14th December 2018

So you want to be an accountant? Here’s what you need to know

Trainee accountants can look forward to finding out that no two companies are the same. It is one thing having technical knowledge from studying for accountancy exams, but putting them in to practice is the test. Many exams I have sat have had questions about “incomplete records” when if a client’s records really were like an exam question… It would be a dream! They need to learn that every set of records needs to be approached differently and that clients need to be educated on their record keeping as this is more than likely not their forte.

I have found that accountancy trainees need their “big break” – that one firm that gives them the opportunity to put some experience on their CV’s. It is time consuming for a small accountancy practice to take on trainees as there is a large upfront investment in time in the hope that they will one day take the reins.

One big challenge I remember when I first started was double entry and journals. It was understanding that every debit has a credit and learning how an adjustment can change the profit or loss account and the balance sheet. It also takes many years to truly understand how to interpret a set of financial statement and to get behind the figures to know what they actually mean and then conveying that to the client – that is a skill in itself. I find many people blurt out technical jargon in meetings which has no relevance for the client – yes they may see that you know what you’re talking about, but the client can quite often have a “deer in headlights” expression.

Accountants tend to be very logical people, they problem solve to find out the best way of turning a carrier bag of receipts in to a set of financial statements with a corresponding tax return. It is about finding out what went on during the year, from determining whether the business is profitable, to finding out how it was funded. An established accountancy practice tends to systemise the accounts process as much as possible as every accountant will produce a slightly different set of figures – it is a way to gain consistency across the team. Systems should help a trainee to learn good habits so that they can perfect different parts of the process… The first control account a trainee tends to tackle and perfect is the bank control account; every trainee accountant has had to look for that 1p difference – as painful as that sounds, it certainly helps you learn!

To summarise, as a trainee progresses through their role, they learn how to prepare the accounts and then how to prepare the tax return. What takes the most time is learning how to interpret the numbers to decipher what it all actually means! That way, they are equipped to give meaningful advice to help their client’s businesses grow. The best way for trainees to develop is to LISTEN. They need to make plenty of notes, that’s for sure! But, they need to soak in the language spoken by their seniors… Listening to technical queries being answered over the phone or in meetings is the best way of clicking all knowledge gained in to place. An office should be an open forum for discussion and learning and trainees need to realise this in order to progress.