What qualifications are needed to be an accountant?
The main job of an accountant is to record, process, analyse, prepare and take ownership of various financial and business-related reports. This differs somewhat from what the general finance manager does in the sense that the focus is more on record-keeping rather than the management of money.
The skills and qualifications for accountants are quite like their counterparts in the finance department. In fact, in smaller companies, the responsibilities might fall under the same department or even to the same person. Accountants need to have a good grasp of the various accounting rules and treatments, tax and regulatory issues, the ability to work with numbers and a good understanding of how to use accounting software. To learn more about what an accountant does, please check the following link covering the job description for accountants article.
Accountant vs chartered accountant
It is important to make the distinction between an accountant and a chartered accountant. A chartered accountant must be certified by a nationally recognised body. ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant), ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant) and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant) are some examples of the sort of formally recognised chartered accountant qualifications.
However, someone working as an accountant does not necessarily need to have these qualifications. These formal certifications required more education, some amount of work experience and going through a formal certification process. Therefore, these are considered more advanced certifications for people looking to rise through the ranks.
A chartered accountant would be expected to have a lot more expertise and knowledge about accounting. Roles which require a chartered accounting certification, are therefore considered more senior and expected to pay better as well.
Most accountants would be expected to have a graduate degree in a mathematical field like business, finance or economics. Some elementary courses covering the basics of accounting principles and tax law would also prove to be helpful.
Postgraduate certifications in these fields can add even more value to the CV of an accountant. For more tips on CV building for accountants, please visit the following CV building article.
The formal accounting certifications are awarded by various bodies in different countries. The process of getting certified requires a minimum education level, clearing formal tests and meeting the experience requirements. Here are some examples of the various chartered accountant titles across Europe:
France – Expert Comptable
Italy – Dottore Commercialista or Revisore dei conti
Germany – Wirtschaftspruefer
Spain – Censor Jurado de Cuentas
Sweden – Auktoriserad revisor or Ggodkänd Revisor
UK – ACA, ACCA, CIMA
Some certifications are considered global and therefore allow the chartered accountant to practice in more than one country.
Internships and work experience
There are plenty of internship opportunities available to would-be accountants looking to jumpstart their careers. Almost every company would have someone working in an accounting role and therefore internship opportunities and entry-level positions are easy to find. In addition to opportunities at various companies, accountants can also apply to accounting firms that offer their services to other companies.
Formal certifications do require a specific amount of experience at the minimum. This requirement for on-the-job experience can be met by working at other companies or accounting services firms.
What skills do accountants need?
Accuracy and attention to detail – The sort of reports that accountants deal with, must be mandatorily flawless in terms of accuracy. Any mistakes can be catastrophic and lead to substantial financial losses or even legal action. Therefore, accountants need to be extremely thorough and deliberate with all the information that they handle.
A large volume of data passes through an accountant’s desk daily. Accountants are responsible for not only preparing the periodic financial statements but also for looking at transactional data and ensuring its accuracy.
Regulatory and legal knowledge – Some of the information that accountants handle, eventually ends up in the public domain or with the government/ tax authorities. Ensuring the accuracy of this information is thus of paramount importance. This not only means that the information should be free of errors, but it also requires a lot of subjective calls to be made in terms of classification of various line items in the various financial reports.
For example, the classification of certain expenses for tax purposes or the treatment of various assets for depreciation, etc. would require a good understanding of local tax laws and regulations. Another example would be the classification of contingent liabilities or perhaps managing delayed payments or stressed client accounts.
Accountants are expected to have knowledge of accounting standards like GAAP or IFRS as well as the tax laws of the countries that the company operates in.
High numeracy/analytical skills – Accountants will spend most of their time dealing with numbers and tables. Although they will have access to specialised software, they still need to have a high degree of comfort dealing with numbers, report preparation, data manipulation, information presentation, error checking, and reconciliations, etc.
Analytical skills are also crucial as the accountant’s role is not always straightforward and creative solutions might be required to effectively handle the preparation of reports or while performing other tasks.
Business experience – Accountants will also benefit from having some experience about the general business operations of the company that they are working for. This would allow them to better understand the data that they are working with and spot any data points that seem out of place, given the usual business operations of the company.
Depending on the business structure of the company, an accountant might have to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business as well. This means things like tracking payments, issuing refunds and so on. This obviously requires some understanding of the core business activity of the company.
Working under time pressure and meeting deadlines – While meeting deadlines is considered important for almost every business function, it can take a whole new meaning for the accounting department. Regulatory reports that need to be submitted cannot be delayed and neither can statements that are important from a tax perspective.
Additionally, the accounting department also must submit periodic reports for internal consumption and the company’s business operations can be greatly affected if these reports are not delivered on time.
Tech Savvy – It is not possible or even necessary to manually handle the vast amount of data that a company generates. Specialised software and enterprise solutions do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to data management and storage. Such software is even capable of performing basic checks and generating standard reports. Accountants can make use of such software to make their lives easier and improve the quality of the reports that they generate. Being aware of all the latest features that are available in the market and the technical know-how to make the most of these tools can be a valuable skill to have.
Leadership and communication – Senior positions in the accounting department also need the employee to have leadership skills and effective communication capabilities. Senior accountants would need to manage the teams under them and would also be responsible for coordinating with other department heads and the company’s top management.
They would also work closely with the finance department and internal and external auditors to assist them in the performance of the duties.
Find out more about what being an accountant is all about. The following articles cover the job description, salaries, CV building tips and more.
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