I want a career in accountancy, but where do I start?

There are several different routes to become an accountant. The qualification you choose will depend on: your employment status, previous qualifications and what you ultimately want from your career in accountancy. There is no "right" or "wrong" qualification to choose, but making a choice that suits you, can be the key to long-term success.

All trainees

Typically accountancy firms will have established training programs with recruitment intake at specific points in the year coinciding with the relevant qualification timetable.

Training with commercial businesses can include time off for study but more usually covers funding of online courses and exams, with time off allowed per exam.

If your employer has funded your training and you move between companies during or shortly after completing your training, you may be liable to reimburse them for all or part of your training costs. Check your contract!

AAT: Association of Accounting Technicians

Employment:Within accountancy firms, public sector, and private businesses

Training: Online courses and college courses available

Entry level: No minimum qualification or experience required

Time: 3 years on average, possible reduction with exemptions

Website: AAT - The Association for Accounting Technicians

The four key professional qualifications

There are four key professional qualifications that provide routes into the accounting world: the ACA, ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA

All the qualifications are globally recognised and can take three to five years to complete. There are, however, some important differences between them.

ACA: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Training: All training must be completed within an accredited accountancy firm, and will include audit and taxation experience. Most ACA trainees enter into a training agreement with an employer who provides paid tuition, study leave and mentoring.

Employment:  Careers predominately involve (but not limited to): producing annual statutory accounts for businesses of all sizes, audit, taxation, corporate services i.e. providing consultancy and advise.

Website: ICAEW / ACA - The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales

ACCA: Chartered Certified Accountant

Training: The ACCA can be studied whilst working within an accountancy firm, public sector body or commercial company. ACCA qualification isn't tied into a training agreement, so you can move between employers while training.

Employment: Careers predominately involve (but not limited to) production of Financial Statutory accounts, Taxation, Audit.

Website: ACCA - Association for Chartered Certified Accountants

CIMA: The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

Training: The CIMA qualification isn't tied into a training agreement, so you can move between employers while training.

Employment: Management accountants, are predominately employed within a commercial environment. Careers predominately involve (but not limited to) production of management information for business decision making, business modelling and cost accounting.

Website: CIMA - Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

CIPFA: The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy

Training: The CIPFA qualification focuses on the effective management of public money. Training can be funded either by a public body employer or privately.

Employment: CIPFA members employed in central government departments, national audit agencies, local government, the health service and occasionally in some of the largest accountancy firms.

Website: CIPFA - Chartered Institute for Public Finance & Accountancy

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