Accounting Jobs and Careers

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What is Accounting?

If you're numerate and are interested in what makes businesses and organisations tick, then accounting is a career option you can consider.

Finance and accounting is central to all organisations. Financial information is needed to shape policy and ascertain how an organisation is performing.

There are many different roles in the accountancy field. Accounting assistants and technicians help to process monthly transactions in an organisation, while senior accounting managers or finance directors utilise reports to inform and advise on executive decisions as to overall direction.

If you're aiming at a career in accounting, then it's important to recognise that the profession is about more than just number-crunching - it's about how organisations operate, liaising with managers or clients, and providing sound financial feedback and advice.

The Certification in Accountancy (CA) is the professional qualification, usually gained only once working in the financial workplace. This covers company performance, tax issues, investment opportunities, strategy and general business advice.

Will Accounting Suit You?

In addition to numeracy, which is the most obvious of the aptitudes you need to have, there's a range of transferable skills that are required across all areas of accounting:

Careers in Accounting: Chartered Accountant in Private Practice

The private chartered accountant (or general accountant) works in their own or someone else's private practice, providing services to fee-paying clients. Their work is relatively straightforward: handling clients' annual tax and accounts, and conducting audits for registered companies. The work can be extremely seasonal, with the greatest workload coming at the end of the financial year.

Clients for individual private accountants range from freelancers to small businesses. Larger private accountancy firms might deal with major corporations, extending their services into areas of consultancy (i.e. financial management consultation) aimed at improving the business's finances. They might advise on mergers and acquisitions, as well as financial processes.

Accountants frequently develop specialist areas when working for larger consultancy firms and may move on to specialist positions. Individual accountants who have been working with small businesses may progress to positions with the bigger accountancy firms.

Specialist Skills for a Chartered Accountant

In addition to the transferable skills already mentioned, you need the following skills and experience for this area of accountancy:

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Careers in Accounting: Company Accountant

A chartered accountant can also work within a business, either singly or as part of a group of accountants, depending on the company's size. The tasks are essentially the same, involving compilation of financial information, report preparation and the ongoing monitoring of financial transactions and events.

Specialist Skills for a Company Accountant

Careers in Accounting: Chartered Management Accountant

A chartered management accountant is a senior management role that involves contributing directly to the organisation's decision-making processes. Typically, the post holder sits on the executive team and plays a role in strategic planning processes by managing the organisation or group's finances, assessing and evaluating financial performance and identifying ways to increase profitability.

The management accountant's primary role is to record and analyse financial information. This way, they gain a clear overview and are able to undertake effective budgeting, clearly evaluating performance, and efficiently managing costs and assets. They prepare financial reports for other parties, such as stockholders and creditors, tax authorities and auditors, etc.

In larger organisations, there may be a senior management accountant working at senior executive level, with other management accountants in the next management level down, each cover specific areas of accounting, such as planning and budgeting, cost accounting, financial analysis, etc.

Specialist Skills for the Chartered Management Accountant

Finance Manager

Finance Managers are employed in private sector organisations. The role's exact nature is determined by the organisation in question, but usually overlaps with many other finance and accounting roles. Generally speaking, finance managers are responsible for providing direction on the investment side, preparing reports, making recommendations and developing and overseeing cash management strategies.

In doing so, they aim to further the organisation's goals by optimising profit from investments while reducing risks. As mergers, consolidations and acquisitions occur with increasing rapidity in a global marketplace, the finance managers' role has been increasingly important and specialised. Likewise, the growth of digital technology has changed the nature of the work due to enhanced data analysis functions, speedier report production and easier modelling and projections.

Specialist Skills for a Finance Manager

Public Finance Manager

This role is equivalent to that of a Finance Manager (above), but performed for organisations within the public sector. The Finance Manager must, in this capacity, ensure that public services are provided on as cost-effective a budget as possible. Employers include local government, central government and publicly funded bodies. The duties range from general financial administration to management accounting, providing advice at a strategic and policy level.

Specialist Skills for a Public Finance Manager

Financial Accountant

A Financial Accountant frequently works for financial institutions, assessing the health of private companies in order to inform investment decisions. They prepare financial statements based on general ledgers with the aim of contributing to financial decision-making and increasing profitability.

Working with a corporate group, they may compare income and expenses to the budgeted figures, undertake balance sheet analysis, and complete research into causes behind financial variations. The decisions contributed to may involve mergers and acquisitions, compensation and benefits planning, and long-term financial projections. A Financial Accountant is usually extremely familiar with certain industries and is employed to analyse certain companies operating within those industries.

Specialist Skills for a Financial Accountant

Careers in Accounting: Tax Accountant

Working in a highly specialised and complex area, tax accountants prepare corporate and personal income tax statements. They also prepare tax strategies for corporations, which cover issues such as deferral of taxes, handling acquisitions or mergers for tax purposes, submitting expenses for major tax relief, etc.

Specialist Skills for a Tax Accountant

Audit Accountant

There are two types of audit accountant: internal and external. The internal auditor is employed by and advises the organisation's senior management on how best to execute their responsibilities by improving controls and meeting compliance mandates of governmental regulations. They may advise on strengthening reporting systems, improving operational efficiency, safeguarding assets and deterring fraud.

The external auditor, being independent, is brought in from outside a company to review records and make recommendations. They usually review the business's IT systems and procedures as well as all the internal controls. If a tax authority or professional or regulatory body has raised any queries about the business, they must investigate those as well.

The audit accountant ensures that regulations are upheld by ensuring that an organisation's management reports genuinely reflect the condition of a business. This means testing accounting policies and procedures as well as checking records of transactions. This work is increasingly computerised and can involve random sampling.

Specialist Skills for an Audit Accountant

Accounting Technician or Assistant Accountant

An Assistant Accountant or Accounting Technician works in the accounting department, contributing to the production of the monthly management accounts, reconciliation and control of the cash book, general ledger and purchase ledger reconciliation, monthly closing procedures, VAT returns, internal control compliance, preparation of accounting reports and financial statements, cash flow forecasts, database management, etc. Familiarity with accounting software is required, whether Sage, PeopleSoft, Peachtree or another specialist program. Post holders may be studying towards the Chartered Accountant certification while working in this role.

Specialist Skills for an Accounting Assistant or Technician

Accounts Administrator

Accounts administration staff are a necessity within organisations. Financial information has a huge impact on current performance, as well as on future decisions. Administrators' exact roles vary according to the organisation, but typically they are concerned with accurate processing of financial transactions within the accounts department, ensuring coding and recording are accurate, reviewing invoices and payments for adherence to the organisation's policies, administrating online payments, undertaking creditor management, etc.

Accounts Administrators may be studying for the Chartered Accountant certification while fulfilling this role.

Specialist Skills for an Accounts Administrator

Other Areas of Accounting

Forensic accounting relates to auditing. As a specialist area, it is most commonly involved in cases where fraud or tax evasion have taken place and the governmental or law enforcement authorities need to investigate financial histories through audits. Other areas include fraud investigation and shareholder disputes. Occasionally, this may be part of a broader criminal investigation.

Fund accounting can refer to the management of investment funds and trusts, wherein the accountant manages (for example) a hedge fund, dealing with investment managers, brokers, investors and other trading professionals.

The term fund accounting is also used for the accountant who is concerned with non-profit organisations, such as charities, trusts, governmental agencies, etc.

More Information

The ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) offers a lot of information about entry routes, qualifications and career prospects.

ICAS (the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland) is the professional body for Scotland.

The ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global association for professional accountants.

Training in Accountancy

The Association of Chartered Accountants offers two alternative career routes, both of which lead to the Chartered Accountancy (CA) certificate.

Leaving school, you need to have at least three GCSE passes, plus at least two A-levels in any subject. However, most employers look for between 260 and 320 UCAS points. If you're not going to higher education, you can start training on the job after gaining your A-levels.

If you wish to attend college or university, you can study any subject, although clearly you'll gain better opportunities if you study business or finance related subjects. This may also mean you need to take fewer exams when studying for the Chartered Accountancy examination. Whatever subject you do, employers will normally look for a 1st or 2:1 degree.

If you failed to achieve GCSEs or A-levels, you can take a Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB) or the AAT-AAC Fast Track training, before continuing to the CA certificate.

Salary Potential for Chartered Accountants

Graduates can expect to start work at around £18,000-26,000, depending on employer and location. This can double with the CA certification.

Job Sites for Accounting Jobs

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