a very large organisation, you could become self-employed and work as a freelance consultant or you could take advantage of the worldwide recognition of UK accountancy qualifications and travel extensively.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include actuary, banker, chartered secretary, civil servant, economist, financial adviser, insurance underwriter, management consultant or tax inspector.

Take-home pay
Starting salaries for graduate trainees vary according to location and the size of the organisation employing you. You could start on around £20,000 to £29,000 in a large company but on around £17,000 to £20,000 in a smaller company. Starting salaries for school leaver trainees are rather lower. On achieving full qualification, you could expect to earn between £35,000 and £65,000 and, if you rise to become a partner in private practice or a senior manager in industry or the public sector, you could easily command a six-figure salary.

Normal working hours are Monday to Friday, nine to five, but your lifestyle as an accountant would depend very much on the sort of organisation you join and the area of specialisation you choose.  Audits can take you all over the country and a large international partnership would expect you to travel.  High salaries are possible but are usually associated with increased stress and longer working hours. You may have to move a few times to develop your career.

Sources of information
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales:   
Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland:
Chartered Accountants Ireland: 
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants:
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants:
Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy:  
Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Ireland:




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