Every business, whether they are a huge multinational or a small enterprise, needs an accountant. Generally accountants offer financial advice to clients by managing cash flow and monitoring profit and loss, but this is increasingly joined by the supply of financial information that could influence the strategic development of organisations. The Accountancy sector is modern and fast-moving. It uses the latest technology and attracts some of the most motivated and intelligent graduates from a wide variety of degree backgrounds.
Globally, the accountancy sector is dominated by the "Big Four" accountancy firms - PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte & Touche - and their thirst for new talent is a year-round strategy. The "Big Four" have extensive networks in the UK and they dominate the graduate recruitment market. Nearly 10 percent of all graduates choose a career in accountancy, and a vast majority of them go into audit departments within the Big Four.
Whichever element of accountancy a graduate chooses to focus on, whether it be financial accounting, corporate finance, tax audit or assurance, the sector can provide a rewarding and far reaching career. Prospects within the sector are good with advancement being a very seasoned and structured process. In order to become an accountant in the UK, you have to pass (or be exempt from) a series of professional exams and undergo a period of relevant practical training. For this reason, graduates who begin their careers as accountants will usually start studying immediately.
There are several qualifications depending on the route a graduate chooses to take. ACA or ACCA are usually attributed to accountants, while graduates who choose to go into management accountancy will take CIMA exams. In the larger firms, there are a number of areas including forensic accounting, audit, tax and corporate finance that graduates can choose to specialise in after passing their exams. In smaller organisations, accountants are expected to cover a number of technical areas and cope with all aspects of a client's business affairs.
Training to be ACA qualified takes up to three years, and although workloads can be heavy during this time, successful employees will benefit from significant responsibility and high profile activity. For instance, many accountants will play a pivotal role in an organisation's business decision-making process, ensuring they are at the centre of all aspects of the company. Additionally, within larger organisations, there are opportunities for global travel and secondments overseas.
Graduates often have a pre-conceived misconception of what a long term career in accountancy can offer. Many believe it is a working life of number crunching, however recent developments among the major organisations have changed the true role of the accountant. In the 1990s the Big Four re-evaluated their offerings, and today they style themselves as providers of professional services, offering advice and solutions to all their clients' business needs - much along the lines of the traditional management consultancies. As a result, accountants within these organisations are expected to have an excellent understanding of their client's business, and the knowledge to help them improve their effectiveness to achieve their strategic objectives.
This shift in business parameters has extended the role of accountancy employees and has therefore broadened the career path for graduates who choose this field. It has also ensured that qualified accountants have become highly sought after in other business sectors, encouraging more graduates to enter the market.
Opportunities exist nationwide in commerce and industry as most organisations employ accountants to carry out day-to-day financial management. In addition, there are a limited number of Accountancy Graduate Jobs within the public sector in both Westminster and across the country.
New regulatory laws, such as Sarbannes Oxley which are designed to improve transparency in the business world, have created huge workloads for accountancy professionals. These laws affect all businesses in the UK, and the process of implementing and auditing their effectiveness is a complex one. This, alongside the fluctuating economic environment, will have a direct impact on the accountancy sector, providing increased opportunities for those graduates wishing to embark on a career in accountancy.
Qualifications and skills needed
The large accountancy firms are competing more and more with banks and other financial establishments for graduates. With each of the Big Four taking on between 350 and 450 graduates a year, they are prepared to look at individuals from a variety of degree backgrounds. Strong, numerate graduates who are ambitious, analytical, logical, patient, and persistent are still very sought after. A graduates portfolio would be improved with relevant work experience as 33.5% of employers request this. Successful graduate candidates must also be prepared to spend long hours studying and working. This generally means a 2:1 in a good academic subject from a leading university and at least 300 UCAS points (excluding general studies). You will also need good English and Maths GCSE grades, and skills in another European language are always attractive. Other desirable attributes include:
- Strong Exel and financial modelling skills - Good communication skills - Good written skills - Excellent presentational skills