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What is an accountant?

We all probably think we’ve got a good idea about what an accountant does. It’s all about working with numbers, right? Actually, working with data is a really important part of the job. But problem solving is key and there’s a lot more about the career than most people would consider.

We spoke to our BSc (Hons) Accountancy programme leader, Dr Stuart Marsh to ask him some of the key questions about accountancy and careers in that sector. Here’s what he had to say about the role of a professional accountant and the key skills you’ll need if you want to become an accountant.

What is an accountant?

Depending on an organisation’s needs, different accountants provide services to meet the specific accounting and financial reporting requirements of a business. An accountant’s role generally requires them to perform tasks such as account analysis, auditing, or financial statement analysis. Accountants can be found in a range of different sectors including public practice, commercial organisations, public sector and not for profit organisations such as charities.

What are the daily responsibilities of an accountant?

There are four areas in which an accountancy professional can serve. These are taxation, financial accounting and reporting, applied finance, and management accounting. Chartered accountants may well oversee an organisation’s entire accountancy needs. Or they may only be required to lead on just one area. In any of these fields in accountancy, daily duties are likely to differ from one day to the next.

Typical duties include:

  • preparing accounts and tax returns
  • auditing financial information
  • compiling and presenting plans, statements, budgets and reports
  • analysis of current efficiency, plans, forecasts and risk
  • negotiations and discussions with clients
  • managing colleagues (depending on level of the role).
  • documenting financial transactions
  • reviewing financial documents to resolve any discrepancies and irregularities
  • recommending financial actions
  • providing guidance for financial efficiency and balancing
Two people make notes together from their laptops during an accountancy meeting.

What is a chartered accountant?

A chartered accountant is an accountant with the professional accreditation of ‘chartered status’. To gain this status generally means a person has studied accountancy at a high level as well as gaining sufficient professional experience in the industry. Chartered accountants are desirable in businesses all over the world and qualified to be responsible for certain roles within accountancy. Such tasks include auditing financial statements, filing of corporate tax returns, and financial advising.

What are the key skills of accountants?

Problem-solving

A career in accountancy requires several unique skills. Problem-solving skills are required in order to be able to fix financial reporting errors. Skills in mathematics are also important to be able to constantly work with and analyse numbers and confidently conduct calculations.

Communication skills

With the need to work and build relationships with other teams, accountancy roles are desirable in businesses all over the world, so strong communication skills are important.

Organisation and time management

Accountants also need to be extremely well organised and have strong time management skills. This is because accountancy roles require working with numerous financial records to strict deadlines and so it is vital that these are kept in clear and coherent order and to the deadline.

Digital skills

Digital skills are also critical in the modern accountancy workforce. There is a lot of information systems and software that need to be used.

Decision-making and attention to detail

Other key accountancy skills are decision-making and attention to detail. Chartered accountants in particular are often required to make quick and efficient money-related decisions to help businesses keep on track financially. They also have a responsibility to make sure that the financial records of the business they work for are not only balanced but also follow any regulation and laws.

What are some of the roles within accountancy?

There are so many varied roles available to you if you decide on a career in accountancy. It’s a great idea to do some research and find out about the different career paths available to you. We’ve provided you with some of the most popular career choices to kickstart your research.

Auditor

Job description: Auditing takes place internally or externally. Companies often require internal accountants to prepare financial statements, advise on tax and treasury issues, approval procedures, employee financial responsibilities and management policies. External auditors conduct a review and the test a company’s financial records. They provide insight as to whether the company’s operations and financial statements adhere to the relevant accountancy standards. An internal auditor will examine financial records to identify opportunities or risks that could impact a company’s efficiency and profits.

Financial accountant

Job description: Financial accounting involves producing reports and recommendations to an organisation after an internal or external audit (if the company has such a department). Financial accountants also examine financial information to prepare month-end and year-end reports for senior management. Through analysis, they can influence business profitability by providing recommendations and forecasting. They are also responsible for ensuring that the business follows relevant legislation and auditing requirements.

Management accountant

Job description: Management accounting tasks include monitoring and assisting the financial planning of an organisation. It’s a management accountant’s duty to oversee the team of accountants and junior management account staff members. Companies may also task management accountants with producing reports to give senior leadership information to enable sound financial decisions relating to the future of the company’s operations. They produce management accounting reports for internal stakeholders’ review and analysis and play a large role in creating strategies to increase shareholder value.

Cost accountant

Job description: Cost accounting is a subset of managerial accounting. Cost accountants’ duties involve reviewing and analysing a company’s manufacturing costs. Primarily, they are responsible for determining the actual costs and expenses of manufacturing a product to provide transparency on the profitability of a product. This feeds into future decisions and aims to reduce a company’s financial waste to increase profits.

Tax accountant

Job description: Tax accounting involves analysing, interpreting and researching tax legislation to ensure that organisations comply with the correct tax regulations when filing annual accounts. This role requires attention to detail to ensure that tax returns are accurately completed before deadlines. They also help organisations to plan for future financial decisions. They do this by creating tax strategies to minimise tax liability, including providing guidance on indirect taxation such as customs planning and VAT.

Forensic accountant

Job description: Forensic accountants conduct investigations into an organisation’s financial information where there may be inconsistencies or missing information. If accounts or financial information are inaccurate or unavailable for review, it can create disputes or expose fraudulent practices that lead to legal cases. Forensic accountants gather and analyse available documentation and data that may help to build a more accurate overview of the company’s financial health.

Assistant accountant

Job description: An Assistant Accountant performs daily accounting tasks to support a finance team. This is generally an entry level role and helps with preparing budgets and records and sending invoices for produces and services that have been approved by a manager. They can update and reconcile financial ledgers and assist Accountants with preparing budgets and records. They need great attention to detail, time management skills and be able to fact check for accuracy.

How much does an accountant earn in the UK?

How much an accountant can expect to earn will depend very much on experience, sector, location and size of the business or organisation. Accountancy graduates can expect to earn salaries of up to £40,000.

However, this is very likely to increase as a result of further training, skills development and experience working in the industry. During training, income could well be up to £65,000.

Chartered accountants can expect to earn an average of around £84,500 and that is before yearly bonuses are added which can expected to be around £17,000 per year on average.

The salary expectations and averages for accountants here is informed by Prospects.ac.uk.

How to become an accountant

If you’re interested in becoming an accountant, you can do this by studying a degree in accountancy and then going on to achieve further professional accreditations should you wish. Becoming a professional accountant can also be achieved through a degree apprenticeship.

Accountancy degrees

So, what accountancy degree options are there at Edge Hill University? Firstly, we offer an accredited BSc (Hons) Accountancy degree which covers the principles of current accountancy practice and deepens your commercial awareness. You’ll gain practical, real-world experience that develops your knowledge of businesses operations and boosts your employability. Not only this, but this degree will also give you exemptions towards professional qualification exams helping you to gain accountant status as quickly as possible.

We also offer an accredited BSc (Hons) Business & Management with Accounting & Finance course on which you will explore key aspects of accounting and finance whilst also engaging with the fundamentals of modern business and management.

October 13, 2022

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