How to Become an Accountant

Do you have a great head for numbers and a passion for business? If so, the role of an accountant may be the perfect career option for you. Contrary to the popular misconception that accountancy is a boring profession, this role actually requires you to work well under pressure and create new and exciting ways of maximising a company’s profits. With a large number of different duties and responsibilities to perform on a daily basis, this job is anything but boring.

Read on to find out what you would actually do as an accountant, what key skills you need to possess, how much you can potentially earn, what qualifications you need to obtain and much more. With hard work and determination, you can earn a good salary in this exhilarating and challenging profession.

What is an accountant?

Accountants work in a large number of different sectors. They offer a wide range of financial services to any organisation or individual that needs their financial affairs to be in order. As an accountant, you may not only be crunching numbers, you could also be acting as a business advisor within the private sector.

Once you’re qualified, there are diverse opportunities in the world of accountancy available to you. You could work directly for a company or for several organisations as a freelance accountant. You could even set up your own accountancy firm.

The daily role of an accountant will differ depending on the sector you work in, but an accountant’s main duty is to prepare accounts for a business, in order to give that business an overview of their financial status.

By tracking all of a business’s financial transactions in depth and spotting any irregularities that need to be fixed, the business can plan better and move forward to maximise revenue and profits.

What do accountants actually do?

As an accountant, you’ll normally work in an office environment for about forty hours a week. At certain times, such as the end of a tax year, you may be required to put in overtime. Your daily tasks and responsibilities will vary depending on the industry you work in and the type of accountancy role you specialise in. For instance, you could work in:

  • Auditing: As an auditor, you would check on lots of different aspects of a company’s finances to make sure the records are accurate.
  • Financial Accounting: As a financial accountant, you would be involved with bookkeeping and ensuring financial reports are accurate and easy to read.
  • Management Accounting: As well as performing the tasks of a financial accountant, as a management accountant, you would produce internal reports and provide financial information that senior managers use to make important business decisions.
  • Tax Accounting: As a tax accountant, your main role is to work out how much a company owes the government in taxes. You would track all transactions and calculate how much is owed in tax. You would also try to find ways to legally reduce tax liabilities.
  • Forensic Accounting: As a forensic accountant, you would investigate crimes like embezzlement and fraud. You would analyse a company’s financial information and use a variety of specialised accounting techniques to solve financial crimes.

Accountant Job Description

Although your daily tasks and responsibilities will vary depending on the type of accountancy you decide to specialise in, accountants are usually involved with daily duties like:

  • Conducting audits.
  • Tracking and examining the income of a business.
  • Running payroll.
  • Identifying, investigating and solving financial risks and irregularities.
  • Advising on budgeting.
  • Advising on how to increase profits.
  • Calculating the amount of tax that a business owes.
  • Filing tax returns.
  • Setting up new accounting processes and systems.

Key Skills for an Accountant

In the role of accountant, you’ll often work in a high-pressure environment in which you’ll have to find solutions to complex financial problems. You therefore need to be able to work well under pressure. As an accountant, it is of course also essential that you have a head for numbers.

You must have excellent numeracy skills and a passion for maths. Other key skills required to be an accountant include:

  • Having excellent financial acumen.
  • Having an excellent eye for detail.
  • Having excellent analytical skills.
  • Having excellent organisational skills.
  • Having the ability to solve problems.
  • Having excellent communication skills.
  • Having the ability to explain complex financial information in simplistic terms.
  • Having advanced IT skills.
  • Understanding the principles of accounting.
  • Being trustworthy and reliable.

Useful Work Experience

Doing an unpaid work placement is a great way of getting skills and experience for entering the profession of accountancy. It’s also a great way of making contacts to potentially get your foot in the door when it comes to applying for a paid position later on.

Some large financial firms offer summer accounting internships, although these can be highly-competitive. Check individual websites of accounting firms that offer work placements to find out how to apply.

Alternatively, you could independently apply to other accounting firms or departments to see if you could do work experience or work shadowing. Any type of work placement allows you to find out if you’re cut out for the job.

Average Salaries for Accountants

How much you can earn as an accountant depends on the area of accounting you specialise in, the specific company you work for and your location.

Typically, newly-qualified accountants can expect to earn between £35,000 and £45,000 per annum.

If you work in the corporate tax sector, you can expect to earn between £40,000 and £50,000 per annum. As you progress in your accountancy career, you can expect to earn a higher salary. If you become a senior manager, you could earn up to £110,000 annually.

Qualifications for an Accountant

To become an accountant, you can study for a finance-related degree, such as economics or business management. Alternatively, you can take an undergraduate degree in accounting.

These full-time courses generally take three years to complete. Degrees are not mandatory for most accounting roles, but they are seen as desirable by most employers.

Whether you have a degree or not, you will have to qualify as an accountant by getting a qualification through a professional industry body. There are several courses run by professional accountancy bodies in which you can earn a recognised qualification to begin your accountancy career. They include:

  • Association of Accounting Technicians accounting courses, which comprise of three qualifications of three levels. These courses combine practical work skills with industry knowledge.
  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants qualifications, which comprise of modules that cover a wide variety of subjects, from corporate law to auditing.
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales chartered accountant status qualifications, which comprise of thirteen modules and practical work experience.
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants business finance awards, which require you to already hold a postgraduate-level Certificate in Business Accounting in order to be accepted. Studying for business finance awards allows you to specialise in a specific area of accounting.

Another option is to apply for an AAT accountancy apprenticeship scheme. This allows you to study for an industry-recognised qualification part-time while working for a finance employer. Additionally, many major accounting firms offer apprenticeships.

If you do decide to go down the route of an apprenticeship scheme, you’ll have to follow it by completing a course offered by a professional industry body, such as one of the above listed courses.

Online Accounting Courses

Another route into accounting or to gain accounting skills is to study accounting courses online. You can find the best online accounting courses that we recommend for students to study.

Career Progression

Accountancy offers a wide scope for career progression. There are many higher levels of accountant roles in this industry. You could progress to positions such as senior accountant, finance manager or finance director.

You can expect to earn a higher salary by climbing up the accountancy career ladder too. You could lead a large financial team, set up your own accountancy firm or even be the finance director for a global conglomerate. The sky is your limit in the career of accountancy.

In Conclusion

If you have excellent numeracy skills, a passion for mathematics and the ability to solve financial problems, the career of an accountant could be your dream job. There is a wide range of opportunities within this sector.

You could begin work as a financial accountant, an auditor, a tax accountant or within another role. Whichever area you choose to specialise in, you have the option of working in a number of firms from different sectors. If a company has a finance or accounting department, there’s a possible position waiting for you.

To become an accountant, you must possess key skills such as business acumen, excellent analytical skills, IT skills and organisational skills.

Having a related degree and doing a work placement will allow you to prepare yourself for entering the world of accounting. To become a fully-fledged accountant, you’ll have to pass industry exams.

It can take several years to become a qualified accountant, but the hard work will certainly pay off. Entry-level accountants can expect to earn between £35,000 and £50,000 per year. You also have opportunities to progress further in your career and earn even more.