Salary and conditions
- Starting salaries vary considerably, depending on the location and size of the firm and the sector. Salaries for trainees range from £12,000 to £18,000 for school leavers and £18,000 to £28,000 for university graduates, although they could be higher in London or lower in small regional firms.
- The typical salary for a newly qualified accountant is £26,000 to £50,000+ while the average for a chartered accountant in a senior role is up to £100,000.
- Salaries tend to be higher in London and the South East.
- Salary packages may also include benefits such as bonuses, profit-sharing schemes, medical insurance, pensions and car allowances.
- Chartered accountants have to undertake a training contract (usually three to five years) in order to qualify so it is important to consider the package of training, leave and pay offered by employers, as studying whilst working can be demanding. One of the main challenges for trainees is managing professional study commitments with the day-to-day job.
- Working hours vary depending on the role and the organisation, but are not typically 9am to 5pm. Working extra hours in the evening and at weekends is not uncommon in order to meet deadlines, particularly in larger firms. Trainees can usually have time off in lieu of any overtime worked.
- Flexible working arrangements are possible (usually after qualification). There is also the opportunity to work independently by setting up as a sole practitioner.
- Due to the high profile, accurate and responsible nature of the work, the dress code is usually formal.
- Travel within a working day is frequent in audit, which is carried out mainly at client premises. Absence from home overnight and occasional overseas travel are possible.
- Working in other areas, such as tax, or in small firms, tends to be more office-based with less travel.
Chartered accountants provide trustworthy information about financial records. This might involve them in financial reporting, taxation, auditing, forensic accounting, corporate finance, business recovery and insolvency, or accounting systems and processes. Generally, they play a strategic role by providing professional advice, aiming to maximise profitability on behalf of their client or employer. They work in many different settings including public practice firms, industry and commerce, as well as in the not-for-profit and public sectors.
In public practice firms, chartered accountants provide professional services to fee-paying clients who might be private individuals or large commercial or public sector organisations. In commerce, industry and the not-for-profit and public sectors, they may work in treasury management, procurement, financial management or in reporting roles.
Typical work activities
The role of a chartered accountant can cover many aspects of finance work, including:
- continuous management of financial systems and budgets;
- undertaking financial audits (an independent check of an organisation’s financial position);
- providing financial advice.
In public practice, typical work activities include:
- liaising with clients (individuals or businesses) and providing financial information and advice;
- reviewing the company’s systems and analysing risk;
- performing tests to check financial information and systems;
- advising clients on tax planning (within current legislation to enable them to minimise their tax liability) and tax issues associated with activities such as business acquisitions and mergers;
- maintaining accounting records and preparing accounts and management information for small businesses (accountancy);
- advising clients on business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions (corporate finance);
- advising clients on areas of business improvement, or dealing with insolvency;
- detecting and preventing fraud (forensic accounting);
- managing junior colleagues.
In commerce and industry, and the public and not-for-profit sectors, typical work activities involve:
- liaising with internal and external auditors and dealing with any financial irregularities as they arise;
- producing reports and recommendations following internal audits or public-sector audits;
- preparing financial statements, including monthly and annual accounts;
- preparing financial management reports, including financial planning and forecasting;
- advising on tax and treasury issues;
- negotiating terms with suppliers.
Entry is open to graduates of all disciplines and, while a large number have business-related degrees, other subjects are strongly represented, including science, maths, languages, arts and social sciences. A Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB) may also be a useful step between a degree and a training contract.
Although entry to the profession without a degree or HND may be possible, accountancy is a highly competitive industry and graduates/diplomates have greater opportunity to enter. Graduates are generally preferred to diplomates by the large employers. However, some employers do train students to do the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Accounting Qualification as an entry requirement for ICAS.
There are three separate professional institutes of chartered accountants in the UK (as well as a number of other bodies awarding other accountancy qualifications). The three are:
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland (oversees both Ireland and Northern Ireland).
Entry regulations vary slightly between institutes. ICAS requires only a degree or the AAT Accounting Qualification while the ICAEW will accept three GCSEs and two A-levels or a 2:1 or first class honours degree (some employers will accept a 2:2). However, one of the most difficult parts of becoming a chartered accountant is securing a training contract with an employer approved by one of the institutes. Many firms will ask for a minimum of 260 UCAS points, although 300+ are frequently required, as well as a good degree and evidence of mathematical knowledge and ability. Numeracy skills are often tested as part of the selection process.
It is very helpful to have relevant pre-entry work experience, e.g. through vacation work, work placements or shadowing.
In addition to academic requirements, candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- general business interest and awareness;
- self-motivation and commitment, in order to combine working with studying;
- communication and interpersonal skills;
- organisational and time management skills;
- a methodical approach;
- IT proficiency;
- strong analytical and problem-solving skills;
- leadership qualities and effective teamworking skills;
- motivation and initiative;
- integrity and trustworthiness.
Competition to enter the profession is tough and the selection process rigorous. It is best to start applying in the autumn term of your final year to ensure access to the widest range of opportunities as some employers have application deadlines at the end of October (although there will be vacancies available later in the year). Many firms attend recruitment fairs and hold presentations on campus. Take the opportunity to find out as much as possible about the job and training before applying, e.g. attend firms’ short courses or open days.