Demystifying One of the Most Important Business Functions
Any commercial enterprise is designed to make money. How much is it making and is it meeting its financial obligations? You’d better ask an accountant.
The field of accountancy is a wide one that incorporates numerous responsibilities, skill sets and opportunities for specialisation. These could be from the seemingly mundane duties of filing tax returns to areas of fraud investigation and forensic accounting to playing an active role in a company’s overriding strategy and growth.
From in-house accounting teams at multinational corporations to SME business accountants that work alongside a range of companies in different industries, there are numerous paths that a career in accountancy can follow.
One thing that everyone knows about accountants is that they have to be “good with numbers.” Strong numeracy skills are, of course, important, but an academic qualification such as an A-level in mathematics or economics is only the beginning.
Most accountants follow this up with a degree, but it is not a prerequisite. Some go straight from A-levels to studying for an Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification, which is seen as a minimum starting point to start a career as an accountant.
From there, however, there is still more studying to be done. The majority of trainee accountants choose one of three paths, either looking to become a chartered accountant (ACA qualification), a certified accountant (ACCA) or a management accountant (CIMA). Each of these certifications consists of multiple components and will take three to five years to complete. That sounds like a long time, but keep in mind that trainees typically combine their studies with day to day work, so at the same time they are gaining on-the-job experience and earning a competitive salary.
The day to day work
There is more to accountancy than preparing balance sheets and filing tax returns, although in those early trainee years, plenty of time will be devoted to core areas like these. After qualification, however, accountants have the opportunity to get their teeth into more specialist areas, and no two days are the same. A few examples are as follows:
Financial auditors, either internal or external, perform detailed checks of a business’s transactions and processes. This is not just to pick up any errors, but also to help identify best practices and to advise the company on any business risks that become evident. An auditor can therefore play a key role in helping shape corporate strategy.
Where there is suspicion of fraud, insider dealing, money laundering or other improper activities, it is the forensic accountant’s job to get to the bottom of what has happened. Accountants working in this field often operate in close cooperation with legal firms.
The funding that underlies a business is fundamental to its sustainability, security and growth. Specialists in corporate finance are responsible for overseeing business funding and for managing processes such as mergers and acquisitions.
A world of opportunity
These are just three illustrative examples of the types of career path that accountants follow. A key thing to remember is that as in most careers, accountants never stop learning, and there is always the opportunity to develop new skills and specialisms.