Accountants offer financial advice to clients, aiming to increase the value of the client’s business by preparing accounts and keeping track of financial transactions.
Accountants: small vs large firms
Larger firms split audit, tax and corporate finance into departments with individuals choosing a specialism and gaining a professional qualification. In smaller organisations accountants will be expected to cover a number of technical areas.
An auditor acts as an independent reviewer of a limited company. They check financial dealings to safeguard against fraud and add credibility to a company by ensuring the availability of accurate and reliable financial information. Larger organisations often have their own internal audit department, although it is still a legal requirement for some external auditing in certain organisations.
Advise clients on how they can save money by identifying ways of minimising their exposure to tax liabilities. Specialist tax departments also advise on the tax implications of future actions such as mergers or issuing shares.
Corporate finance departments advise on financial issues involved with events at a corporate level such as mergers and acquisitions, flotations and privatisations.
Activities include investigating and writing detailed reports on the financial health of other companies, as well as deal making and negotiating with banks, finance houses, stockbrokers and other organisations.
Business consultancy involves acting as advisor to a firm, primarily through analysis of existing business problems and the development of plans for improvement.
Firms may hire consultancy services to gain objective, external advice and recommendations, gain specialised expertise or as temporary help on a one-time project.
Management accounting is primarily forward-thinking. It involves analysing and interpreting financial data and writing reports to enable clients to be better informed when making strategic and operational decisions.
"If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it." - J.P. Morgan, American financier and founder of J.P. Morgan
The innovative Italians of the Renaissance (14th - 16th century) are widely acknowledged to be the fathers of modern accounting. They elevated trade and commerce to new levels, using Arabic numerals.
Entry requirements vary firm to firm but GCSE Maths and English are essential. A Level Maths and 280 UCAS points are common requirements. Two years experience as a practising accountant are needed to move into auditing.
Employers want evidence of numeracy and working in a logical, methodical manner. Strong communication skills are needed to describe complex financial data or interview people for information.
Strong IT skills are beneficial to grasp financial software and build effective spreadsheets. You'll need to show an interest in the industry so read the business sections of newspapers or pick up a trade journal.
Expect to study for a relevant professional qualification on-the-job, perhaps even from the outset. The completion of exams and units will often be rewarded with an improved salary, as well as help your career progression.
Stay focused to advance: giving presentations, understanding legislative and regulatory issues and ensuring short-term cash-flow with long-term profitability will see you climb the ladder. You must gain your professional qualifications first.
Money talks in all forms of business, as a result there is a financial function in all medium to large firms. If you're keen on this industry but want to work outside of a consultancy, you'll find jobs in every industry.
Right for you?
Working and studying for your initial qualification can lead to stressful months, much like university, and the rewards may mean even more stress, but in a powerful and wealthy position presiding over complex accounts.
If that does not appeal, you will find firms with accounting or finance departments dealing with more straightforward businesses if you'd prefer not to be chain to the office staring at spreadsheets.