Private Practice Accountant

The Job and What's Involved

Accountants help companies, charities, public sector organisations and individuals manage their finances. They can be involved in preparing year-end accounts, dealing with payroll for a company's employees, advising on tax and VAT matters or coming up with strategies to make businesses more profitable.

Accountants in private practice work for a range of clients and charge for their services.

In smaller practices they usually deal with all aspects of accountancy including preparing accounts, filing tax returns and helping their clients get any tax benefits to which they are entitled. They also give advice and answer questions from their clients. For major clients they may be involved in large-scale reorganisations, helping improve business efficiency and profitability.

In larger firms, accountants may specialise in certain areas such as:

Audit - inspecting the business or organisation accounts systems and providing assurance that a company's accounts have been properly prepared, that they comply with financial reporting standards and that they present a true and fair view of its financial position and performance.

Accounts - preparing monthly, quarterly and annual reports and helping with budget preparations and forecasting.

Tax Planning - recommending ways of structuring financial matters to minimise payments and making sure tax returns are completed and submitted.

Corporate Finance - assessing merger and acquisition opportunities, calculating the value of deals and raising funds to develop the business.

Business Recovery and Insolvency - helping companies recover money owed or improve their cash flow; this may involve restructuring, selling assets or divisions, or managing the business until it is sold.

Forensic Accounting - searching for evidence of fraud to help clients resolve legal disputes and quantifying losses arising from incidents such as fire, accidents, floods or natural disasters.

Management Consultancy - looking at all areas of the business to improve efficiency.

Accountants usually work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but may need to work longer hours around the end of their clients' financial year when the workload tends to increase.

Part-time or job-share work is possible in some practices. Temporary contract work may also be available.

Most private practice accountants work from an office, but usually visit clients at their own workplaces or homes. This can mean travelling throughout the UK, possibly staying away from home, or overseas when working on a large project.

The salary for graduates starting training is usually between £17,000 and £23,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 275,000 members of the six chartered accountancy bodies in the UK and Northern Ireland and a further 165,000 completing their professional training. Statistics show that more young people and more women are becoming accountants.

Private practice accountancy firms vary widely in size, from small partnerships serving a local area to large international companies. Their clients can also vary, from individuals and small businesses up to multinational organisations with worldwide offices.

Experienced and qualified candidates are in demand, especially specialists in tax.

Most employers recruit direct. Check employer websites for details. Jobs are also advertised in accountancy publications, by specialist recruitment agencies and in national and regional newspapers. There are many online sites that specialise in accounting and finance jobs.

Education and Training

Most accountants are graduates who have then completed professional qualifications. However, there are also entry routes for people with GCSE's/S grades or A levels/H grades.

For those taking a degree any subject may be acceptable, but maths, accountancy, business studies, economics and finance or other numerate subjects, are especially useful.

Some accountancy degrees give an exemption from the first stage of the professional exams. Some areas, for instance forensic accounting, list specific requirements, such as a degree in computing, risk management or law.

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.

Those wanting to become an accountant without first taking a degree usually study for the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) or Chartered Accounting Technician (CAT) qualification. Many universities take AAT or CAT qualifications into account and allow exemptions on parts of their accountancy degree courses.

AAT and CAT qualifications can allow a fast-track route to chartered accountant status, taking four years from A levels to becoming chartered.

There may also be training contracts available to those with a minimum of two A levels/H grades (usually at A-B/1-2). Training vacancies are advertised by employers and also on the website of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and in Scotland (ICAS).

Some employers in private practice prefer trainees whose studies have focused on auditing - usually the ICAEW, ICAS or Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualifications.

Other qualifications that may be useful as a first step, or which may be taken into account for entry to higher level courses, include:

  • City & Guilds Level 1, 2 and 3 in book-keeping and accounts.
  • City & Guilds Level 1, 2, and 3 in business finance.
  • International Association of Book-keepers (IAB) Level 3 in accounting and advanced book-keeping.
  • IAB Level 3 in cost and management accounting.
  • EDI Level 3 certificate in accounting (IAS).
  • OCR Level 2 and 3 certificate and diploma in accounting.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

To qualify as a professional accountant, trainees need to take professional exams and complete practical work-based training.

Trainees working for a firm of accountants can complete their study by day release, block release, evening classes or by distance and open learning. Employers usually provide study leave and financial support.

There are six different training organisations that provide industry-recognised qualifications:

  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI).
  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
  • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An accountant in private practice needs:

  • Strong ability with numbers.
  • To be confident using computers.
  • A logical and analytical approach.
  • Good business awareness.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • To be able to build and maintain a relationship with clients.
  • To be scrupulously honest and discreet when handling confidential information.
  • To work well under pressure and keep to deadlines.

Your Long Term Prospects

In a private practice, an accountant may progress to team leader, management and ultimately senior partner. If working for a firm with overseas operations, there are often opportunities for international placements. Some may choose to specialise in an area such as audit, risk management or compliance.

Accountants in private practice may also decide to work in-house for a company or organisation.

Qualified accountants have a sought-after qualification and business experience that is in demand throughout the business world. Many senior managers and business leaders start in accountancy roles.

Some accountants set up their own independent practice.

Get Further Information

Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT),
140 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4HY
Tel: 0845 863 0800

Association of International Accountants (AIA),
Staithes 3, The Watermark, Metro Riverside,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE11 9SG
Tel: 0191 493 0277

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA),
26 Chapter Street, London SW1P 4NP
Tel: 020 8849 2287

Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA),
Burford House, 44 London Road,
Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1AS
Tel: 01732 458080

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