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How to Become an Accountant

Accounting is an essential part of business life, making accountants invaluable employees and associates for every business, knowing how to navigate the fast-paced world of tax and finance while ensuring that their clients know how to operate their business profitably, with honesty and integrity.

While accounting is a sought after and rewarding profession, there's more than one route to becoming an accountant. 

So, how do you become an accountant and what skills do you need to get there?

Our guide looks at the route to accountancy through accredited AAT courses and other prestigious accountancy bodies.

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What does an accountant do? 

The main role of an accountant is to prepare accounts for businesses or individuals, which may then be used to give an overview of their financial position. When a company’s transactions are tracked and recorded in a coherent way, any irregularities, liabilities or risks can be spotted and dealt with appropriately. Whilst accounting and finance roles tend to vary depending on the sector, general accountant duties include:

  1. Examining and keeping track of business expenditure
  2. Advising on budget
  3. Giving advice on how to increase profit
  4. Identifying and investigating any irregularities, risks or suspected fraud
  5. Calculating tax owed and filing tax forms
  6. Conducting audits
  7. Running payroll

Whilst you may not be required to have any previous experience to become an accountant, you'll be expected to have knowledge of the above accounting practices, and certain skills will be a prerequisite for an accounting role, including: 

  1. Advanced numeracy and analytical skills 
  2. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  3. Time management and organisational skills 

How can I become an accountant? 

Completing an AAT Certificate or Diploma in accounting is an excellent way to start your accounting career.

AAT (the Association of Accounting Technicians) is the most prominent body for awarding skills-based finance and accounting qualifications. AAT qualifications are recognised and respected both in the UK and internationally, and having these qualifications makes you a great asset to any employer.

Which AAT course is right for me? 

There are two options routes to choose from if you want to kick-start your accounting career with an AAT qualification. You can either by studying the AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting course or taking the combined AAT Level 2 & Level 3 Accounting course.

Here's a break down of what you'll learn in each: 

AAT Level 2 Certificate

The AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting is essential if you wish to pursue a successful career in finance. This course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the foundations of practical accounting and also provide you with the fundamental skills required to take on a Trainee Financial Accounts Assistant position.

AAT Level 2 Certificate & Level 3 Diploma

This course combines both Level 2 and Level 3 taking you to the penultimate level of the AAT qualification. You'll gain an understanding of both the fundamental and more complex principles of accounting, and by the end of the course, you'll be one step closer to being a fully qualified Accounting Technician.

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Chartered Accountancy Bodies 

Now, it's important to note that an AAT qualification is not the only route to take if you want to become an accountant. 

Below are some of the most well-known and globally recognised accountancy bodies that you can enrol with if you have the necessary prerequisites. 

ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

ACCA is one of the largest and fastest-growing accounting qualification providers in the world, and the ACCA qualification is designed to give you the most up-to-date skills you need to develop your career as a professional accountant. 

ACCA will place you where you need to be regardless of existing qualifications or work experience, so gaining an accredited qualification with their organisation is a great place to start. 

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

CIMA offers those just starting out in their accounting career the opportunity to become qualified in a wide range of roles from finance and consultantcy to senior management positions.

The CIMA qualification is designed to bring together management accounting, financial accounting, and business, so you’ll have the practical skills you need to get your foot in the door with potential employers. 

CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy)

This UK chartered accountancy body is exclusively dedicated to pubic financial management with professional qualifications that are tailored to your accountancy career goals including a Professional Accountancy Qualification and CIPFA AAT Apprenticeships

A CIPFA qualification gives you the hands-on, tactical skills required to become a skilled public finance professional and gain the globally recognised designation of CPFA (Chartered Public Finance Accountant).

ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)

The ICAEW has the most advanced learning and professional development programmes available, and their ICAEW Chartered Accountant qualification, the ACA, is respected and recognised around the world across the business, practice, and public sectors.

To qualify with this professional membership organisation, you’ll need to complete the ACA qualification which will provide you with a combination of finance knowledge, accountancy skills, and practical experience for your careeer. 

ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland) 

Becoming an accountant with ICAS typically takes an average of three years to complete, however, there are a few different routes you can take with this organisation.

In the UK, only those who are ICAS-qualified can use the professional designation of 'Chartered Accountant' – an identifier that holds an immense amount of respect in the world of finance and accountancy. 

By earning a qualification with ICAS, you’ll gain the technical industry skills you need, alongside the wider scope of business skills you'll need in management, analysis, communication, and more.  

To become a Chartered Accountant, you'll need to study one of the Chartered bodies routes we've listed above. 

If you decide to complete your professional qualifications with AAT, however, you'll have the opportunity to fast-track your Chartered qualification with these bodies, making AAT the perfect entry route if you have little to no experience. 

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The University Route

If you're still not convinced of studying your accountancy qualifications with AAT or one of the other Chartered accountancy bodies, you also have the option to become an accountant by studying a university degree. 

While many accountants hold a degree at this level, it's often considered desirable rather than essential and typically isn't a prerequisite to becoming an accountant.

You might decide to go the university route, however, if you want to develop a more in-depth and academic understanding of the roles that accountancy and finance play in business. 

To meet entry requirements for an accountancy degree, A Level maths (unsurprisingly) is the most advantageous subject to have upon application. However, most universities are flexible and will accept A Level experience in other subjects including business, economics, or finance. 

After university, accountancy graduates usually aim for a spot in a graduate accountancy scheme to become professionally qualified accountants. This generally takes about three years, with the support of your employer.

Some accountancy graduates, on the other hand, still often work towards gaining their professional accountancy qualifications with a professional body (like AAT), which can also take about three years post-graduation.

To this end, while A Level qualifications followed by an accounting degree may be useful, if you choose not to go down this route you'll still inevitably have the opportunity to gain the qualifications you need to become an accountant – as professional bodies provide courses for individuals at all levels.

Before registering or enroling with any of the organisations we mentioned outside of our online AAT qualifications, we recommend that you find out more about the entry route for those that you're interested in - including information on possible exemptions and where you’ll begin your learning.

Looking for more information on how to become an accounting technician? Contact one of our course advisors today to learn more about our online AAT qualifications.