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How to Become an Accountant Without a Degree

22/02/22

If you’re considering a change of career, you may not have immediately thought of accountancy. Despite the role offering rewarding, lucrative and varied opportunities, as well as the chance to make a significant impact in numerous different sectors, there is an assumption that in order to succeed in this career you need a university degree. However, despite this common misconception, you can become an accountant without a degree. 

In the UK, it’s possible, and even commonplace, to gain the qualifications needed to become an accountant without a university degree. In fact, increasing numbers of individuals are turning to accountancy as a second career choice, training and on-boarding the skills they need later in life via further education colleges and part-time courses. With above-average salaries and an additional 80,000 accounting jobs expected to be created over the next three decades in the UK alone, it’s no wonder that so many are looking into retraining to launch second careers in this expanding and highly valued industry.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the role of the accountant, the skills you need to excel in this role and the qualifications you’ll be expected to have under your belt to land a sought-after accountancy position in the UK. Finally, we’ll be giving you clear steps to follow so you know exactly what you’ll need to do to start your journey in accountancy and get your foot on the ladder of your new career.

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What does an accountant do?

An accountant can work in a number of different environments whether as a company employee or as a self-employed individual. While some accountants forge their careers in the accounts departments of companies or organisations, others choose to work within accounting firms as part of a team which consults different companies or clients. A third option for those with accounting qualifications is to become self-employed. A self-employed accountant will consult individual clients such as other freelancers or small businesses on a one-to-one basis in a freelance capacity. 

The exact responsibilities and tasks of an accountant will vary depending on the type of company they work for and the needs of their clients. However, in addition to these two variables, some accountants also choose to specialise in a particular area of finance and accounting. These individuals are likely to focus on cases which require their specialised skills and knowledge, for example, corporate finance or forensic accounting. 

Here’s a list of the general duties, tasks and responsibilities which every UK-based accountant will be qualified to undertake. 

  • Preparing accounts and tax returns
  • Analysing profits and losses
  • Writing and presenting reports, budgets, business plans, commentaries and financial statements
  • Reviewing business plans
  • Processing employee expenses
  • Offering tax planning services in line with current legislation
  • Advising on how to increase profits
  • Advising on how to reduce costs
  • Providing financial forecasting
  • Offering risk analysis
  • Preparing, analysing and verifying financial records
  • Offering data management, analysis and consultation
  • Managing a company’s financial records
  • Ensuring financial documents are compliant with the law 
  • Bookkeeping
  • Raising and sending out invoices
  • Entering sales and purchase transactions
  • Completing payroll functions
  • Keeping financial systems up to date
  • Providing insolvency advice and services
  • Negotiating the terms of business deals
  • Meeting clients 

What skills do accountants have?

You might think that a head for numbers is really all you need to be a great accountant. However, although ‘number crunching’ is undoubtedly a key part of this career choice, you might be surprised to learn of the raft of other skills expected in this role, from soft skills such as empathy through to hard skills like spreadsheet proficiency.

Soft skills

Accountants in a meeting

1. Communication

A key attribute of a sought-after accountant is the ability to explain complex topics in terms which anyone can understand, irrespective of their financial knowledge or background. That’s why communication in this role is key. You’ll need to be able to talk to clients in a style that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse, and that uses as little jargon as possible. 

2. Listening and empathy

Discussing financial matters can be a stress-inducing experience, especially if things aren’t going well. For this reason, an accountant needs to be able to listen carefully to their clients and demonstrate empathy for their situations, both good and bad. Only by listening and understanding will the accountant be able to offer relevant solutions.

3. Quick to learn

Due to how quickly accounting software evolves, improves and changes, it’ll be important to stay up to date with new technology in the industry and demonstrate your ability to work with different platforms. 

4. Collaboration

Depending on where you work, you’re likely to be expected to work as part of a team as well as in collaboration with teams from other departments. Your ability to work well with others, share ideas and your experience, as well as brainstorm and creatively problem-solve with your team will be highly valued in a modern working environment.  

6. Creativity

The role of the accountant may not immediately conjure the idea of a creative profession, but you’ll need to be able to creatively problem solve as well as come up with innovative solutions to complex issues on a regular basis as part of a successful accounting career. 

7. Love of learning 

The learning you undertake to onboard the skills needed to launch your accounting career won’t be the end of your education in the field. To gain the attention of employers and to boost your employability you’ll need to demonstrate in interviews and on your CV that you are staying up to date with regulation changes, technology and changes in the business world which will involve active and on-going learning alongside your day-to-day work. 

Hard skills 

Solid numerical understanding and knowledge

As might be expected, an accountant will need to be very comfortable working with numbers. This is less related to the amount of hands-on maths they will be expected to do, and more related to how much analysis, examination and interpretation of figures they will be doing on behalf of their company or clients.

Experience in using accounting software packages

Accounting software is a useful tool for enabling businesses to supply employees with accurate financial information. An accountant will need to know their way around this software as they will use it for a wide variety of tasks: keeping track of expenses, tax filing, inventory, calculating pay, calculating VAT and producing payslips.

Know how to prepare and interpret financial statements

Another key hard skill of the accountant is to know how to prepare and interpret financial statements. This is because financial statements play such a vital role in the running of most organisations. These statements provide information about the results of operations, the financial status of the company and cash flow. This information is then used to estimate the liquidity, funding and debt position of an organisation or individual.

Excellent financial reporting methods

Presenting clear and easy to understand financial reports is a skill that is expected of every accountant. You’ll be expected to record, summarise and report a company or client’s business transactions through their financial statements. Some examples of these statements might include: the income statement, the balance sheet, the cash flow statement and the statement of retained earnings. You’ll want these to be understood by all levels of management, irrespective of their background or accounting knowledge. 

Adhering to regulations, procedures and practises 

Accountants are essentially the gatekeepers of a company’s financial interactions. Keeping the business owners, investors and regulators aligned means adhering to regulations, procedures and practises. When the business abides by accounting practises it makes it easy to evaluate its performance, its operations are more transparent and the business is discouraged from interpreting grey areas or loopholes to their advantage. 

What qualifications do you need to be an accountant in the UK?

Accountants using calculator

 

As well as demonstrating the soft and hard competencies we’ve outlined, there are different accountancy qualifications you’ll need to have under your belt in order to become an accountant in the UK. 

The minimum level expected of an accountant is the AAT qualification. However, if you’d like to move into chartered accounting, you'll need to obtain a qualification from either the ACCA, ACA or CIMA. 

A degree is not essential to become an accountant and is merely considered a ‘nice to have’, rather than an absolute necessity for a career in accounting.

Here’s a quick rundown of the some of the accounting qualifications you might want to consider that you can take without a degree: 

How to become an account without a degree 

If you’ve got the soft skills needed to excel in an accounting career and would like to on board the hard skills and qualifications required to find your first job in the field, check out the following step-by-step plan for your career change.

1. Study for a qualification

Your first step will be studying for a qualification. As we have seen, there are a few different associations to choose from and the majority of accountancy firms accept qualifications from any board. However, it’s worth doing your research into each board to see exactly what subjects they cover. 

If you aren’t sure where to start, many career training centers offer accounting courses that can be completed relatively quickly and fully prepare you to complete your certifications. 

Additionally, if you think you might want to specialise later on, you’ll find that some specialisations only accept qualifications from specific associations so it’s important to check which associations your desired specialisation accepts before you get started to avoid disappointment later.  

2. Decide on a specialisation 

With so many specialisations to choose from, it’s important that you take the time to consider each kind of career in accountancy before deciding which one you’d like to pursue. It’s also important to take into account potential salary, what you enjoy doing on a daily basis and where your talents lie. 

For example, forensic accounting could suit you if you have a curious nature and the ability to explain complex financial conclusions to those of a non-finance background, while corporate finance may be a good fit for you if you have confidence, excellent numeracy skills and can work well under pressure.  

Here’s a comprehensive range of accountancy specialisations that you might like to consider: 

  1. Assurance
  2. Commercial finance
  3. Corporate finance
  4. Corporate recovery
  5. Corporate treasury
  6. Financial accounting
  7. Forensic accounting
  8. Internal audit
  9. Management accounting
  10. Risk assessment
  11. Tax

3. Gain work experience 

Once you’ve got your qualifications under your belt, or even while you’re still studying, it’ll be of value to your future career to try to gain some work experience in an accounting firm, or within an accounting department of a larger company. Consider applying for administrative or assistant positions if you’re not yet qualified, and try to learn as much as you can from your environment, colleagues and the projects and clients the team is working with.

While you are still studying for your accounting qualifications, consider applying for positions such as:

  • Accounts Assistant
  • Purchase Ledger Clerk
  • Junior Bookkeeper

These positions will not just provide you with a job, they will be excellent training and experience in the hands-on work of an accounting department. You’ll also be in a great position to ask for advice from the qualified accountants you’ll be working with on:

  • how to get a permanent accounting position
  • how they chose their specialisation
  • accounting best practises 
  • the benefits of working in-house or freelance

If you’re able to get this type of work experience while you’re studying–and work hard to demonstrate your skills and make a good impression with your employer and colleagues–you may find yourself in a position to be offered a permanent accounting role at the same company once you’ve qualified.  

 

If you’re interested in starting a career in accounting, but you know spending years at uni isn’t for you, Pitman Training offers a huge range of accountancy, bookeeping, and payroll courses. Our world-class courses have prepared thousands of students to sit for their certifications. Contact us today for more information about how Pitman Training can help you reach your goals.

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