An overview of the role
A chartered accountant is professionally qualified to undertake the duties of an accountant; these include the verification of account books and tax returns.
Chartered accountants are highly qualified and strictly regulated. They work to a very high standard and earn a higher salary than ordinary accountants for this reason. The primary role of a chartered accountant is to maximise profit on behalf of their employer.
I enjoy Meeting people, helping people grow their businesses and saving them tax wherever possible.
Wendy, Chartered Accountant 1
What are the key skills required by a chartered accountant?
Key skills for a chartered accountant include:
- Excellent mathematical ability
- Excellent problem-solving and troubleshooting ability
- Strong versatile communication skills
- Highly motivated
- Meticulous and organised thinking
- Flexibility – the capacity to move between different tasks rapidly and prioritise when necessary
- Good time management skills – often clients will book three months in advance and you will need to keep track of all their deadlines and meet them
A large part of a chartered accountant’s job is meeting new and old clients and discussing their finances with them, often in great detail. Networking and developing good professional relationships is essential and it is therefore important to be a sociable people person in addition to highly skilled in finance. If you are not a social type, you might find this aspect of the role a real strain.
Due to the constantly evolving nature of finance, a good accountant must keep on top of industry news to remain aware of current trends. The role of a chartered accountant is a constantly shifting one because of this and many accountants describe this constant learning as an integral part of why they love their jobs. If continual professional development and research aren’t your cup of tea, this may not be the right career path isn’t for you.
What qualifications does a chartered accountant require?
There are many routes to becoming a chartered accountant.
Firstly, you can study an accountancy and finance degree. This must be authorised by an institute of chartered accountancy in your country of residence, such as:
- The Association of International Accountants (AIA)
- The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
Completing an authorised degree means that you will be exempt from some of the exams required to become a chartered accountant because you will already have fulfilled them over the course of your academic studies.
In order to be accepted onto an authorised degree you will need a minimum of 96 UCAS points from qualifications such as:
- Two A-levels or equivalent
- One BTEC diploma
- One BTEC extended diploma
If you do not wish to pursue a degree in accountancy, your alternative is to apply for a school leaver scheme and study alongside work placements.
Candidates qualify as chartered accountants after five years, as opposed to six years with a degree. You can often earn competitive salaries while you train. Graduates do however have a greater chance of securing employment after qualifying.
In order to be accepted onto leaver programme you will need a minimum of 300 UCAS points from qualifications – BBB grades at A-level or equivalent.
Do I need relevant work experience to become a chartered accountant?
You do not need any experience in order to be accepted onto an authorised degree or leaver programme. Work experience does plays an important role in being hired after qualification.
It is common for companies to recruit a large percentage of new accountants from their pool of former interns, making accounting internships hugely competitive. Accounting interns may also get future job offers or, if they’re undertaking the internship as part of a sandwich degree, be fast-tracked into the company’s graduate scheme. A few many even receive funding for the rest of their degree.
If you’re applying for an internship, contact the firm you have in mind and ask for their specific requirements. There will be intense competition for larger companies so be prepared to consider placements outside the Big Four. You can learn equally valuable skills from a more personal, small local company.
Many larger firms also run insight days or work shadowing, giving prospective candidates the chance to see the inner workings of their organisation for a few days. This is a good way of building connections with companies before securing a longer-term work experience placement.
Accountancy firms value experience in a variety of roles and companies. Anything pertaining to finance such as financial journalism or finance-focused research roles is desirable, even if you have no actual accountancy experience.
A lot of people think accountancy is all about numbers, Obviously it’s part of our job, but one thing I love is the variety of work I get and the variety of people I work with.
Catherine Burnet, KPMG Accountant 2
Is the role of a chartered accountant right for me?
As with any job, there are pros and cons to becoming a chartered accountant.
Pros of being a chartered accountant include:
- The chance to earn a high salary
- Good career progression and job security
- You can work in a wide range of different sectors and environments. If you harbour a passion for the arts, many business advisory and consultancy services work exclusively within the creative sector. If you want to make a difference, consider working in the accountancy department of a charity. Chartered accountancy is a role that can be tailored to your interests, whatever they are
- Professional development is valued and your employer will facilitate this – ideal if you want a role that will enable you to continue learning throughout your career
- You can train without needing a degree and earn a salary while doing so
Cons of being a chartered accountant include:
- A long training period of at least five years
- Training is costly, however you choose to do it
- Competition is fierce in all areas of chartered accountancy – only those with the highest grades will find work easily
- A strikingly large and widening gender pay gap makes the industry difficult for women to break into
- Extra hours and weekend work are common and chartered accountants are often unpaid for overtime
- Generally speaking the chartered accountant has a highly formal and corporate work environment, which is not suited to everyone
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