How to become a chartered accountant

This guide has been produced by Tuchbands, a firm of chartered North London accountants

What does a chartered accountant do?

Highly qualified and strictly regulated, a chartered accountant is professionally qualified to undertake the duties of an accountant – essentially managing the financial figures of a business including the verification of accounts and tax returns.

The primary role of a chartered accountant is to maximise profit on behalf of their employer.

What’s the difference between a chartered accountant and a standard accountant?

A specialised form of accountancy, a chartered account requires more training than a standard accountant. Chartered accountants are required to complete a programme of postgraduate study, plus three years of mentorship.

A chartered accountant specialises in the past financial performance of a company or individual, through auditing, taxation and reporting.

What are the day to day responsibilities of a chartered accountant?

While day to day tasks can vary, the key responsibilities of a chartered accountant include:

  1. Taxation management and planning
  2. Completing financial audits and verifying all records
  3. Reporting on profit and loss
  4. Reporting on cash flow
  5. Managing budgets
  6. Providing financial information and advice
  7. Risk analysis and fraud prevention

What are the key skills required by a chartered accountant?

Key skills for a chartered accountant include:

  1. Excellent mathematical ability
  2. Excellent problem-solving and troubleshooting skills
  3. Strong communication skills
  4. Highly motivated
  5. Well organised
  6. Meticulous and organised thinking
  7. Enjoys structure
  8. Flexibility – the ability to move between different tasks rapidly and prioritise when necessary
  9. Good time management skills
  10. Comfortable with continuous learning and examinations

Meeting clients and discussing their finances, often in great detail, is a key part of a chartered accountant’s job. Networking and developing good professional relationships is essential, in addition being to highly skilled in finance.

As the financial industry is constantly evolving, a chartered accountant must keep abreast of industry news to ensure they  remain aware of current trends. As such, the role of a chartered accountant is constantly shifting and many accountants describe this constant learning as an integral part of why they love their jobs. If continual professional development and research aren’t for you this may not be the right career path isn’t for you.

What qualifications does a chartered accountant require?

While a degree is preferable to become a chartered accountant it is not mandatory, as you can train to become a chartered accountant without a degree.

If you do wish to study for a degree in accountancy and finance, the degree must be authorised by an institute of chartered accountancy in your country of residence.

Each equal in status, these include:

  1. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
  2. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  3. The Association of International Accountants (AIA)
  4. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

If you study for a degree, you will be exempt from some of the exams required to become a chartered accountant as you will complete them over the course of your studies.

To be accepted onto an authorised degree course you will need a minimum of 96 UCAS points. These can be obtained from qualifications including:

  1. Two A-levels or equivalent
  2. A BTEC diploma
  3. A BTEC extended diploma

If you do not wish to study for a degree in accountancy, you can opt to apply for a school leaver scheme, studying alongside work placements. To be accepted onto a school leaver programme you will need a minimum of 300 UCAS points from BBB grades at A-level or equivalent.

Candidates qualify as chartered accountants after five years, as opposed to six years with a degree. You can often earn a competitive salary whilst you train. Graduates do however have a greater chance of securing employment after qualifying, so bear this in mind when choosing your course of study.

Do I need work experience to become a chartered accountant?

You do not need any experience in order to be accepted onto an authorised degree or leaver programme, but work experience is essential in terms of being hired after qualification.

Firms in all industries hire those seeking work experience, so you can choose your preferred option, including public accountancy firms or internally within a company.

Companies often recruit chartered accountants from their group of former interns, making accounting internships highly competitive. If the internship is part of a sandwich degree, the candidate may be fast-tracked into the company’s graduate scheme.

If you’re applying for an internship, contact the firm you have in mind and ask for their specific application requirements.

Many larger firms run insight days or work shadowing opportunities, giving prospective candidates the chance to see how their organisation works. This is a valuable way of building connections with companies before securing a longer-term work experience placement.

There will be intense competition for larger companies, but you can learn equally valuable skills from a smaller company.

How much do chartered accountants earn & what are their career prospects like?

Once qualified, a chartered accountant can work in almost any industry or working environment. The role offers security as accountancy skills are always required, even during economic downturns.

A graduate chartered accountant can expect to earn between £22,000 and £25,000, increasing to £50,000 once established. With 5 or more years experience and depending on  the industry and specialisms, a chartered accountant can earn up to £90,000 per year.

Is the role of a chartered accountant right for me?

There are pros and cons to becoming a chartered accountant which you should consider before deciding if the role is right for you.

Pros of being a chartered accountant include:

  1. The chance to earn a high salary from the outset
  2. Good career progression and job security
  3. Roles available in a range different sectors and environments
  4. Professional development is essential, meaning you will continue learning throughout your career
  5. You can study without needing a degree and earn a salary while doing so

Cons of being a chartered accountant include:

  1. A long training period of at least five years
  2. Training is costly, however you opt to study
  3. Competition is high in all areas of chartered accountancy – you will need high grades to be able to find a role once you qualify
  4. Extra hours and weekend work are typical and often unpaid
  5. A male-dominated industry with a notable gender pay gap
  6. A formal, corporate work environment, which is not suited to everyone

Have any queries about this career guide or accountancy in general? Get in touch with our expert team today to discuss your situation.