Accountancy & Professional Services

Accountancy may seem like a dry subject area, but if you’re good with numbers and have a logical mind (and like dealing with money), it could be the perfect role for you.

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What is Accountancy?

It’s more than dealing with numbers related to financial transactions – it’s understanding what the numbers mean, recognising trends and patterns and being able to accurately report back to the business or individuals in charge of the money – plus a solid grasp of the economy and financial law. The role is a highly important one across all sectors, as accountants also offer advice to businesses and individuals on ways to save money and invest cleverly.

There are a number of key tasks related to accountancy, and these include recordation, classifying, reporting, recognising fraud, advising on tax issues and analysing profit and loss. Accountants are an absolutely essential part of every business.

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Job roles in Accountancy

There are a number of different roles within the accountancy sector. Some of these may be full-time for a single business, or some may be for an accountancy firm dealing with a number of different clients; either way, you will usually be involved in the following:

  • Preparing profit and loss statements
  • Looking over contracts, budgets, pensions schemes, grants and more
  • Aiding in training of staff or clients on invoicing, billing and more

Some of the more specific subsections of accountancy are as follows:

    • This role involves getting heavily involved in tax policy, regulations, pensions and more. It requires an in-depth understanding of the economy and tax laws as it involves a lot of tax returns, advising and knowledge of legislation.

      The job usually entails analysing and interpreting tax legislation, liaising directly with HMRC, working on tax tribunals and advising a business or individual on tax implications, helping senior management forward plan to save money and be savvy when paying back tax.

    • Rather than advising, this role is much more transactional-based and involves more admin. Accountant technicians carry out transactional activities for businesses or individuals within the commercial or public sector spaces – and there are a lot.

      This could include payroll administrations, prepping accounts and balance sheets, invoice management, bookkeeping and more.

    • This is an interesting role in that it combines accountancy with technology and investigation skills. This type of role is often involved in issues to do with commercial fraud or other complex cases that involve the law, such as disputes or litigation.

      Some tasks may include analysing financial information and creating reports, and standing up to provide financial insights at court during a trial is common.

    • Auditing is a whole different part of accountancy. External audits are often performed on a business to determine that the accounts are true and not fraudulent at all. They provide outside assurance that a business’ finances are all in order and above board. Auditors – trainee and fully trained – work with senior management within a business to analyse all financial records and determine if they are ‘true and fair’.

      The role means you need to become fully immersed in an organisation’s accounts and be able to analyse them without bias. It requires detailed analysis of all financial transactions cross-referenced against best-practice and financing laws. It also involves advising the client on areas for improvement.

    • This is a category of professional accountants, responsible for a number of different tasks – many of which have been mentioned above. It is a well rounded accountancy role that incorporates tasks such as auditing, bookkeeping, budgeting, profit and loss reporting, advising and forecasting.

    • This is a specialist sub-section of accounting that involves strategising and coming up with management activities to secure the financial future of a business or individual.

      This requires a lot of forward planning, an understanding of the economic and financial landscape, implementing management information systems (MIS) and providing advice based on solid financial reporting.

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Qualifications in Accountancy

If Accountancy is for you, there are a few different options to take. You could study Accountancy at university, first and foremost. A Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy will teach you how to measure, process, analyse and communicate the financial goings on in a company or organisation and present it back to a number of different parties. This could involve liaising with investors, creditors, regulators, the public and of course upper management.

There are a select few Accounting degrees that are sought-after, including a Bachelor of Accountancy (BAC), a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Accounting, a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting or a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) in Accounting. In order to study any of these, you will need to have studied maths to a high level; having studied business at A-Level is also an advantage.

Basic Accountancy topics will be covered in the first half of the degree, which lasts three years in the UK. There will probably also be a research project to undertake plus other assessments such as running and analysing financial reports.

There are also a number of other qualifications that can be obtained to break into accountancy. Below are the main five:

    • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants – this is a pathway qualification that can help you break into an apprenticeship, get a diploma or move onto a BSc degree in applied accounting. It provides students with the skills and understanding they need to become a finance professional at any level and across any industry.

      This qualification includes exams, practical experience, a section on professional ethics and gives students the chance to specialise in specific Accountancy areas as they progress.

      You do not need a degree to begin learning with ACCA, however a relevant degree is considered a plus and could lead to a faster route to qualification.

    • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants – this is the world’s largest professional body of management accountants. A qualification from CIMA allows students to help create financial business strategies and ensure the success of a company; so this qualification includes not just financial work, but management training as well.

      This is favoured by students with degrees in either finance or business, but you may still be considered with another relevant degree.

    • Association of Accounting Technicians – there are a number of levels to gaining an AAT qualification, but it is a popular route for those looking to enter accountancy at a junior level and move up. Those with an AAT qualification are only part-qualified, however, and while they can perform some tasks the same as qualified accountants, they cannot sign-off company audit reports.

      This qualification can be studied regardless of previous qualifications, and covers topics such as budgeting, financial performance, professional ethics, tax and more.

    • Association of Chartered Accountants / Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales – this is an internationally recognised qualification that introduces students to accountancy, finance, ethics and business, as well as more specific focuses such as forensic accounting, audit and assurance as detailed above.

      Students need two A level passes and three GCSE passes, or a degree in any discipline from a UK or Irish university, in order to study.

    • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy – this is the main qualification for those looking to work in the charity or public sectors, although it does prepare you for accountancy work in the private sector, too. It’s an incredibly diverse avenue to head down, incorporating modules on governance and public policy, public finance and taxation.

      This qualification is designed to suit graduates, AATs and other qualified professionals.

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Skills you need in Accountancy

More than simply being good with numbers and understanding tax issues, Accountancy requires a number of other skills, including:

Good organisational skills

There’s a LOT to keep track of as an accountant, and it’s often a lot of important documents and information. Being organised is highly important.

Self-motivation

Being able to motivate yourself to get the job done in a timely and accurate manner is also essential. Accountants must be able to work under their own steam.

Integrity

There’s an awful lot of ethics at play in accountancy – you’re in charge of a lot of money and delicate information, so understanding and having ethics is vital.

Adaptability

Whilst there are a lot of administrative tasks to undertake that can be repetitive, being an accountant also means being able to adapt to an ever changing industry.

Business and IT acumen

Two very important skills required are an understanding of business and good IT skills. There are a lot of reports to run, after all!

Good with numbers and analytical

Need we say more…?! Obviously an accountant needs to be good with numbers, but more than this an ability to analyse figures and recognise patterns and trends is also key.

Problem-solving skills

Similar to being able to adapt to a changing economy, being able to problem solve is also essential. Hiccups will naturally occur, and there will often be puzzles that need solving, such as how to save a business money.

Communication and team-working

As an accountant you will no doubt be required to talk about financial issues with other people within a business, from all levels. This requires an ability to communicate complex issues effectively to others who may not fully understand, and work will within a team – both your own and across departments.

5

Industry insights

The industry overall is holding steady, although going through some ups and downs. The industry itself has been around for hundreds of years and will naturally continue to thrive – money makes the world go round, as they say.

Overall as the expansion of businesses internationally continues, accountancy jobs seem fairly secure; however changes to governments and other political issues, as well as technological advancements, do affect the industry. Within the UK particularly Brexit is naturally having an effect on the sector, and the automation of certain roles traditionally undertaken by accountants is causing some alarm within the sector.

There has been a decided shift towards more advisory roles within Accountancy in the UK. The digitalisation of tax and compliance by HMRC is causing smaller businesses to rethink their business models and offerings. There is also a new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) launching in May 2018; this will improve existing government regulations regarding the management of personal data, making it more stringent, which again will have an impact on Accountancy as a sector and individual firms.

It seems the future of Accountancy may well be more focused on strategy, management and advice, as opposed to straight number-crunching.

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Work experience in Accountancy

Work experience is incredibly important within Accountancy, and many of the qualifications listed above require some level of practical experience to be undertaken in order to pass.

There are usually plenty of insight days and work shadowing opportunities up for grabs from various firms – it’s worth asking your university careers advisor and researching what firms have coming up. Large firms such as EY, KPMG and PwC all run insight days and work shadowing.

Many accountancy firms also offer internships, which is many students’ first true experience of work within the industry. Some firms even offer internships to first year university students, allowing for a taste of the industry early on. These are less competitive than summer internships and are usually shorter, so definitely worth investigating.

On top of this are year-long placements, which those on a sandwich course at university will be able to take advantage of. If you’re able to do this, it’s well worth it as year placements help build contacts and allow for you to experience multiple areas of the accountancy industry, and better understand where your interests lie.

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Pros and cons

ProsCons
It’s one of the oldest industries around, with a deep and rich history, and high job security.There are a lot of ever-changing financial laws and new taxes to understand, so learning on the job is constant.
It has many interesting sub-sections to it, allowing for you to specialise across industries and work across the globe.Dealing with money and financial transactions can be a high-pressure environment.
You can earn anything from £20,000 as a starting salary to upwards of £40,000.Some of the work may be repetitive and involve a lot of admin.
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