Would you make a good accountant? It’s a pretty broad question, because there are quite a few different types. You could be an in-house accountant at a company in a sector that interests you, or work at an accounting firm; you might focus on small businesses or larger corporations; you might specialise in tax, financial reporting, fund raising, auditing, insolvency or many other niche areas. No one type of person suits accountancy, and you don’t have to be a numbers nerd to excel at it. But if you are reasonably numerate, with great attention to detail, and can combine this with a passion for business in general, you may find accounting is an ideal outlet for your talents.
Being an accountant can be very rewarding too, with generous salaries achievable at senior levels, and a clear career route that can lead to prestigious C-suite positions (e.g. Chief Financial Officer or CFO). There are also several paths to qualification, not all of which require a university degree – so for some it can be an excellent way to start earning early on without incurring lots of student debt.
Here’s our guide to getting started.
The duties of an accountant vary depending on your area of specialism, but a typical day could be made up of tasks like:
If you become a chartered accountant, you could also advise on more advanced financial matters on a day-to-day basis. These could include:
Naturally, you’ll need to be good with numbers and comfortable dealing with calculations to work out things like profit margins, compound interest and cash flow forecasts. An accountant should also be comfortable using digital accounting software and spreadsheets, particularly if you’re seeking an in-house position. Other important skills include:
If you’re just starting out, either as an undergraduate or moving from a completely different career, it’s best to begin with an AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualification. With AAT, you can study a range of courses, from NVQ all the way up to degree level, and can qualify for courses run by the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) or ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). This will allow you to gain further qualifications and become a fully chartered accountant.
Alternatively, you could go for a degree in accounting. This can award you the relevant AAT and/or chartered qualifications you need. You could also investigate the ICB (Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) or IAB (International Association of Bookkeepers) if you’re interested in pursuing a career in bookkeeping and payroll instead. CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is another good option if you’re set on a career as a management accountant (see below).
There are lots of different types of accountants that specialise in different areas of financial management and planning. Here are seven of the most common:
There are a number of different routes into accountancy. If you’re happy to commit to full-time studies, you could enrol in an accounting degree. Most UK universities offer a course that allows you to gain the knowledge and accreditation needed to get a job as an accountant. You can also choose a specialism in your final year, meaning you’ll be able to look for work in your chosen niche or enter the relevant further study straight after graduation.
If you don’t want to go down the route of higher education, you could look for an apprenticeship or trainee position as an accounts assistant. Some positions will ask that you have degree-level education, but others will accept a Maths A level or previous experience in a finance/accounting environment. Many larger firms have an ‘earn-as-you-learn’ apprentice programme where you can study for a AAT qualification while earning a wage – a great way to avoid student debt.
Alternatively, you could choose to take an accounting course at a local college or go for a distance learning programme that allows you to gain an entry-level AAT qualification. This is a great option if you can’t commit to full-time study, or already have another job and can’t afford to take a drastic salary cut back to trainee level. However, it may limit the scope of jobs you will be qualified for, meaning you may still have to work your way up from a lower position.
If you’re studying for a foundation-level AAT qualification, you could complete it in as little as six to eight months. The whole AAT programme generally takes around 18 months to complete, but it’s self-paced, so you can take your exams at a pace that suits your learning style and commitments. The course can cost up to £1,899, depending on the level you’re looking to complete.
Chartered accountants will need to pay additional fees to sit their exams. If you’re looking to join ICAEW, for example, you’ll need to complete four ACA exams, costing £617. However, as three to five years of professional experience is a key part of these professional bodies’ acceptance criteria, your employer might cover some or all of the cost. You’ll also need to pay an annual membership fee to remain a member of your chosen chartered accounting body. ACCA charges £246 per year.
The average starting salary for an ACCA trainee accountant is around £19,300. You can expect to earn between £18,000 to £21,000 while you’re completing your qualification, regardless of the qualifying body you’ve chosen. A newly qualified chartered accountant can expect to earn around £30,000, though there will be regional variations.
Once you’re qualified, there will be plenty of career progression opportunities that bring a higher salary with them. A survey by AccountacyAge found that the average salary for accountants across the UK is £63,715. On average, accountants with a formal accounting qualification earn £64,220 per year, while those without earn £45,974. An accountant with a decade or more of experience could reach senior or director level, where the average salary is around £78,135.
Once you’ve obtained your qualifications and relevant experience, you can choose to work as a self-employed accountant rather than accepting a salaried position. At the very least, you’ll need to register as a sole-trader with HRMC so you can submit a tax return at the end of the year. If you’re interested in forming a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a limited company to separate yourself and your business, you’ll need to register with Companies House.
Choosing self-employment has many benefits. You could earn more money as you’ll keep all client fees and your income isn’t limited to a set salary. You can also choose your own hours and workload, allowing you to be more flexible around commitments and enjoy a better work-life balance. However, you will need to be diligent about keeping financial records for your tax return (something that should be second nature for an accountant!) and have the ability to motivate and organise yourself so you can meet client deadlines.
If you’re going it alone, it can be hard to find your first clients. Here are some tips that will help you get started: