How Long Does It Take to Become a Chartered Accountant?
Chartered accountants typically spend several years studying and completing mandatory minimum practical experience requirements before they earn a professional designation. The least time it takes to become an ACA chartered accountant is three years.
Students must meet minimum examination standards and provide evidence of three years of qualifying experience. Even if they complete their exams in two years, they will not be classed as chartered accountants or be granted the designation until all the requirements have been fulfilled.
Exact study periods vary between trade bodies and professional qualifications, but most accountants achieve a degree before they embark on their post-graduate studies.
How Easy Is it to Become a Chartered Accountant?
Chartered accountants must have a high level of financial expertise and support businesses and management teams across a vast range of business sizes and structures, from small charities to large international enterprises.
Membership organisations have strict criteria and usually require members to submit annual declarations proving they have completed a minimum number of hours of continued professional development studies (CPD).
Obtaining chartered accountant status requires several years of practical experience, often at a junior level, while successfully achieving pass grades for up to 15 exam papers and fulfilling ongoing requirements.
While becoming a chartered accountant may not be quick or easy, these barriers ensure that companies and organisations who hire a qualified accountant are assured of receiving professional advice from a skilled individual or practice.
How Are Accountants and Chartered Accountants Different?
Accountancy roles cover similar daily tasks, such as managing an organisation's finances and preparing accurate reports. Every finance professional requires training and can qualify as an accountant through several routes, but a degree or certification from outside of a chartered membership organisation does not equate to chartered accountant status.
A chartered accountant has been granted membership in a professional accountancy body and complies with the regulations and conditions of membership.
There are a total of six chartered accountancy bodies throughout the UK:
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
Accountants using these designations are registered within a publicly available database so that prospective clients can verify their credentials online.
To qualify as a chartered accountant and remain so, an accountant must comply with ethical conduct codes, rules around professional competence, due care, professional behaviour and competence, undertake annual professional development training, and prove relevant work experience.
What Industries Do Chartered Accountants Usually Work In?
Companies and organisations hire chartered accountants in every sector and industry. Some accountants work for an accountancy practice. Specialist firms may offer advice about specific areas of finance, or a company can hire an accountant as a full-time staff member.
The role of a chartered accountant is to advise organisational management around financial matters, examine and/or produce financial reports, and provide information and recommendations after analysing the financial statements.
Profit-making businesses need to generate maximum profits but ensure their business has longevity and meets other minimum performance requirements. Nonprofits and charities also work with accountants to control costs, boost tax efficiency and publish verified accounts with the Charity Commission.
Chartered accountants may also fulfil very different jobs roles, which could be:
- Managing all aspects of financial reporting and accountancy for one business.
- Specialising in insolvency, auditing or taxation advice.
- Working on corporate mergers and acquisitions.
- Supporting companies in financial distress requiring a capital restructure.
- Forensic accounting, collaborating with legal teams or even the police and local authorities.
Most accountants study a broad range of topics and examinations so that they can select a preferred area of expertise as their main professional focus.
What Skills Must a Chartered Accountant Have?
It is a fair assumption that accountants will be proficient in maths, but the ability to perform mental arithmetic is not a core requirement. Rather, examination bodies look at the bigger picture and reward candidates who have a keen interest and knowledge of business and finance.
Accountants need to retain professional scepticism, which means they do not take reports at face value but apply their abilities to look beyond the data and unpick its meaning.
Chartered accountants must also demonstrate integrity and usually pick a sector where they have an affinity or interest. An accountant may be chartered, but they may not specialise in tax advice, preparing annual returns or dealing with VAT.
Finance is typically seen as a 'cold' topic, but the opposite is true in real-world environments. Accountants often work with teams of bookkeepers, clients, advisers and colleagues and cannot perform their job well without an influx of information, data, opinions and ideas.
Interpersonal skills and good communication are essential for accountants working in corporate environments and as part of a team or as a management advisory professional.
Whether they work as an auditor or financial accountant, a qualified professional will be adept at problem-solving, decision making, strategic planning and negotiation - all attributes examined during the professional qualification process.
What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Chartered Accountant?
The costs of employing or hiring a chartered accountant are usually outweighed several times by the cost savings and efficiencies they offer.
Services available are varied. Business managers can access extensive knowledge. Accountancy practices nurture talent, and clients can benefit from a range of diverse expertise from throughout the team.
Chartered accountants provide impartial and trustworthy advice, advise on tax laws, and manage basic financial tasks.
One of the key advantages is that an accountant will recommend the right way to account for a transaction, maximise tax efficiencies, and ensure the business is fully compliant with all the applicable laws and regulations.
Handling taxes and mandatory compliance tasks correctly can mitigate many potential issues, from late payment fines to HMRC audit investigations and non-compliance penalties to higher than necessary tax bills.
Business owners can instruct their accountants to generate reports, make independent suggestions, monitor ongoing progress, and raise a flag when any data they see indicates a potential issue that needs troubleshooting.
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