Accountant - Public Practice
Public practice accountants work for accountancy firms that provide independent accountancy services to individuals, companies and organisations. Accountants help to compile annual reports and accounts to make sure that these financial records are a true reflection of a company's activities and financial situation.
Also known as
- Chartered Accountant
- Financial Adviser (Business)
- Public Practice Accountant
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Accountants help organisations and individuals to manage their money. They examine financial records and statements, checking them for accuracy. This allows them to provide their clients with a clear picture of their financial activities.
Public practice accountants work in firms of accountants whose clients can vary from large commercial companies to self-employed people running a small business.
Accountants use the information in the financial statements to prepare and submit tax computations to HM Revenue & Customs.
Clients who run small businesses might not keep full accounts themselves, and accountants in public practice could do this for them. They manage teams that use the client's records of financial transactions such as invoices, receipts and cheque stubs to prepare a set of accounts. In this way, the accountant understands the way the client's company works, so if the client needs financial advice, the accountant can give informed recommendations.
Large accountancy firms also offer services such as management consultancy, corporate finance, investment advice, taxation and insolvency. Activities could include investigating mergers and advising on ways to improve profits, helping to rescue companies that are insolvent, offering tax-saving advice and taking responsibility for executing wills and administering trusts.
Accountants doing this sort of work might make frequent visits to clients' premises.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
As an accountant, you should have:
- Good written and spoken communication skills.
- Teamwork, problem-solving and leadership skills.
- An interest in how organisations work.
- IT skills - most accounting systems are computerised.
- Good time-management skills.
You will need to be:
- Comfortable with numbers.
- Capable of analysing and interpreting figures and explaining them to non-specialists.
- Confident and decisive.
- Able to prioritise your workload.
Pay and Opportunities
Salaries for accountants vary, depending on location and employer. The pay rates given below are approximate.
Starting salaries for trainees are from around £14,000 a year (Association of Accounting Technicians trainee), and graduate trainees can earn from £19,000 - £25,000 a year. Qualified accountants earn in the range of £30,000 - £50,000 a year, and senior accountants can earn £50,000 - £80,000. Higher earners can make more than £100,000 a year.
By gaining a professional qualification and becoming a chartered certified accountant, your earning potential greatly increases. Many employers sponsor their employees to undertake a professional qualification.
Higher salaries are available depending on the employer, role and type of accountancy you do.
Hours of work
Accountants in public practice usually work 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday. However, like many other professionals, extra hours might be needed at busy times.
What's happening in this work area?
The finance function is at the heart of any business. Employers are turning to accountancy and finance staff to help lead them out of economic difficulties. Because of this, accountants are in demand, and employment opportunities in this sector are expected to increase as the economy moves out of recession.
Companies in this sector have been recruiting steadily in the past year. In particular, newly qualified accountants are highly sought after, and there are not enough candidates to meet demand.
Future skills needsThe following skills shortages have been identified for this industry:
- IT skills
- management skills
- business skills
- literacy and numeracy skills.
Where could I work?
Employers range from one-partner practices, to firms of several partners employing support staff, to national and international firms employing hundreds of staff in several countries.
Opportunities for accountants occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Opportunities occur for experienced accountants to set up their own practice.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers and professional magazines, on accountancy job boards and employers' websites, on Universal Jobmatch and at Jobcentre Plus.
Training contract vacancies are advertised through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales on their website and on employers' websites. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) has a dedicated careers portal, ACCA Careers.
Entry Routes and Training
Most qualified accountants who work in public practice are graduates.
However, an Advanced Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start.
Your degree could be in any subject; however, if you have a relevant degree such as accountancy, business, finance or economics, you could be exempt from some professional exams.
The University of Newcastle upon Tyne offers the four-year Business Accounting and Finance degree with paid work placements and accelerated progress towards the ACA qualification. A similar fast-track degree course, called Accounting and Business, is offered at the Henley Business School, part of the University of Reading.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) offers the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business, which students can take while still at university.
Several universities take part in the Undergraduate Partnership Programme, which offers work experience to students in their third year of study.
Full-time and part-time foundation degrees are available in accounting, business and finance subjects. Check the UCAS website for further details.
It is also possible to start training with A levels or equivalent. School leaver training is becoming increasingly recognised, with a number of large employers introducing such schemes and promoting the apprenticeship route into accountancy.
Alongside on-the-job training, you will study part-time for professional qualifications.
The most relevant qualifications for this area of accountancy are those offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
The ICAEW qualification (known as the ACA) consists of two stages - the Professional Stage and the Advanced Stage. The Professional Stage teaches you key principles at the heart of accountancy, from accounting to law, and allows you to show your knowledge in a practical context.
ICAEW training usually involves a training contract in an accountancy practice (or in a commercial organisation authorised to carry out ICAEW training for the ACA qualification).
The Professional Stage consists of knowledge modules and application modules. You will also receive training in professional ethics while you gain practical on-the-job experience. You will take two exams and complete an in-depth case study during the Advanced Stage.
With ACCA, as you are not tied into a training contract, you can start your studies as soon as you meet the minimum entry requirements and you can change jobs without it affecting your progression through the qualification.
The ACCA qualification includes an online Professional Ethics module and relevant supervised experience. Relevant work experience gained throughout your studies can be counted towards ACCA's Practical Experience Requirement.
You can also study (via ICAEW and ACCA) for your professional qualifications as a non-graduate provided you meet the minimum educational standards set by the professional bodies. There is a Fast Track scheme for people who train to become qualified accounting technicians after A levels, and then go on to the ACA training. Qualified accounting technicians can also gain some exemptions from the ACCA exams.
Previous experience within a finance postion will be really useful for this career.
Accountants in public practice can progress to manager, senior manager and partner positions. Some accountants start their own business.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
Working as a chartered or certified accountant is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to. This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Note: according to the Exceptions Order, "certified accountant" means a member of the Association of Certified Accountants; "chartered accountant" means a member of the ICAEW or of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.
To get onto an Advanced Level Apprenticeship, you will usually need at least five GCSEs at A* - C, including English and Maths.
Many people enter with a degree.
For entry to a degree course in any subject, the usual requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs at grade C or above in 2/3 other subjects.
Alternatives to A levels include:
- Edexcel (BTEC) Level 3 National qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
Many employers set their entry requirements for a training contract for the ICAEW qualification as a minimum of 300 UCAS tariff points and a 2:1 or a first class degree in any subject. Many employers expect graduates to have English and Maths GCSEs at grade A or B.
It is also possible to enter accountancy training directly after A levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma, Edexcel (BTEC) level 3 National qualifications or an NVQ level 3, or equivalent. English and Maths are required at GCSE (grade B or above for the ICAEW qualification).
The minimum entry requirements for ACCA are 2 A levels and 3 GCSEs or equivalent in 5 separate subjects, including English and Maths. Relevant degree holders from ACCA-accredited universities might be exempt from some exam papers.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
A Higher Apprenticeship in Assurance/Audit might be available in your area.
Candidates without relevant qualifications can study with ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) through their entry level suite of awards. However, your entry point and exemptions from certain parts of their qualifications depend on the qualifications or relevant skills you have already gained. What qualification a student has now, and how far they wish to progress their career in accountancy, will determine where they start their journey with ACCA.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (for example, Access to Business) could be the way in. No qualifications are usually needed, but you should check this with individual colleges.
The Open University offers a Certificate in Accounting, which also provides entry to higher level professional qualifications.
Some colleges of further education offer professional courses (for example, ACCA qualifications) on a part-time basis, either during the day, in the evening or at weekends.
Sponsorships from some of the larger accounting or professional services firms can be available for those doing degree-level study.
Distance learning is available from ACCA. See the ACCA tuition providers directory for more details. Postgraduate qualifications are available by distance learning from a number of universities.
ACCA/Oxford Brookes University offer a BSc in Applied Accounting, by distance learning.
- 16% of chartered and certified accountants are self-employed.
- 8% work part-time.
- 18% have flexible hours.
- 3% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional bodiesProfessional bodies have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
For more information on the professional bodies relevant to this career, check out the contacts below.
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
Address: 29 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3EE
Tel: 020 7059 5000
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
Address: 26 Chapter Street, London SW1P 4NP
Tel: 020 8849 2251
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
Tel: 01908 248250
Publisher: Financial Skills Partnership (FSP)
Address: 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ
Tel: 0845 2573772
Chartered Accountants Ireland
Address: Chartered Accountants House, 32-38 Linenhall Street, Belfast BT2 8BG
Tel: 028 9043 5840
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Ireland (ACCA)
Address: 9 Leeson Park, Dublin 6
Tel: 01 4988900
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Scotland (ACCA)
Address: 2 Central Quay, 89 Hydepark Street, Glasgow G3 8BW
Tel: 0141 5822000
Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
Address: CA House, 21 Haymarket Yards, Edinburgh EH12 5BH
Tel: 0131 3470100
Publisher: Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
ACCA Careers Job Board
Tel: 0141 534 4774
Financial Skills Partnership (FSP)
Skills for the financial, finance and accountancy sectors
Address: 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ
Tel: 0845 2573772
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Specialists in graduate careers
Address: Unit 6, The Quad, 49 Atalanta Street, Fulham, London SW6 6TU
Tel: 020 7565 7900