What does an accountant do?

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Why every organisation needs an accountant

Accountants are key figures in any organisation helping to balance the books, make sure businesses are in profit and looking at ways to reduce costs. Without them, a business simply wouldn’t be able to function, so their role is a vital one.

The largest accountancy firms in the world - known as the “Big Four” - are Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers who between them audit the accounts of 99% of FTSE 100 companies and 96% of the FTSE 250.   

What types of accountants are there?

There are lots of different types of accountants providing financial advice to a range of organisations from small businesses and charities to multinational corporations and government bodies. 

There are numerous areas accountants work in: auditing and management, sales and acquisitions, forensic accounting, taxation, corporate finance and debt recovery. Some accountants will work within the finance department of a business while  others will work for an accountancy firm dealing with a number of different clients. 

Required experience

There are several routes into accounting depending on whether you’re a school leaver or a university graduate. As a university graduate, you can have a degree in any discipline though degrees in subjects such as accountancy, finance, economics, maths, and business are always advantageous. Strong maths and English skills are also vital. 

1. Graduate entry 

As a graduate accountant, you will start as a trainee within a business or accountancy firm and work towards chartered accountant status, which takes around three years. There are lots of different qualifications you can gain and areas you can specialise in but the main ones are the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), the CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), the CIFPA (The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), and the ACA (The Associate Chartered Accountant). 

2. Non-graduate entry 

The industry is competitive and generally speaking, graduates will have the edge over those without degrees. In addition, many large accounting firms now require you to have a degree and it can exempt you from some professional exams depending on what you study. However, it is possible to enter accounting without a degree. Your employer might require you to sit the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) before you work towards chartered status alongside your job. 

What are the day-to-day roles of an accountant?

Your job role will vary depending on whether you work for an accountancy firm dealing with a number of different companies or whether you work for one company in their finance department but some things you can expect to do regularly are:  

  • Analyse accounts  
  • Prepare tax returns and monthly/annual accounts  
  • Meet clients  
  • Work as part of a team on a larger project  
  • Financial forecasting and risk analysis 
  • Audit financial information  Prepare accounts, reports, and presentations  
  • Deal with insolvency  
  • Prepare budgets

Career progression and salaries 

The starting salary for a  trainee accountant is usually between £15,000 and £25,000. If you don’t have a degree there chances are it might be a little less while if you land a job with one of the “Big Four”  it might well be more. Once qualified, a chartered accountant can earn £26,000- £50,000 on average, though accountants in business can earn as much as £90,000 a year.

Career progression is quite structured within accounting. You can become an account manager two years after qualification and a senior manager three years after that. You can also become a partner or finance director eight to 15 years after qualification. Alternatively, you can move into more management roles or set up your own accountancy firm.

 

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