Accountant Qualifications & Skills

What Qualifications Are Needed to Be an Accountant?

The main job of an accountant is to record, process, and analyse financial transactions. They do this in line with accounting processes and generally accepted accounting principles. They also handle financial reporting and are responsible for an organisation’s financial statements.

Accountants have similar skills and qualifications as their counterparts in the finance department. In smaller companies, their responsibilities often fall under the same department or even the same person. They may also include preparing tax returns.

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Accountants must have a good grasp of accounting rules and practices and tax and regulatory issues. They should also be skilled with numbers and understand accounting software.

To learn more about what an accountant does, please visit the following link covering the job description.

Accountant vs Chartered Accountant

It is vital to distinguish between an accountant and a chartered accountant. A chartered accountant must be certified by a nationally recognised body. ACA, ACCA, and CIMA are some formally recognized Chartered Accountant qualifications. They are recognised by professional accounting organizations.

These certifications need more education, work experience, and further study. For example, the CPA exam. Becoming an accountant is optional. Yet, these advanced certifications are necessary for people looking to rise through the ranks. A chartered accountant has much more technical expertise and knowledge about accounting. More information on chartership is here.

Most accountants have a bachelor’s degree in a mathematical field like business, finance, or economics. A Master’s degree is not required yet, but it would be highly recommended later in a career.

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.

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Formal Certifications

Various bodies in different countries award formal accounting certifications. Certification requires a minimum education, clearing standard tests, and meeting the experience requirements. Here are some examples of the various Chartered Accountant titles across Europe:

In France, expert comptable is used. In Italy, they use the title dottore commercialista or revisore dei conti. In Germany, the title Wirtschaftspruefer is used. In Spain, they use the title censor jurado de cuentas. In Sweden, the title auktoriserad revisor or godkänd revisor is used. In the UK, they use the titles ACA, ACCA, and CIMA.

Some global certifications let CPAs practice in many countries. Prospective accountants who want a successful career in finance must get certifications. Certifications will bring financial benefits and open up more career opportunities.

It is important to note that all accounting bodies, such as CIMA, ACCA, and CPA, will require their members to abide by ethical standards. Members must maintain professional conduct at all times.

Internships and Work Experience

Many internships are available for aspiring accountants. They can jump-start their careers. Almost every company has someone in an accounting role. It’s easy to find internship opportunities and entry-level positions.

Accountants can apply to accounting or consulting services firms. These firms provide financial advice to other companies. Also, accountants have opportunities at various companies. Formal certifications need a minimum of experience. You can fulfil this requirement for on-the-job experience by working at other companies. You can also fulfil it by working at accounting services firms.

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Critical Skills for Modern Accountants

There is no standard set of accounting skills. The list below shows that these are not specialised skills. These skills are acquired throughout a certified public accountant’s career. They are not unique to this particular job. Accounting professionals must have accounting skills. Soft skills such as leadership and communication differentiate job seekers. However, the list below provides guidelines from accounting professionals, a mixture of hard and soft skills:

  • Accuracy and attention to detail. Accountants deal with reports as part of their job. These reports must be accurate. Any mistakes can be catastrophic and lead to large financial losses or even legal action. That’s why attention to detail needs to be mentioned, along with time management. Accountants need to be thorough and deliberate with all the information they handle. Thus, a large volume of data will pass through an accountant’s desk daily. Accountants prepare an organisation’s periodic financial statements. They look at transactional data and ensure accuracy.
  • Regulatory and legal knowledge. Technical skills are a must for the accounting profession. Some of the information that accountants handle eventually ends up with the public, the government or tax authorities. Ensuring the accuracy of this information is thus of paramount importance. Accountants should know accounting standards like GAAP or IFRS. They should also understand the tax and commercial laws of the countries where the company operates. Accountants working as auditors or in accounting firms should have a higher knowledge of accounting practices and international accounting standards.

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  • High Numeracy and Analytical Skills Accountants will spend most of their time dealing with numbers and tables. They will have access to specialised software. Yet, they still need a high degree of competency in dealing with numbers. They also need to prepare reports, manipulate data, present information, check for errors, and reconcile. Analytical skills are also crucial, as the accountant’s role is sometimes straightforward. Handling the preparation of reports can require creative solutions. The same holds for performing other tasks. In the accounting world, business analysis is also in high demand and gels well with analytical skills.
  • Business Experience. Accountants will also benefit from some experience in a company’s general business operations. This allows them to better understand the data they work with and spot any unusual data points. An accountant might have to be involved in the business’s day-to-day operations. This might include tracking payments and issuing refunds. The company’s business structure determines this. It might require understanding the company’s core business activity.
  • Working under time pressure and meeting deadlines. Meeting deadlines is crucial for almost every business function. Yet, it can have a new meaning for the accounting department. Listed companies cannot delay regulatory reports or important statements from a tax perspective. This is particularly relevant. Additionally, the accounting department must also submit periodic reports for internal consumption. The company’s business operations can be significantly affected if these reports are not timely. Time management and the ability to prioritise and organise tasks are therefore essential.
  • Tech Savvy. Handling the vast amount of data a company generates manually is impossible or even necessary. Specialised accounting software and enterprise solutions do most of the heavy lifting for record keeping, data management, and storage. The software can perform basic checks. It can also generate standard financial reports and financial statements. Accountants can use such software to make their lives easier and improve the quality of the reports they generate. Being aware of all the latest features available on the market and having the technical know-how to make the most of these tools can be a valuable skill. Many accountants will also be involved in data analysis and transformation to stay competitive.

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  • Leadership Skills. Senior positions in the accounting department require employees to have leadership skills. They are more important than accounting skills. Senior accountants will manage the teams under them. They will also coordinate with other department heads and the company’s top management. Thus, leadership skills learned throughout their career are critical. They will also work closely with the finance department and internal and external auditors. They will assist them in performing their duties. As they move through the ranks, their ability to lead teams will become more and more critical. They must also adapt their leadership style to the organisation.
  • Communication Skills. Accountants must have good communication skills. They often need to explain financial strategies to non-finance personnel. Note that communication skills relate to both verbal communication as well as writing skills. Annual reports and more general financial reports are a combination of both numbers and commentary. Thus, part of an accountant’s armoury is to simplify the complexity of reports for public consumption.
  • Critical Thinking. Accounting professionals learn critical thinking skills throughout their careers. These skills become invaluable to them. Accountants are business leaders. Expectations increase as their career progresses. They are expected to identify solutions, advise, and apply accounting practices. They should also have general business knowledge. They should also execute data analysis to provide strategic insights for the organisation. As such, critical thinking is also strategic thinking, and it is a crucial skill.

To learn more about a career in accounting, please visit our resources page or search for accounting roles here.

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