What is an accountant and what do they do?

Accountants are qualified professionals employed by organisations or private clients to audit accounts, record business transactions, prepare annual reports and financial statements and provide financial advice. They may also be involved in the creation of processes within an organisation and advise on tax laws and investment opportunities. Their key objective is to ensure that companies are operating efficiently and effectively.

Accountants can be employed directly by an organisation (‘in industry’) or work in an accountancy firm (‘in practice’). Accountancy roles within a practice perform similar duties to those working in an organisation, however, they will work with a range of clients, as opposed to a single business.

Links to ACCA

Individuals cannot refer to themselves as a ‘Chartered Accountant’ unless they have an accounting qualification from one of the main UK accounting bodies, such as ACCA.

Key responsibilities

Responsibilities will vary, but examples include:

  • Recording financial transactions by entering account information
  • Maintaining accounting records
  • Providing financial information to management by compiling and presenting reports, budgets, business plans and financial statements (including monthly and annual reports)
  • Auditing financial information
  • Managing financial systems and budgets
  • Preparing accounts and tax returns
  • Providing tax planning advice with reference to current legislation, as well as tax issues associated with business mergers and acquisitions
  • Maintaining accounting controls by designing and implementing policies and procedures
  • Reconciling financial discrepancies by analysing accounts
  • Financial forecasting and risk analysis

Why are they important?

Accounting plays an essential role in running a business because it helps companies track income and expenditures and ensure statutory compliance. Accountants make sure all financial information is visible and organised and they provide investors and management with financial information which can be used in strategic planning and business decisions

Skills needed for this role

Accountants must have the highest level of professionalism and integrity as well as being self-motivated. Excellent numeracy and attention to detail are essential, and they must work methodically using their strong problem-solving skills. Good interpersonal and communication skills are also required, as is the ability to work to tight deadlines.

Strategic Professional Options examinations linked to this role

Advanced Financial Management

Advanced Performance Management

Advanced Taxation

Advanced Audit and Assurance

Career opportunities presented by this role

Accountants work with businesses that range from multinational organisations and government bodies to small, independent businesses and individuals. They can either be employed with an accounting firm or within the business itself, or they can set up an individual practice.

Accountants are highly regarded in the workplace and there are always opportunities for them to take on different roles or find a new job. Junior roles offer quick progression and training, with a very structured career path. Being an accountant also allows individuals to move into very senior positions, including management and leadership roles.

Competencies

High level competencies required include:

  • Audit and assurance

    A. Advises on and communicates effectively the role and scope of audit and assurance engagements to relevant stakeholders.

    B. Applies regulatory, legal, professional and ethical standards relating to audit and assurance engagements.

    C. Plans and prepares for audit and assurance engagements.

    D. Performs effective audit, and assurance engagements.

    E. Reviews and reports on the findings of audit and assurance engagements.

    F. Guiding efficient and effective operations.

     

  • Corporate and business reporting

    A. Prepares financial statements, corporate financial and integrated reports for external stakeholders using appropriate technology.

    B. Leads effective decision making through analysing, evaluating and communicating performance and position of entities.

    C. Prepares financial statements for groups of entities using appropriate technologies.

    D. Monitors, critically evaluates, and advises on the relevant accounting standards, regulations, conceptual and financial reporting frameworks.

  • Financial management

    A. Links developments in global trade, markets, business practices and the economic environment to required improvements in the financial and risk management of an organisation.

    B. Advises on business asset valuations, capital projects and investments using appropriate analytical qualitative and quantitative techniques.

    C. Identifies, evaluates and advises on alternative sources of business finance and different ways of raising finance.

    D. Communicates and advises on the impact on financial decision making on current developments in regulation, governance and ethics.

    E. Assesses and advises on appropriate strategies to manage business and organisational performance regarding business and finance risk and effectively communicates the impact.

  • Taxation

    A. Communicates knowledge of the operation and scope of the tax system, obligations of taxpayers, and the implications of non-compliance and advises on tax planning.

    B. Advises ethically on strategic tax plans and computes the tax liabilities of individuals.

    C. Advises ethically on strategic tax plans and computes the corporation tax liabilities of individual companies and groups of companies.

    D. Explains and computes the effects of value added tax (VAT) / goods and services tax (GST) and indirect tax on incorporated and unincorporated businesses and advises appropriately.