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There are a number of fields of accountancy in which to specialise with opportunities available in industry and commerce, private practice and the public sector.
In industry, accountants are commonly referred to as Management Accountants and are responsible for advising on the financial performance of the company and for providing financial projections to support business decisions. They prepare financial and management accounts, sales reports and business forecasts, and monitor budgets and costs.
Accountants in private practice usually manage a portfolio of fee-paying clients preparing financial statements and calculating tax liabilities on their behalf as well as providing advice on investments, expenditure and business strategy. They also perform audits and make recommendations on the risks and benefits of financial practices.
Public sector accountants can be employed in government departments, audit offices and other service environments and are responsible for ensuring the efficiency of all services provided to the public. This is achieved through expenditure and cash flow analysis and the preparation of financial statements, management information and budget reviews.
No matter which field of accountancy you wish to enter, the basic skills requirements are the same. These include strong mathematical, numerical and problem-solving skills, the ability to prepare and present information in a clear and concise manner, and proficiency in the use of a variety of software applications.
The specific accountancy field you wish to enter will tend to dictate the qualifications you undertake. Private practice accountants will usually need to qualify as a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICA) or the Association of International Accountants (AIA). A good standard of basic secondary education is required for entry-level studies although Association of Accounting Technician (AAT) qualifications may also be accepted. Public sector accountants will benefit from membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Accountants in commerce or industry will generally study through the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
With so many areas in which to specialise, accountancy is both varied and rewarding with the opportunity to gain an insight into a wide range of industry sectors. The majority of the UK accountancy qualifications are actually recognised internationally so there is also the option of working overseas. The salary is reasonable with accountants in industry and public sectors faring better than those in private practice and those practising in London commanding the best salaries. Management accountants have been known to diversify into management consultancy roles, and private sector accountants can progress to become head of their firm. As long as you have the right qualifications, it is also possible to transfer between sectors with opportunities usually available across the country.
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