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Accounting careers explained

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Ignore, for a moment, the grey reputation of most accounting jobs, and consider this – accountants are present in every type of company, the job options available are vast and diverse and most roles are well-paid. You need to not only ask whether you’d like to be an accountant, you need to consider what type of accountant you’d like to be.

There are options not only on the type of role you can perform, but also the types of company you can work for, both of which will determine the scope of the role and the amount of money it pays.

These are the main options:

Accounting firms:

The obvious choice for any budding accountant is to work for a Big Four firm – Deloitte, EY, KPMG or PwC – which take in thousands of graduates each year. Big Four firms offer a range of services; consulting for various sectors including financial services and technology; corporate finance (Big Four firms tend to focus on smaller deals that fall outside of the remit of large investment banks); tax (helping clients reduce their tax burdens), assurance and audit.

Despite a renewed focus on consulting, Big Four firms still employ more people in audit and assurance, providing an independent review of large companies’ accounts to ensure that they’re complying with legislation. Big Four accountants also provide corporate recovery services to help companies through difficult times and forensic accounting, which investigate accusations of fraud or embezzlement.

As well as the Big Four, other large accounting firms such as Grant Thornton, BDO and Baker Tilley also offer plentiful opportunities to graduates.

Financial services:

Financial services organisations are also big employers of accountants. There are numerous roles, which we explore elsewhere in this guide, but generally speaking accountants can work in financial control – an internal position helping financial services companies hit targets and comply with regulations – product control (accounting and financial reporting for investment banks’ trading desks), internal audit, business analysis and regulatory accounting.

Historically, investment banks used to hire qualified accountants for their advisory functions and train them up in the intricacies of M&A. However, this is less common since the financial crisis.

Industry and commerce:

Accountants keep companies large and small ticking across just about every sector imaginable and the range of jobs available to number crunchers is growing. There are still traditional roles that keep companies financials in line – think credit control, systems accountants and finance managers – but accountants are also being brought in to think about strategy.

Management accountants and strategic accountants advise CEOs and other executives on the advisability of entering or exiting new products or territories, while business and financial analysts work out the practicalities of doing so.

Public sector:

If you’re civically-minded and fancy plying your accounting skills in government organisations, there’s no shortage of options. Accountants in the public sector work for charities, health organisations or in local or central government. The downside to these roles is that the pay is generally less than other accounting jobs, but the trade off is that you’re using your skills to make a difference to your community.

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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