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What you need to do to become an accountant

What you need to do to become an accountant

by ednext
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If you’re good with figures, accountancy could be the career for you. Fully qualified accountants can command high salaries and have the opportunity to rise to senior positions within companies. Or you can enjoy the independence of setting up your own business.

There are many different routes into accountancy as a profession. It’s a good idea to start off by thinking about where you would like your career to go as an accountant. This will determine which of the array of different possible qualifications you should take.

Some people decide to train as an accountant after graduating from university, others start their training straight from school, while others do so later in life after deciding to change their career. Whichever is the case, it’s a good idea to get some work experience along the way to make yourself more attractive to future employers.

There’s also the possibility with some qualifications of taking an apprenticeship, but more of that later.

The two main professional bodies for accountants are the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Each runs its own qualification schemes, although confusingly the ICAEW scheme is known as ACA.

ICAEW/ACA qualification

To become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant you need to pass the ACA qualification, which is highly sought-after and is recognised around the world. ICAEW has more than 147,000 members working in 154 countries,

More than 3,000 employers are currently training ACA students, with starting salaries for graduates up to £30,000. Worldwide, more than 24,000 students are currently training for ACA and CFAB qualifications.

The average salary of ICAEW members in the UK is more than £84,500 and 78 FTSE 100 companies have an ICAEW Chartered Accountant on their boards. You can expect to earn on average £49,000 in the first two years after qualifying.

You can start to train for an ACA qualification straight from school or after graduating from university. There are 15 exam modules, covering topics from financial management and law to assurance and business strategy.

To qualify you also need from three to five years’ practical work experience, as well as demonstrating professional development and a knowledge of ethics and professional scepticism. As an ACA qualified accountant you can work in a wide variety of roles and organisations, from small accountancy practices to large multi-national corporations, to tech start-ups, the public sector or charities.

ACCA qualification


ACCA is also a globally recognised professional accounting body, with more than 198,000 qualified members and 486,000 students in 181 countries.

It provides the highly sought-after Chartered Certified Accountant qualification, which is accepted around the world. The ACCA qualification covers a very wide range of accountancy skills, giving you the possibility of working in a variety of sectors such as tax or audit, or as an in-house accountant within a business.

The qualification includes 14 exams, and it can take on average three or four years to qualify. You also need three years’ work experience to qualify, which you can undertake at the same time as your studies to speed things up.

It is also very flexible, with a foundation level that is open to people who don’t meet the entry requirements (three GCSEs and two A levels in five subjects including English and maths) for the professional qualification.

There are also exemptions available based on previous levels of education or prior qualifications in relevant fields.

And from this September ACCA is also offering apprenticeships leading to a diploma, from which you can progress to the full ACCA qualification. It recently unveiled its higher apprenticeship in accounting in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University and Acorn.

Gaining the ACCA qualification can put you on a fast track to senior accountancy roles. Qualified accountants can earn between £47,000 and £75,000 when working in a large organisation, according to recruitment firm Robert Haft.

CIMA qualification

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is the world’s largest professional body of management accountants, with 229,000 members and students in 176 countries. Its qualification, known as CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant), combines accounting, finance and management and opens the door to a career within companies around the world.

The focus is on management accounting within business and involves skills such as analysis, strategic, planning and risk management.

CIMA members earned an average of £64,011 last year.

The CIMA Professional Qualification takes between three and six years to complete and includes 12 exams. If you already have a degree or other relevant qualification you could get exemptions from some parts of the programme. If you have a master’s degree or MBA in accounting you can bypass 11 exams.

If you have no exemptions or a finance or accounting background you can start with a Certificate in Business Accounting which has just four exams and takes between 12 and 18 months.

AAT

The Association of Accounting Technicians provides a range of certificates and diplomas in accounting and related skills such as book-keeping. Varying between six and 18 months in length, they can equip for anything from junior and entry level accounting roles to higher level roles.

Once you have completed the AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting and completed the work experience requirements you can achieve professional status as an AAT Accountant (MAAT).

You can also study for an AAT qualification through an apprenticeship.

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