As someone who was working within a Finance Department (albeit not in a specifically financial role - more planning than accounting) I decided that as part of my development plan I would like to increase my financial knowledge to help me understand what is is my stakeholders were responsible for (mainly accountants) and also keep my options open for the future.
I decided to look into classroom based courses, as I felt that having other people to study with would be better than going it alone. After looking at my local college website I saw the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) have 3 courses available, Foundation, Intermediate and Technician. So off I went to my local college to the open day and enrolled myself onto the Intermediate course.
So a couple of weeks later I found myself sat in a classroom, with a group of people (mostly younger than me) who all seemed to know each other as they had completed the Foundation course together. Initial thoughts were I should have done the course from the first level rather than jumping in at the deep end but it did save me a year of studying. However, after speaking to some of the other students a lot of the work they did in the first year was around health and safety rather than concentrating totally on accountancy. I did struggle with a few of the basics having not sat the Foundation level and I would recommend anyone thinking of skipping the first year to read up on some of the basic principals.
The Intermediate level covers the following topics:
Accounts Preparation (1 and 2)
Indirect Tax (i.e. VAT)
Costs and Revenues
All of the exams are computer based and with the exception of Spreadsheets are marked by the computer so the results are available within 15 minutes.
The topics flow well and all have example tests on the AAT website, although I would recommend classroom learning rather than trying to learn from a book as some of the principals need context.
The intermediate course lasts 18 months as does the Technician level which I am currently studying (although I believe some colleges squeeze them into 12 months). The intermediate is more numbers focused whereas with the Technician level there is more freedom of choice for the topics you study and many are more principal based rather than number crunching and there is also a written project to complete. Unfortunately Technician exams are not instantly marked so can take up to six weeks for the results.
So my experience of Accountancy, I remember on my first day at college being told "accountants are boring people" and I can sort of see how some of the number crunching they do why they would be perceived in that way as I do find the day to day updating of data fairly tedious. However, the side that interests me is more the forecasting and budgeting side where things aren't as black and white.
To anyone thinking of becoming an Accountant, prepare yourself for hard work, several years of studying (with course fees circa £1k) and lots of exams. If you can try and find a job which supports the course as it would help the understanding of your learning.
I write this review from the point of view of someone who has fallen into accountancy as a career and would love to get out of it! Although I realise everyone is different, I'd like anyone considering a career in this sector to read this review and just make sure they are doing it for the right reasons, and that they won't regret their choice.
I fell into accountancy because my dad is an accountant, and in school I was good at maths and loved Business Studies and Economics. I didn't have much imagination when it came to careers choices, and decided to settle for a steady job that would hopefully earn me some decent money.
What I found, however, is that accountancy is a very difficult road, and if you don't enjoy it there is no point pursuing it for the security. I got a job as a trainee accountant for an accountancy practice, getting paid peanuts under the promise that they would train me and pay for my accountancy exams, so that when I passed them all and was qualified, the sky was my limit in the accounting world. The firm did pay for my exams, but the training wasn't the best and most of the time I was left to figure things out for myself and ask colleagues if I was struggling. I ended up working long hours because accountancy practice is a tough environment, where everything you do is chargeable to clients, so you were put under pressure to keep time down on preparing clients' accounts so that the practice could still make a profit. This is ridiculous when you consider the pittance they pay their trainees but unfortunately it's how it works in this environment.
You'll also be under pressure in your home life because you'll be sitting as many exams as you can to try and get up the ladder and increase your pay. This means that not only are you earning a pittance and working late, but your home life will suffer as you constantly seem to have your head in a book, to pass exams that in reality don't help you that much with your day-to-day work.
I left this environment, and now work in accounts for a charity, which although is a bit boring is a lovely environment, pays better, and I don't have to sit any exams.
I'm not saying that nobody should ever become an accountant, but it takes a certain type of person and if you're miserable from the start and suspect it's not for you, listen to your heart and do something about it because believe me, it doesn't get any better.
In two weeks I will find out if I have qualified as an Accountant throught the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians). This will be the cumulation of three years hard study and on the job training.
When I left school I did not want to be an accountant, it probably was the furthest thing from my mind - I was thinking more along the line of Pilot, Journalist or even Teacher (diverse? yes I know!). You will find that a lot of people who work in accounts just 'fell into it' as I did. It doesn't seem to be the job of choice for many people. But, once you're in, you're hooked!
Accountancy is a statisfying career for people who are very logical and methodical, and obviously the ability to work with numbers helps too. Don't worry too much about those pesky numbers though, as you will find most accountants (in my experience anyway) including myself can not add up in their head to save their life - why else would God give us calculators!
Other attributes that often help in the accounts department are:
- A good ability to work under pressure and to deadlines. In accounts you are always working towards some deadline or other, whether it be month end or year end or just a project for the Board.
- Being a neat worker helps, I know, I know, the handwriting of your average Accountant compares well with a Doctor's, but the neater the better, as you never know when you may need to go back over the figures.
- Accuracy is a good one - it is a good idea if your work is accurate, as it saves time and energy in the long run. It also saves the ear bashing you may get from the MD if he presents incorrect figures to the Board!
The study may be offputting to some. There is the initial three years (part time) at AAT level to become an Accounting Technician, then a futher 2 to 3 years (again part time) at either ACCA (Association of Certified Chartered Accountants) or CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)to become a Chartered Accountant. Parts of the study can be got around (fast tracked) if you have other relevant qualifications, but you could still be facing 4 years of very hard graft. I have so far only completed the AAT study, but so far, to me, it has been worth it. Without the AAT experience and qualifications gained to date I would not have the good job that I have now. In two weeks I will find out how worthwhile it really was. But even then if I have failed my final exams I can always resit them in December. It just means that I will have to delay enrolling on a CIMA course at the local university.
A glutten for punishment? Maybe. I don't think so, I get great job satisfaction from my job, and this can only be enhanced by the next step in my studying and when I can put CIMA after my name it will have all been worthwhile.
Wish me luck!
TracyCN (MAAT - hopefully/CIMA - one day soon)
Accountancy has got itself a bad name recently following saga's like Barings and Enron and others, however a closer look will show the uninitiated that it is actually Auditing that has the bad name and not the broader category of accounting. Accounting I like to compare to Doctors. You have your General Practitioners and you have your Specialists. Now you don't tarnish the heart surgeon or the ENT specialist with the same brush as certain notorious GP's I could mention. The same with Accounting. There are the General Practitioners who sit quietly in back offices compiling accounts and management reports for the individual companies that they work for and there are the specialists such as the tax advisors, corporate finance, small business advisors, insolvency and auditing to name but a few areas. Now in any industry there are the good, the bad, (and definitely the ugly - but that's another story), and accounting is the same. You can be just an accountant - Management, Certified, Chartered or Public, but to provide other services you often need further qualifications and relevant experience - there's the Taxation Institute, Insolvency institute, for auditing you need a practising certificate etc.... Much criticism has been put due to the fact that many of the accountancy firms offer additional services on top of the auditing service and this can lead to a conflict of interest and hence the view that maybe they won't highlight shortcomings for fear of losing a valuable contract. This maybe so, but auditors are only obligied to carry out the audit so that they have a reasonable chance of uncovering any wrong doing. They are not, and cannot, be a police force due to the short period of time they spend at any one company-the directors have the duty of care in this respect. There are many ways to 'hide' wrongdoing which may not be easy to uncover.. That said, some of the sums i
nvolved do beggar belief that they were not noticed. Anyway, the point of this op is not to try to exempt Auditors from blame but to highlight the fact that there are many aspects to Accountancy many of which sit quietly in the background doing a perfectly good job, day in, day out. I don't know the actual figures but auditors make up maybe only 15% of all accountants and it is only a very small proprtion of these that have caused the current situation (and not through any deliberate wrongdoing - just possibly not being as thorough as people expect). So please don't shoot the accountant for the failings of the few.