Focus on Accountancy
For those seeking a challenging business career with unlimited development opportunity and a professional qualification respected the world over, accountancy is hard to beat. Unrivalled career prospects exist for graduates or ‘A’ level school-leavers with talent, commitment and ambition.
What do accountants do?
In essence, accountants offer financial advice to clients and aim to increase the value of the client’s business. The work of an accountant is extremely broad and the exact nature of the job will depend on the area of specialisation you choose.
As an auditor, you will be carrying out an in-depth investigation of a business in order to form an opinion on whether the company’s accounts are ‘true and fair’. This means identifying the major areas of risk inherent in the business, which calls for a high degree of judgement and an in-depth understanding of the client and it’s industry. As an auditor, you have to be able to see how a company is going forward, to understand its strategy and how it stands within the industry as a whole. To do that successfully, you have to build strong relationships with the client.
When you become a tax consultant, you are capable of making a significant impact on the finances of corporations and individual tax payers. You will advise clients on a variety of money-saving issues, from tax efficient remuneration methods to international tax planning and computations. Tax is an intellectually demanding career which calls for excellent analytical and problem-solving ability, but which offers tremendous mental stimulation.
Corporate Finance and Corporate Recovery
The other two main areas of accountancy are Corporate Recovery and Corporate Finance. Corporate Recovery is about helping businesses that are failing to get back to financial health. It is often very pressurised as your team can be called in at a moment’s notice to run the business on behalf of its creditors. There’s a lot of fire-fighting and responsibility but this is what makes it exciting. You have to think on your feet and, even in the early years, be making decisions.
Corporate Finance deals with companies at the other end of the spectrum - those that are growing. As a Corporate Financier you will be helping businesses to raise money to fund their growth or perhaps advising on acquisitions, take-overs or flotation’s on the Stock Exchange. Corporate Finance requires both strategic and lateral thinking. Your clients will look for proactive advice on such issues as which businesses they might acquire or which ones they should sell. In effect, you have to put yourself in the chief executive’s shoes.
What are the entry points?
In the United Kingdom most students train within the accounting profession in one of the main accountant’s practices and choose to study for either the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA) or Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ qualifications (ACCA). Opportunities do exist, however, to train in industry while studying for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) or Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) qualification. Providing certain academic criteria are met, the cost of training is almost always borne by the employer under a training contract with the employee.
What does the training involve?
To qualify in chartered accountancy in the UK, you need three years’ practical work experience combined with passes in the examinations set by the various institutes. The chartered accountancy examination syllabus includes three sets of exams, each comprising several subjects. The chartered taxation examination syllabus includes two sets of exams covering a broad range of taxation, accounting and law issues.
Certified accountants also undertake practical work experience combined with study for professional examinations. The training programme is flexible although there is a maximum time limit of ten years within which you must have passed all the exams. However, most organisations who offer a training contract for the ACCA qualification will usually expect passes within three to four years.
Are the exams tough?
Yes, very. You are seeking to gain a highly prestigious qualification which is respected throughout the world. You will usually receive a great deal of support from your employer - including generous study and excellent tutors - but your commitment is essential.
Is accountancy for me?
Knowing if you are going to be successful in accountancy means knowing yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, what interests you and what does not. Some of the key characteristics and competencies people who succeed in accountancy have are identified below.
How do you match up?
Clients can be very demanding, you will need to build close relationships with them and provide excellent service. Are you quick to see what others need or are driving at? Have there been times when you have put yourself out to help somebody even when it isn’t your responsibility? Essential quality: ability to respond to clients’ needs.
You will work with people at all levels in different environments from company directors to warehouse staff. Do you relate well to people from all walks of life? Have you ever been in a situation where your flexibility and sensitivity have been crucial? Essential quality: good communicator.
A successful project depends on the whole team pulling together. This can only happen through strong leadership. As you progress, you will need to manage terms of increasing size. Have you been involved in an activity where you found team membership stimulating? Can you manage and motivate other? When involved in a project, do people naturally turn to you as a leader? Essential qualities: ability to lead and be a good team player.
During your training you will have to balance a full time job with study and leisure activities. Projects have to be finished on time, every time. You need to know your limitations, know how to improve performance, cope under pressure. Is your week full of activities? Do you get your projects in on time without too much panic, loss of sleep or missing out socially? Can you prioritise between different needs? Essential quality: ability to manage tight deadlines.
Being an effective business adviser is about looking forward and advising clients what to do next. It means understanding the business environment and how companies operate. Do you take an interest in how businesses are doing? Has your experience to date given you an insight into factors affecting business? Essential qualities: commercial awareness and business interest.
Accountancy and tax work are based on investigation, analysis, and presenting information in a form to support a professional opinion or business solution. Through your studies, have you learnt to analyse information objectively and critically and use if effectively to support a point of view? Can you think round a problem and come up with a creative solution? Essential qualities: judgement, initiative and broad-based thinking skills.
Projects don’t always run according to plan. Problems can seem insoluble. You need tenacity and self-motivation to see a project through. Have you ever faced an unexpected challenge and achieved what some people considered impossible? Do you stick with a problem until solved? Essential qualities: energy, drive and motivation.
Academic qualifications are an important part of accountants’ practices selection procedures. As a graduate entrant, you will normally require at least a second class honours degree and good ‘A’ levels. Your degree does not have to be in accounting or a numerical discipline, although some degrees, such as economics and law, will exempt you from certain aspects of the professional exams. Some practices offer training programmes to ‘A’ level school leavers, you will normally require 3 good ‘A’ levels plus good grades at maths and English GCSE.#
In the large London practices, starting salaries range from approximately £11,500 for school leavers to £18,00 for graduates. Within a few years it is possible for both to be earning between £24,000 and £28,000.
Interested - then go for it!
A professional accountancy qualification opens the doors to many exciting possibilities. If you choose to stay in the profession, you will constantly find new challenges, whether in a new specialist area or perhaps a secondment overseas. You will also be valuable to many other organisations and will be able to choose from a number of exciting alternative careers.