How to become an accountant

What does an accountant do?

Accountants are an important part to any business. They provide advice, analyse financial records and audit accounts. Their place of work can vary from small independent businesses, to multinational organisations and even the government. Ultimately, they work to ensure their employers are maximising their profitability and grow from strength to strength.

Duties can vary depending on their level of responsibility and the size of the organisation. In a small business they may be the only person trained to deal with financial records, invoices and wages, whilst in a larger company they may work as part of an accounts team and specialise in certain tasks.

There are different areas of accounting to specialise and practice in. Some of these include:

  • Financial reporting
  • Auditing
  • Taxation
  • Forensic accounting
  • Business recovery and insolvency

This naturally means there are different types of accountants. These include, public accountants, management accountants, government accountants and auditors and internal auditors.

Accountants manage a number of responsibilities like preparing accounts and tax returns, managing payrolls and controlling a company’s income and expenditure, compiling and presenting reports, budgets and business plans. Responsibilities can vary depending on whether you’re working in a public practice or a not-for-profit and commerce sector. Public practice will see you:

  • Liaising with clients and providing them with financial information, advising them on tax planning and tax related issues to do with acquisitions and mergers
  • Informing clients about business transactions – this usually happens within corporate finance 
  • Analysing risk and reviewing systems used by a company by running tests
  • Providing tax planning services
  • Keeping an eye out for and managing the risk of fraudulent activity
  • Managing insolvency cases
  • Managing colleagues if working with a large team as well as managing workload and deadlines.

Other responsibilities that can be carried out by an accountant includes:

  • Working with internal and external auditors
  • Handling any irregularities as and when they occur
  • Preparing financial statements
  • Arranging reports that can include financial planning and forecasting
  • Advising on tax and treasury issues


What's the working environment like?

Accountants usually work standard office hours, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Busy periods may require you to work additional hours for example at the end of the financial year. There is the opportunity to be flexible with your hours and if you are self-employed then you will have the chance to work for a range of businesses which will broaden your experience.

Dress code is usually formal because of the nature of the job and if you decide to specialise in auditing work then traveling will be required as you will usually carry out work at the client’s premises. 

What does it take to become an accountant?

Becoming an accountant requires an invdividual to:

  • be comfortable working with numbers
  • have good verbal and written communication skills, including report writing and presentation skills
  • have an interest in business and finance
  • be able to plan and organise your own workload
  • be able to solve problems, analyse data and draw conclusions
  • have good concentration and attention to detail
  • have the ability to work to strict deadlines
  • be honest, discreet and trustworthy.

What are the career opportunities like?

Entry into the sector is flexible as there are routes for both university graduates and school leavers. For those that have gone to university, a degree in areas like accounting, business and economics are advantageous given the link with this line of work and the accelerated route to the relevant qualification with a professional accounting body. However other degree areas are also permissible if you want to enter the industry. Individuals usually aim to gain chartered status which shows employers and clients that you are equipped with the training and skills needed to do your job well.

Training to become a chartered accountant can be demanding. Becoming qualified takes at least three years as exams will coincide along with full time employment. 

Self employment is also an option in this line of work with some accountants working on a part-time basis for a number of small businesses.

Once certified, your qualifications will be recognised across the world, which make working abroad another option if you're looking for progression and a breadth of experience. 

There is room for progression in this line of work. You could become a senior manager or a finance director of a company. If you choose to become self-employed there is the option to become a management consultant too.

Further information

If you would like to learn more about becoming an accounting technician, here are some helpful links below. 

Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)
154 Clerkenwell Rd
Tel: 020 7415 7500

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
2 Central Quay
89 Hydepark Street
G3 8DT
Tel: 0141 582 2000

Financial Services Skills Council
51 Gresham Street
Tel: 020 7216 7366


Facts and Stats:

  • Peter the Great taxed people for growing beards
  • The word ''dollar'' has its origins in the Roman Empire
  • Credit was first used in Assyria, Babylon and Egypt over 3,000 years ago, but the first credit card did not appear until 1951, when Diners Club launched the first ''plastic money''

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