Maybe you’ve imagined yourself in a corporate setting, working to strict deadlines and putting in some long hours at various times of the year. Many people don’t realise that there are opportunities for those with accountancy qualifications in many different sectors and industries. Some of them may surprise you.
In general, it’s fair to say that a career in accountancy is a fairly stable choice. It’s one that’s resistant to changes in the economic climate. Many roles in the accounting field are also considered to be well-paid, generating above-average incomes. The prospects are also good for those who want to progress or diversify. Finally, accounting qualifications are very recognisable, often across the world. This means that transferring from one role to another doesn’t mean you’ll need to retrain.
Your journey in accountancy – where to start?
Broadly speaking people start out their training on one of two paths. You could be working for a company in their finance department. This is often referred to as working in Industry. Alternatively, you could be working at an accountancy firm where you are doing work for many clients. This is often referred to as working in Practice.
Each of these options provides different opportunities to develop and build up your wider skills base. At the same time, you’ll be learning the basics of accountancy.
Let’s take a look in a bit more detail at what you can be expected to do in the early days of your training.
Accountancy Industry roles
If you are working for a company (in Industry) you could be doing a number of different jobs including:
Management accountant – helping to pull together budgets. Then carrying out variance analysis to see how the company is doing compared to those budgets
Cost accountant – similar to a management accountant but specifically focussing on the costs incurred by the business
Financial accountant – focus on preparing monthly and annual accounts summarising past performance
Purchase ledger or sales ledger clerk – maintaining the list of suppliers or customers that you owe money to or who owes money to you. You’ll then chase up the payments.
Payroll clerk – helping to administer the payment run each week or month and updating individual’s details on the payroll.
Accountancy Practice roles
If you work for an accountancy firm (in Practice) then what your job involves will vary depending on the clients and the time of year. You could be doing roles such as:
Bookkeeper – many firms will have clients at the smaller end who need an accountant to ‘do their books’ for them. You will be preparing annual accounts for the client from sources of information they give you from bank statements to invoices. This role can be very varied and you may also be involved in preparing VAT returns and other filings that a business is required to make.
Tax assistant – the firm will probably have a tax department who will help clients with their tax affairs both as companies and as individuals. You could be involved in pulling together annual tax returns. You may also be supporting more senior colleagues in preparing tax advice for clients.
Auditor – if the firm is registered to audit company accounts you could be on an audit team going out to clients to look for evidence to corroborate the figures that have been put into the annual financial statements prepared by the company.
As with any of these above roles at the beginning of your accountancy journey, there will be colleagues more senior than you who are able to support in how to complete these tasks. From the beginning, you will interact with other people either within the company or externally such as clients if you are in practice.
Developing your accountancy journey – and your wider skills
You will build up your accountancy knowledge and experience, passing exams in whichever qualification you have chosen. As you do this, your role in both practice and industry will develop along similar lines. Other skills and parts of accountancy come into play that will enable you to move upwards. Sometimes to very senior positions within a company or a firm of accountants.
Accountants are fundamental to helping a company (either yours or the clients’) to develop a strategy and to plan for how that should be implemented. The higher levels of accountancy qualifications include strategic planning, risk and governance as key areas that an accountant is trained in.
All of the accounting bodies are putting technology at the front of their qualifications. They realise that the students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. Any companies who do not embrace new disruptive technologies will be left behind in the competitive business environment. As these new technologies are impacting the role of finance, you will need to understand how they could be embraced into the finance function of your company or the clients’. Also, even if the new technology is not related to finance, the fact that they are often very expensive means the finance department will need to be involved in their decisions.
You will move from being the most junior person in your team to being in a more senior position. Here there may be others who are reporting to you and need to be supported by you. Your higher level of accountancy qualifications cover areas such as staff motivation and how to generate the right culture at a company to maximise performance.
The picture of an accountant sat behind a computer looking at spreadsheets can be a reality for some junior roles. However, the need for a qualified accountant to communicate increases hugely as they gain experience and move up the ladder.
As your career develops, your role may well be still related to finance. You will need to help interpret information to people who are not financially trained. Your training in strategy, technology, leadership and HR may eventually build up to roles where you will be communicating with whole departments or groups of people. This could be about the issues a company faces around changes to the business or trying to impart a company vision. This is true whether you are in industry or as a senior person in an accountancy firm in practice.
Where could you end up – the sky’s the limit!
New job titles start becoming a reality as you progress upwards. These include financial controller, business partner, finance director, senior manager and partner.
Whatever avenue you take you will eventually move away from the detail of finance. You may even end up in a role completely outside of finance. Whilst you might not be in a finance role you will forever be utilising different aspects of your accountancy training. It will support you and your company as you navigate the challenges and opportunities that occur in the world of business.
As evidence on this, studies have shown that 25% to 50% of CEOs at leading companies have a financial qualification. They have reached CEO by taking their grounding in accountancy and applying it to roles outside of finance. This then prepares them for a job at the top.
Deciding on accountancy is a fantastic way to start a career and will not narrow your options for the future. If anything it is the best way to guarantee the widest possible set of opportunities.
Find out more about the programmes we offer to lead into your career in accountancy here
Find out more about our apprenticeship schemes here