Chartered accountants use their financial expertise to advise and report to managers in organisations across the public and private sector.
According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the professional membership organisation for chartered accountants and students, chartered accountants “enable businesses, organisations, individuals and communities to achieve their financial and strategic goals.”
What’s the difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant?
All accountants undertake similar roles, managing and reporting on an organisation’s finance. All need training and it’s possible to qualify as an accountant while working in a business. Accountants who are regulated by the professional bodies for accountants are known as chartered accountants.
To qualify as chartered and retain that status, they must:
- Pass a series of demanding accredited exams in financial management, auditing, business strategy and taxation, after a minimum of three years training
- Get relevant work experience across a wide range of clients and industries approved by their professional body
- Undertake professional development training every year to keep their skills and knowledge up to date
- Adhere to professional standards including holding professional indemnity insurance and have regular reviews of their work
- Comply with a Code of Ethics and the principles of Integrity, Objectivity, Professional competence and due care, Confidentiality and Professional Behaviour.
What do chartered accountants do?
Chartered accountants (CAs) work in every type of organisation – either as employees or through an accountancy practice or specialist firm.
Their role is to advise, examine financial reports or accounts (known as auditing) and provide information about financial records. For profit-making businesses their aim is to help deliver maximum profit. In not-for-profit organisations and public bodies their focus will be on minimising costs.
While some chartered accountants look after every aspect of accountancy and financial reporting for a business, others specialise, for instance in taxation, insolvency or auditing. In corporate finance, CAs work on mergers and acquisitions, management buy-outs and buy-ins and on capital reconstruction when a company is in financial distress.
Forensic accounting is an investigative role, working with legal professionals and even the police. You could work on cases of corporate and personal fraud, money laundering and embezzlement, as well as business disputes and financial and regulatory investigations.
What skills do you need to succeed in accountancy?
You’ll need to be highly proficient in maths and have a keen interest in the workings of business and finance. Every role for chartered accountants also requires you to have integrity and professional scepticism, which includes an ability to keep asking questions. So tenacity is another useful skill.
If you wish to work in a particular area of business it can help to have an affinity for that sector, whether that’s food, film or aeronautics. You’ll also need an interest in commerce in general.
All accountants rely on team members, colleagues, clients and advisors to be able do their job. So they tend to be team players, with great interpersonal and communication skills.
Those working in insolvency also need tact and diplomacy when dealing with people whose business is in trouble. Flexibility, adaptability, an analytical approach and attention to detail are also common attributes in successful CAs.
When you choose to specialise, or take more senior roles, you may find it useful to develop skills in negotiating, problem-solving, strategic planning and decision-making.
How do you become a chartered accountant?
You can choose to start your training after school or college, after your first degree or after completing lower-level accountancy qualifications.
You can also study an accredited degree in Accounting such as the BSc in Accounting and Finance, one of a small number of UK degrees supported by the ICAEW. It will equip you with appropriate knowledge and skills and exempt you from some papers in the professional exams.
You’ll also need to complete at least three years of on-the-job training, while passing your professional exams.
It’s a challenging and rigorous preparation, for a career which offers huge personal and professional rewards. The average annual salary for a chartered accountant in the UK is £134,000 (according to ICAEW 2018 research).
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