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Calculating your move into accounting

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From the music industry to the healthcare sector, accountants are an integral part of all businesses. Here’s what you need to know about how to become an accountant.

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If you go into management accounting, you may be able to move up the ladder internally to become finance director or even managing director, in which case the sky is the limit in terms of salary.

What is an accountant?

An accountant collects, analyses and reports financial data relating to a business, whether that’s a company, organisation or self-employed individual.

For many accountants, the main aim is to ensure that the business whose tax affairs they are managing complies with all the relevant government rules and regulations. 

However, some accountants specialise in different areas, such as company audits or business valuations, while others help businesses manage their costs and make strategic decisions. 

How can I become an accountant?

There are various routes you can take to become an accountant. 

If, for example, you have the necessary A levels (or equivalent qualifications) to apply for university, you can start your journey by taking either a BA or a BSc finance degree.

You don’t necessarily have to have this type of degree to become an accountant, though.

You could also do a degree in any subject before applying to a graduate scheme that includes training towards a professional accountancy qualification.

As many companies and individuals outsource the management of their accounts to trained professionals, there are plenty of opportunities to provide accounting services on a freelance basis. So, whether your ambitions lie in the corporate world or you’re looking for a good way to earn money on your own terms, the solution could be to work in accounting.

UK bodies offering accounting qualifications

If you’d rather get started on your career as an accountant without going to university, you can train with one of the following professional bodies. Between them, they offer you the chance to train full-time or alongside an entry-level job in finance. 

Association of Accounting Technicians 

AAT offers basic-to-higher level training, which can often be done online. It also has an apprenticeship programme that enables you to earn while gaining valuable on-the-job experience. This programme helps your way up to the AAT Level 4 Diploma in Professional Accounting. The apprenticeship is accessible to people of any age from 16 upwards and from almost any background, making it a good option for those looking to change careers or study accountancy without taking A levels.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

ACCA offers training for those keen to become chartered accountants. The programme can be followed online while in employment if you wish. You will need three GCSEs and two A Levels in five separate subjects, including maths and English at either A Level or GCSE level (or their equivalent, which could include an AAT Diploma) to start the ACCA Qualification.

Association of International Accountants 

AIA offers a range of courses for everyone from school leavers and graduates to practising accountants looking to learn more about a certain area. The entry requirements are similar to ACCA. 

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

CIMA specialises in management accountancy training ranging from a foundation-level certificate to professional qualifications and apprenticeships. As with the other courses, its students can choose online or classroom-based programmes. 

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales 

ICAEW, which is committed to promoting and maintaining high standards within accounting, also offers various diplomas and professional qualifications, including the Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) course that qualifies you to start your own accountancy practice.

How much do you get paid as an accountant?

The amount you can earn as an accountant depends on the type of role you do, as well as the level to which you are qualified.

According to the National Careers Service, a private practice accountant can expect to earn around £22,000 when starting out as an accountant, with that figure rising to £65,000 for highly qualified senior professionals.

However, the recruitment website Prospects puts the average salary for a chartered accountant working in a business environment at closer to £150,000 (including bonuses). It also claims that graduates can expect a starting salary of about £40,000.

Meanwhile, if you go into management accounting, you may be able to move up the ladder internally to become finance director or even managing director, in which case the sky is the limit in terms of salary.

The same is true if you choose to set up your own accountancy business, while freelance accountant rates can hit £150 an hour or more, depending on your expertise and level of experience.

Do you need to be good at maths to be an accountant?

There’s no doubt that being good with numbers and having a solid understanding of maths-related subjects such as macroeconomics will help you in your job as an accountant. 

What skills do you need to be an accountant?

It’s not all about maths. The following soft skills will also help you to meet your career goals as an accountant:

  • An understanding of accounting software such as Xero and Sage

  • The ability to use analytical thinking to gain insights from financial data

  • Administrative skills – because you will be dealing with important documents

  • A good team spirit – to help you work well with both colleagues and clients

Can you be an accountant as a side hustle?

Yes, being an accountant can work as a side hustle because you can work as an accountant part-time from home, as long as you have the required qualifications, a suitable IT set-up, and the right business insurance in place. 

Popular freelance accountant qualifications include the AAT Professional Diploma (Level 4), which offers one of the most accessible routes to starting out as an accountant – whatever your stage of life. 

What equipment do you need to be an accountant?

There’s not too much investment required to set up on your own when you’re starting out as an accountant, but you will need some basics, such as:

  • A reliable computer

  • Software – such as QuickBooks Online or Xero – to manage your clients’ accounts

  • A business bank account to receive payments and cover expenses

  • A printer/scanner

  • A shredder to destroy sensitive documents

Business insurance is a way to protect your company against financial risk if things go wrong.

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