Accountancy Career Guide
Accountancy is at the heart of all businesses. Every company has an accounts department, and these can vary in size from a handful of individuals to entire departments. Accountants deal with everything from the day to day financials of a business, to accounts reporting, handling tax, and contributing to the long term financial strategy of an organisation through analysis and recommendations.
There are two main fields of accountancy:
Industry accountants, who work in the financial team of a single company, which could be in any sector. This is a good option if you want to combine two passions or interests. If you love fashion, computers, or sports, then you could find an Industry Accounting role in a company that matches your interests, for example.
Practice accountants, who work for themselves and handle the accounts for a variety of clients. This can be a preferable choice if you enjoy a varied role with differing challenges, as you can work with all kinds of businesses across all kinds of sectors. KPMG is an example of a Practice accountancy firm.
Potential Roles in Accountancy
As you might expect, all positions in accountancy deal with numbers and finances to varying degrees. What you do with the data is dependant on the kind of specialism you choose. To start with, there are two kinds of accounting which can affect the kinds of roles available:
- Management accounting, where the accountant or accountancy team are responsible for reporting financial data to the management within a company.
- Financial accounting, where the accountant or accountancy team are responsible for reporting financial data to people outside the company, such as shareholders.
Within these fields, roles are then specialised into auditing, tax affairs, corporate financing, forensic accounting, and more. Generally, financial accounting is where most new or recently graduated accountants start their careers.
Salary and Career Progression
Most mid-level Accountants can earn an average salary of £60,000, give or take. That said, this can be dependant on what kind of company you work for and where they are based. If you don’t have any formal, recognised accounting qualifications, then average earnings are lower, around £40,000 per year.
Do note, however, that most accountants receive additional financial benefits on top of a salary. These can total up to £9,000 extra a year.
In terms of specialisation, there isn’t much difference in earnings whether you choose Industry or Practice accounting. This is also true for salary growth potential.
Genderwise, women earn less than men in both Industry and Practice accounting. That said, the pay gap in Practice accounting tends to be smaller, and just over the national average of 18%.
Starting salaries are high compared to most sectors, with the average salaries of part qualified accountants coming it at around £28,000.
There are lots of opportunities for career progression in accounting. In addition to working up to mid-range and senior roles as you gain your chartered qualification, there is the possibility to specialise in either Industry or Practice accounting. Both offer different challenges, which means even when you’re experienced, there’s a lot to explore career-wise. You can generally expect to reach the top end of accountancy roles after around five years, with management prospects coming into play after this time.
Qualifications, Education and Experience
Generally speaking, it’s best to get the formally recognised qualifications if you’re planning a career in accounting. That said, while a degree can be useful, it isn’t essential. If you’re coming from a background with no qualifications or secondary education, then you can study for the starter courses through an accounting organisation. Having maths or economics at A-Level will be helpful if you do have them of course. The most common accounting qualifications are:
- AAT Accounting Courses (These courses are also internationally recognised).
- ICAEW chartered accountant status.
- ACCA qualifications.
- CIMA business finance awards.
AAT courses are the minimum level qualification you’ll need. As mentioned, one of the main advantages, when training to be an accountant, is that you can do so while you work – the AAT and ICAEW require on the job training as well. Being able to learn practical skills and apply them while still studying is certainly an effective and less stressful way to learn – you won’t have to worry about money or funding either, which is certainly a plus.
The following skills will be useful whatever you choose to focus on in your accounting career:
- Dedication and self-motivation – studying while working can be hard
- Good analytical skills
- Good numeracy skills
- IT and software skills
- Written and verbal communication
- Good teamwork skills
It can also be useful to develop your leadership and management skills going forward, especially if you’re considering moving into management accounting or aiming for partner level.
Most accountants work varied hours, as demanded by the task at hand. This means that while often your standard hours will be listed as 9-5, it’s quite common to work outside of these depending on what needs doing. Flexible working tends to be an option at most firms as well, especially as you progress up the career ladder.
Any major cities and large towns are good locations for aspiring accountants, although the major financial centres in the UK like London, Leeds, Northampton, Edinburgh and Cardiff tend to have more concentrated opportunities.
The best overall location will greatly depend on what kind of role you’re looking for, but larger urban centres are essential if you’re looking for work in the big four (see below).
The most well known, and largest, accountancy firms operating in the UK are:
- Ernst & Young
- Price Waterhouse Cooper
These additional firms are also well respected, sizable, and offer some excellent career opportunities:
- Grant Thornton
If you’re actively looking for accounting roles right now, then make sure to sign up with us, and have a look at the latest accountancy roles on offer today. Don’t forget to check through our Ultimate Jobseeker Guide too.