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Careers Centre

Accountancy

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Shona Mach, the Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

What is accountancy?

Accountancy and finance is a fundamental part of how business is done around the world. Accountants have been providing financial information and advice to organisations of all types and sizes for hundreds of years. Chartered accountants understand how organisations work. They provide essential information and professional advice including: company performance, tax, investment opportunities, risk management, technology and strategic business advice. It’s not just about putting numbers into a spreadsheet. It’s about understanding and communicating detailed financial information in an easy to understand way. Chartered accountants are talented and determined people who use their skills in the same way as lawyers, engineers or architects to find the best solution for their clients. (ICAEW)

Where are the jobs?

When considering a career in Accountancy, most graduates will start by deciding whether they wish to work in 'public practice', concentrating on providing professional services to a range of clients, or whether they wish to focus on the financial management of one, often large and multi-faceted, organisation. This decision has implications for the lifestyle, professional qualifications, future prospects and forms of job satisfaction you will encounter.

The larger employers look for graduates of any discipline with a demonstrable interest in business (an adequate level of numeracy is normally assessed during on-line testing). Some small employers tend to prefer graduates with accountancy degrees. In terms of geographic dispersal, many of the medium-sized companies are located in and around London, whilst the Big Four have locations across the UK.

Roles

Chartered Accountancy/Professional Services

In chartered accountancy (or 'professional services') the 'big four' tend to dominate the market (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) but there is a whole host of small and medium sized firms providing great opportunities for graduates. Geographically, there is a large selection of offices, both large and small in cities and towns across the UK.

Most chartered accountants follow an 'assurance/audit' route. The role of an auditor is to ensure that the way a client portrays its financial position is a 'true and fair' view of its real financial situation. This might involve analysing both risk and systems within an organisation, testing financial information and consequently providing the client with advice on how improvements to these systems could improve their functionality and reliability.

Other routes include tax, actuarial profession, advisory/consultancy, corporate finance, technology and risk management. Working for smaller/medium-sized firms may give you a more general experience across these areas, while larger firms may expect you to specialise straight away. These days chartered accountants, whether training or qualified, rarely get involved with traditional style 'bookkeeping', and IT removes much of the number crunching associated with it. As well as your initial role think about the sectors in which you would be most interested in working with clients, and target firms or offices in the locations with a concentration of organisations in that sector. Most chartered accountants working in professional services firms in the UK have a professional qualification from ICAS, ICAEW, or ACCA Global.

Management Accountancy

For management accountancy there is a similar dominance of big multi-national organisations providing the most coveted training positions. Think of the biggest names in water, gas, electricity, pharmaceuticals, retailing, consumer goods manufacturing, transport, the public sector and more and you have your potential employers.

Management accountants argue that they tend to focus more on the future of an organisation than the more reflective nature of auditing. This might involve work such as: forecasting; preparing financial statements so the business can make financially informed decisions; auditing internal systems to improve the many internal processes that impact on major corporate costs; advising on improving business performance; inputting into strategic planning; providing financial advice to various management functions, and engaging with multidisciplinary projects that require financial planning and perspective. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) website has a good selection of case studies showing the range and diversity of opportunities in management accountancy.

Public Sector

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) has traditionally been associated with working in the public sector eg central government, local government, universities or the NHS but employers are increasingly offering the choice of training with one of the other professional accountancy bodies. If you have a particular interest in the public sector you could also consider working in public sector audit within one of the large professional services firms. Accountants in the public sector are employed to make sure public money is being spent properly.

Professional Qualifications

Qualifying as an accountant involves a combination of study and on-the-job work experience culminating in a relevant professional qualification. The qualification is usually determined by the employer and the nature of the role but sometimes a choice is offered. The most common ones in the UK are: CA (ICAS), ACA (ICAEW), CIMA, CIPFA and ACCA

Plotting Your Career Path

Qualified chartered accountants have many career options to consider.  Do you continue to work in 'practice' and plot a career path to director or partner in the same firm (or a larger/smaller alternative) or consider a move to commerce or industry? What size of company should you join? Should you apply to be a finance director, a finance manager, a chief accountant, a financial controller, a financial analyst? What about corporate treasury work? Do you continue to work in the UK or do you transfer or take a secondment abroad? Do you continue to practise accountancy or could you move to another specialist area such as taxation, insolvency, corporate finance or management consultancy? Would you consider moving into technical training? Whichever route you choose, a chartered accountancy qualification generally leaves you in a very marketable position.

For management accountants the opportunities post-qualification differ, although the traditional route is to reach financial manager and financial director positions in large businesses. This may involve changing location and/or employer to move quickly. Look at the biggest businesses in the UK and you'll find that many are headed up by former financial directors, so management accountancy is a great stepping stone to strategic, general management within multinational businesses. Alternatively, if you eventually wish to put your experience to use in advising others, you could consider transferring into financial management consultancy. What is unlikely is that you would make a move into private practice auditing and assurance roles. 60% of the FTSE top 100 companies have a chartered accountant as their CEO or CFO, so the sky really is the limit in commerce or industry for your accountancy ambitions. - See more at Inside Careers.

 

Accountancy attributes profile

Key attributes needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
Interest and ability to work with numbers

Depending on your modules, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies.

Numeracy is usually assessed through psychometric testing.  The Careers Centre has online practice resources.

Using the the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel

Demonstrable interest in business, and commercial awareness

Keep up-to-date with business and sector news, and develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as the Playfair Consultancy Group and the Management Society
Strong communication & interpersonal skills

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice

Ability to organise time and work methodically whilst paying attention to detail
Leadership qualities and effective team working skills
Ability to communicate complex information clearly This is most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.

Networks - why and how to use them

Why are networks important?

Where alumni work now

Your networks

 There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

While not essential, relevant relevant work experience can put you at an advantage and allow you to describe to potential employers your reasons for wanting to train as an accountant. It can also give you an understanding of the industry and help you decide on a specialism in the sector.  Increasingly, students who have had internships are offered places on graduate programmes early in their final year. 

 

How to find a (graduate) job

 

 

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

 

Relevant Postgraduate Study

Is it a requirement?

A postgraduate qualification is not normally required or expected by companies employing trainee accountants from any degree discipline in the UK, though a Masters degree can act as evidence that you have a genuine and extensive interest in the subject matter. Work experience is usually preferred to a postgraduate qualification.

 

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources

Books/Magazines (available to borrow from the Careers Centre)

Take Away

Online

Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:

GoinGlobal

Related 'Careers A-Z' pages

Professional Bodies

General accountancy-related careers information

Commercial Awareness/News

 

USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.