A career in accounting can be incredibly rewarding in many ways including financially and in personal/career development. Compared to many other professions such as law, there is no set path or qualifications needed to become an accountant. There are various qualifications you can take and different routes to becoming an accountant which can affect the time it takes to become an accountant depending on the journey you choose to take. Here, we look into the different types of accountancy you can pursue, the qualifications you need to pursue them and how long it will generally take to become an accountant.
Management Accountancy vs Public Sector Accountancy vs Chartered Accountant
The first thing to consider is what type of accountant you want to become as this will influence the qualifications you choose to do. You can become an accountant in various areas of accountancy which will affect the time it will take to become an accountant. There are a few key qualifications you can take depending on whether you want to become an accountant in management accountancy, public sector accountancy or become a chartered accountant. Each qualification has varying levels and amount of modules and work experience you would need to take. For example, to become a chartered accountant with the ICAEW, you would need to complete 450 days of practical work experience and 15 exam modules. Chartered accountants can also have a membership with either the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) after they have completed the prerequisites needed to become a qualified chartered accountant. Because of this, chartered accountants do tend to have more opportunities in the industry and can earn up to £51,000 after qualifying. As you can see there can be a difference in the time it takes to become an accountant depending on which path you want to pursue. If you’re not sure if you want to become a chartered accountant here are five reasons to become a chartered accountant.
In most cases and with most graduate employers, having a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject is preferred however, you don’t need a degree or you can graduate from any subject to become an accountant, as long as you get the right training after school or university. For those wanting to go to university, a degree in accounting, economics or even business can help when taking on further qualifications after university. If you don’t fancy taking those subjects and do want to pursue maybe a different subject entirely, there are courses you can take after university that will train you up on the foundations of accounting if you want to keep your options open. The different qualifications you can take are as follows-
If you don’t want to go down the university route, doing an apprenticeship is a great way to get a qualification whilst also gaining first hand experience in the industry. For most aspiring accountants the first qualification they would take out of school is the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification. The qualification is made up of three levels which contain a number of compulsory units. The qualification can be taken at the pace of the student and depending on the student it can take between 18 months to 3 years to complete it. Once you have completed this, most students then go to study chartered accountancy. Find out more about the options you have if you want to pursue a career in accountancy without getting a degree.
The Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification is the one taken by most graduates who want to get into chartered accountancy. The ACA can also be taken after completing your A-levels on the ICAEW School Leaver Programme. This qualification requires aspiring accountants to complete at least three years on-the-job training while passing a series of exams. ACA qualified accountants tend to have more opportunities to work in the ‘Big Four’ which pays well.
The ACCA qualification can be an alternative course to the ACA, however, it is important to note that ICAEW Chartered accountants can have more earning potential than those who do other qualifications including the ACCA. The ACCA qualification can also take three to four years to complete for those who choose to gain their work experience whilst studying otherwise it can take longer for those to study then undertake their work experience. The difference between the ACA and ACCA is that the ACCA is better suited for those who want to be experts in management accounting, auditing, taxation as well as general accounting. However, students who take on the ACA course will gain expertise in financial management, tax compliance and accounting and reporting.
For those interested in pursuing management accounting might want to consider the CIMA qualification. There are pros and cons to taking the CIMA qualification compared to the ACA qualification. With CIMA you can complete the qualification independently of your employer whereas with the ACA it has to be approved by the institute for training. If you are finding it hard to pick which course to take find out more here about which qualification may be best for you. This qualification can take 3-6 years to complete with most students usually dong the 12 professional qualification exams in 4 years.
The CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy) qualification enables students to become an expert in financial management within the public services where CIPFA accountants can work in public services, national audit agencies and in other firms where public money needs to be managed. Getting a CIPFA membership can take around 3 years to complete which includes the exams and work experience need to complete the course.
As demonstrated in this article, there are various routes you can take which will affect how long it will take to become an accountant. Depending on the type of accountancy you want to pursue and where you want to work it can take up to 6 years to become qualified.
For more information on how to become an accountant and to find out what working in accounting is like check out our careers advice page for employee profiles and career guides.