Accountants employed by commercial and industrial organisations work with financial and management information. They prepare financial statements but also analyse information and advise their employers. They aim to improve their company's performance and maximise profitability and efficiency.
As well as compiling the end of year figures and balancing the books, accountants examine where and how money is being spent and assess the profitability of different areas. They work with business managers to reduce costs and plan activities to increase sales to customers.
Much of their time is spent liaising with internal business colleagues, looking at both financial data and the work processes.
Carrying out internal audits, they can identify ways to improve value. This may involve analysing sales performance, marketing spend, customer spend, targets and economic effects.
The work of individual accountants varies widely. Accountants in larger firms may specialise in a product area or business division. Those working for smaller firms usually have a wider range of responsibilities. Typical tasks might include:
Increasingly, accountants working in commercial operations are responsible for safeguarding business assets. Some assets are tangible (such as business properties and equipment). Others are intangible (such as management talent, buying power and advertising creativity). Accountants may work with risk managers and health and safety specialists to make sure that contingency plans are in place to minimise business interruption in the event of a loss.
Accountants may support compliance and corporate governance departments, helping to develop internal controls to reduce financial losses.
Accountants in smaller commercial organisations may also be responsible for credit management, invoicing, book-keeping and VAT returns.
The normal working week is 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Work beyond these hours may be required on occasions during peak times or to meet deadlines. Flexible working hours, part-time work and job sharing are possible.
Accountants are largely office-based. They work on a computer for most of their analytical and numerical work. They frequently attend meetings, consulting with clients, colleagues and the management team. Some time may be spent out of the office visiting other sites within the organisation. They may work abroad if their organisation has international links. Smart dress is usually required.
Starting salaries may be around £16,000 to £26,000 a year.
Accountants are employed in industry and commerce throughout the UK, mostly in cities and larger towns. Employers range from large multi-national organisations to small local businesses. They include those in:
The number of qualified accountants has increased steadily over the past few years. There are now over 275,000 in the UK and Ireland, just over half of whom work in industry and commerce. Recruiters for industry are currently finding a shortage of high-calibre candidates at junior, trainee and mid-executive levels. There is also a shortage in many specialist areas, especially tax, audit and treasury.
Jobs are advertised in local and national newspapers and in magazines such as Accountancy Age and Accountancy. They are also advertised on the websites of recruitment agencies and the professional accountancy bodies.
There are different entry routes:
Graduate training schemes - entry is with a degree. No particular degree subject is required, although subjects such as accounting and finance, business studies, management studies, maths, economics and law are helpful. Employers often ask for at least an upper second class degree. Graduate entry is competitive, particularly with large employers. Entry requirements for degrees vary but are often at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A*-C/1-3), including maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. It may be possible to move on to a degree course with an HNC/HND in accounting or a business-related subject. Other qualifications may be accepted.
School or college leavers - entry varies but is often with at least A levels/H grades or equivalent. Alternative qualifications may be accepted. The minimum entry requirement to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Qualification is two A levels and three GCSE's (A*-C) in five separate subjects including English and maths, or equivalent.
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) trainees who enter without A levels/H grades or equivalent are eligible to study for CIMA's Certificate in Business Accounting. This can lead to CIMA's professional qualification.
Accounting technician - some accounting technicians progress to professional accountancy training after achieving a technician qualification. Such qualifications include the Association of Accounting Technicians' Accounting Qualification and ACCA Certified Accounting Technician qualification. Entry to accounting technician is usually with at least GCSE's/S grades (often including English and maths). Some enter through an Apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Diploma in business, administration and finance (available in England from September 2009) may be relevant for entry into this area of work.
To qualify as an accountant, entrants study for professional exams and complete practical work-based training. There are six professional bodies that provide industry-recognised qualifications:
Some of the qualifications are internationally recognised. Check the websites and literature of the professional bodies for their entry qualifications and exemptions.
Employers often decide which professional qualifications their employees will work towards. Those in industry and commerce often favour the ACCA and CIMA qualifications. A minority of industry and commerce accountants take ICAEW, ICAI and ICAS qualifications. The CIPFA qualification is designed mainly for public sector accountants.
It takes most graduates at least three years to qualify as an accountant. Those without a degree can take between three and five years. Study is by day release, block release, evening classes or by distance and open learning. Employers usually give study leave and financial support.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
An accountant working in industry or commerce should:
Qualified accountants have many options. They can:
Many accountants become finance directors or controllers, and can reach board level, including chief executive positions.
Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT),
140 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4HY
Tel: 0845 863 0800
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants,
2 Central Quay, 89 Hydepark Street, Glasgow G3 8BW
Tel: 0141 582 2000
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA),
26 Chapter Street, London SW1P 4NP
Tel: 020 8849 2287
Financial Services Skills Council,
51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ
Tel: 0845 257 3772
The Institute of Chartered Accountants
in England & Wales (ICAEW),
Level 1, Metropolitan House,
321 Avebury Boulevard,
Central Milton Keynes MK9 2FZ
Tel: 01908 248100
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS),
CA House, 21 Haymarket Yards, Edinburgh EH12 5BH
Tel: 0131 347 0100
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.