If you have strong analytical skills, are good with numbers and enjoy building relationships with people, a profession in finance might be something to consider. This guide runs through everything you need to know about how to become an accountant.
What is accountancy?
Accountancy is the practice of recording, classifying and reporting on transactions for a business. Accountants provide feedback on this data to help businesses better understand their financial health and make more informed decisions.
An accountant’s responsibilities can vary between industries, but some of these might include:
- Tracking and examining company income and expenditure
- Preparing business accounts, forecasts and budgets
- Planning investments
- Running payroll and conducting audits
- Identifying financial risks
- Calculating tax owed and filing tax returns and month-end accounts
Why become an accountant?
Accountancy is a skill that’s in constant demand and is often considered to be recession-proof. When times are tough, departments such as sales and marketing tend to suffer, while much of the focus switches to the finance department to see where things can be improved.
In addition, becoming an accountant allows you to work in almost any industry – almost all industries need finance professionals to help them. Plus, you might be able to carry out the role as a self-employed individual or freelancer.
Accountancy also offers excellent job growth and earnings and you don’t need to be a whizz at maths to do it. Although numeracy is important, these days a lot of the number crunching is done by software and you’ll often be more focused on providing guidance to your customers.
How do you become an accountant in the UK?
Your first step to becoming an accountant is to decide on your training route. Entry-level qualifications such as the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification is a popular option as you don’t need any previous experience.
You’ll then need to start your training which will typically take between 18 months and three years depending on whether you study at college or via distance learning. You’ll also need to choose your accounting specialism – in other words, a particular industry or field of accounting to help you stand out from the competition.
If you can, it’s worth looking to gain some work experience while you’re training as this will put you ahead of the game. If you can get a training contract, this will enable you to work while studying for your accountancy qualification.
Once you have completed your training and have some work experience, you can start looking for another role or even offer your services as a self-employed accountant.
What skills and experience do I need to become an accountant?
There’s a wide range of skills that are useful to have if you want to become an accountant. These include:
- Numeracy skills: Accountants regularly analyse numbers and carry out calculations, so numeracy skills are important.
- Organisational skills: You’ll need to be able to monitor large volumes of data, maintain accurate record-keeping, prioritise tasks and meet tight deadlines.
- Communication skills: You’ll need to be able to explain complex information to clients on a regular basis.
- Attention to detail: It’s crucial that you are meticulous at work, follow the correct processes and pay attention to detail to ensure accurate results. Errors in your work can be very costly.
- Computer and technology skills: The advance of AI and cloud technology have changed the way accountancy works in recent years and mean that accountants spend less time on mundane data-entry tasks. Accountants therefore need solid computer skills.
- Trustworthy: Your clients need to be able to trust their accountant who will be privy to their private financial information. You must be able to keep this information confidential.
What qualifications are required?
If you have no previous accounting or finance experience, obtaining the AAT accounting qualification is a good option. There are no entry requirements and AAT accounting qualifications are globally recognised. They also provide excellent career progression opportunities and you can become an AAT Licensed Accountant which means you’ll be able to offer your own self-employed services.
Alternatively, you can look at the higher-level qualifications awarded by the UK chartered accountancy bodies:
- Associate Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA): This can be taken independently or as part of a training agreement. To qualify, you’ll need three GCSEs and two A levels in five separate subjects, including maths and English, as well as three years of work experience. If you don’t qualify, you can look into the ACCA Foundation level awards. ACCA qualifications are recognised around the world by finance employers.
- Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA): This is awarded from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and is recognised globally as one of the most prestigious programmes available. It’s possible to obtain the ACA qualification without a degree, but it will work to your advantage if you have an undergraduate degree in accounting or a related field.
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountant (CIMA): Similar to ACCA, you can train independently or with a training agreement. It’s a globally recognised qualification for management accountants and the course is broken down into three pillars and three levels, with 12 exams.
A final option is to learn on the job through an apprenticeship programme. The main benefit of this is that your employer might cover some of your training fees.
Is a degree essential to become an accountant?
No, a degree is not essential to become an accountant, but it can benefit you to have a bachelor degree or a masters degree. This doesn’t have to be in accounting, maths or economics, however. Languages or science could be just as useful.
How and why should I choose a specialism?
Choosing a specialism can help you to stand out from the competition and add value to your business. You might want to choose a specialism in a particular area of accounting, such as management accounting or auditing, or you might prefer to focus on industry-specific expertise. As you carry out your training, you can usually adapt the programme so that it aligns with the areas you want to focus on.
What costs are involved in becoming a self-employed accountant?
The main expense you’ll need to worry about initially is the cost of your training. Tuition costs will vary depending on the route you take and the provider, but you could be looking at anywhere from £750 to £6,000.
Once you’ve completed your training, if you want to go self-employed you’ll need to get your licensed membership with AAT so that you can brand yourself as a AAT Licensed Accountant. This costs £320 a year, plus an admission fee of £53.
Other costs you should consider are outlined below:
Cost of work premises
If you’re working for yourself, you could reduce costs by choosing to work from home or by finding a coworking space. Alternatively, if you want to run your business from an office, you’ll need to factor in the cost of rent, utility bills, business rates and maintenance.
Accounting software and systems
You’ll also need to invest in a computer or laptop, along with IT security software. You’ll need to choose the right accounting software package too, so compare your options carefully. Some basic options will be free.
Professional indemnity and business insurance
Taking out professional indemnity insurance is crucial for any accountancy business. This protects you in the event a client makes a claim against you due an error you’ve made that causes them reputational or financial loss. You might also need to look into other business insurance policies such as employers’ liability insurance (if you employ staff) or buildings and contents insurance.
What is the average salary for an accountant?
According to the AAT Salary Survey 2021, the average salary for an AAT Licensed Accountant is £52,000 a year. However, this will depend on the size of your practice, the location and the training route you take.
Becoming an accountant FAQs
This depends, but you could be looking at between £35 and £50 an hour for basic services, rising to around £150 an hour for more complex work.
It can take as little as 18 months to become an accountant but, depending on how you do your training, it could take as long as three to four years.
According to the AAT Salary Survey 2021, the average salary for an AAT Licensed Accountant is £52,000 a year. But this will depend on the type of training you have, the location you work in and the size of your firm.
Accountancy can be a competitive business and you’ll need to be prepared to work hard. You’re more likely to succeed if you have good numeracy and strong organisational skills and are good at building relationships with clients. The amount of work you have will vary depending on the time of year. You’re likely to be particularly busy in late January, February and March as the financial year draws to a close. However, this means that during the summer months, you’re likely to be quieter.