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Career change to accounting(21 Posts)
I am mid thirties and I currently earn about £50k in a media-ish profession. Although there are parts of the job I enjoy it isn't a challenge and there is no clear route to progression.
I am considering a career change and want a career that will give me stability, clearer career progression, the ability to earn decent money and potentially work in more diverse organisations.
I was thinking accounting. I have a first class degree from a top university in an unrelated subject. I was considering graduate schemes (a bit late as most seem to have closed for the year). But lots of talk online is about how hard studying is, how dull the job is (lots of audit positions) and the long hours and travel.
I have enjoyed the budgeting and financial elements of my current role and quite like processes and structures.
I was wondering is anyone had any accountancy experience or wisdom they might share.
DH is CIMA qualified of many years. He did an accountancy degree back in the 90's followed by professional exams, it was hard work to get there but he's now nudging £100k and has a reasonable work/life balance. DS1 is considering this pathway too so watching with interest.
I did exactly this at your age. Like you, I was in a career which paid ok but didn't give the options I wanted. I'm now newly qualified and, although I'm not back on my old salary level yet, I have a lot more career options that I had previously.
The exams are hard work, and eat up your free time while you're doing them, but the hours aren't any worse than my previous role.
Firstly, I would look at starting AAT or one of the big bodies first. Finance people don't care about none finance qualifications.
Be prepared for your salary to drop huge amounts, to get to 50K in my area would take five - six years minimum. Starting finance salaries here are 18k although you can progress quickly, you need to be passing exams.
The 18k roles are generally admin with a hint of finance, so think if your relevant experience could be matched to more of a finance assistant role instead.
Also, think about if you want to get into practice according over commercial, as there's a big difference.
The exams are quite hard. Once you've got them you're guaranteed work. It's easy to be a contractor or work from home. It's often very boring. You can work in any industry.
I am a qualified accountant, nearly 30 years now.
Thank you so much for responding! The drop in salary is something I am worried about, though I could manage it and would happily take it if it led to a more fulfilling work life with more potential.
As an accountant, I'd say there's no point in studying independently as experience is just as important for employers. That's why most people get a training/apprenticeship job, so they do the academic studying alongside a "work experience" kind of job.
To get the best/highest paid jobs, you generally need to get into the top 10 firms (PWC, KPMG, etc). Unfortunately, that usually means spending the first 2/3/4 years doing audits which is mind-numbing, but once you've passed your exams, got your work experience signed off, you can really progress quite fast, either internally through different departments or to other firms/industries. Qualifying in a top 10 firm is a passport to success.
Not the same at all if you end up with a training contract/apprenticeship in a smaller practice or industry or public sector. Most people find it very difficult to break into the bigger firms/top jobs from outside the top 10 due to the perceived lack of broader experience/exposure. I personally think that's wrong, but it's how it works and how people in the top firms think.
Small firms and practices all over the country have people who qualified in top 10 firms and have "come down" to find their niche in smaller firms. But you'll find few, if any, people who qualified whilst working in small firms in the big firms/blue chip firms etc.
So, I'd suggest you work on trying to get a trainee role in a top 10 firm if you want a new career that will give you a better salary than £50k Outside London/SE, job adverts for even qualified/experienced accountants at managerial levels are offering salaries below £50k!
I did a grad scheme at a Big4 firm in my mid-30s. Salary depends on where you are located, you could hit 50k reasonably soon after qualifying if you're in London. I am in the north, and can PM you with salary details if that's where you are.
And there are more options than audit at the Big4 btw! I'm not in audit.
I did Grad Scheme with one of the (then) Big 6. Auditing is pretty shit but I think you'd have an advantage as a mature grad because a lot of what makes it shit is being young and unconfident and having to argue the toss with someone twice your age who actually knows what they're talking about. Also, more audit is done onsite now (ie dont have to be at the client all the time and some of the worst tasks have been eliminated by technology). I wouldn't say it was the most fun 3 years of my life but the qualification is worth it and gives you a lot of flexibility. Some people do like audit and if you do then you can make $$$$$ as a partner in practice.
RE the studying- some of them give you a fair amount of time off for it. It is conceptually tricky (harder than my undergrad) but not impossible. Again, I think maturity would be on your side there.
Ime mature grads definitely have an advantage. You will have loads of transferable skills to bring to the table.
You could also consider being a tax specialist in Big 4(still possible to get ACA), which in retrospect I would have done as at least the clients like you- ha ha, or, conversely, administration and corporate recovery is interesting, but stressful.
This is all incredibly useful - thank you so much!
kazzyhoward you have confirmed much of what I expected! I am based in London so would hope to secure reasonable pay if I got an accountancy qualification. My current profession really makes it impossible to leave London and is notoriously badly paid.
soulrunner I would hope that the confidence of being in the workplace would help with the inevitably stress of a pressured work environment. Do you no longer work in audit? I'd love to know about the routes you could take.
My current profession really makes it impossible to leave London and is notoriously badly paid.
Yes, plenty of accountancy jobs outside London, but for the decent money, you need to be London or in a Top 10 office in another major city.
Wages in smaller/regional practices is pretty crap, and like I said, usually less than £50k unless you're a partner or senior manager.
I run a small "one man" practice and we get CVs from recruitment agencies every week. Only last week, we got one from a qualified ACA with 5 years PQE experience and salary expectation of only £30k - that's market level for senior level out in the regions (North West).
The salaries are definitely significantly higher in London.
Kazzy - I'd be interested to know how you got into what you're doing. Did you set it up from scratch?
Kazzy - I'd be interested to know how you got into what you're doing. Did you set it up from scratch?
I started as a trainee accountant in a local 2 partner practice the day after I left school with pretty poor qualifications (a crap state comp where I suffered bullying every day) and first re-took my A levels with self study, then did my accountancy qualifications also via self-study & correspondence courses for the first 2 levels and then day release at a regional college for the final level. I worked in local practices (2-3 partners) for about 10 years rising to manager level, then moved to industry for a few years as finance director, then back to practice for (2 partner) for 3 years as a partner designate, but when it was time to become a partner, I left instead due to personality clash with one of the other partners who I decided I couldn't be a partner with. (He since got prosecuted for fraud/theft and spent time in jail!).
Starting my own practice was really a matter of necessity as I had to earn to live and there were no decent local jobs available at the time, so I just took the plunge and started advertising in the local newspapers, shop notice boards, and created my own web page (20 years ago so quite rare back then), all just to earn some money whilst looking for a manager/partner role in a local practice. As it happens, the timing wa right (esp the website) so the practice grew and I soon forgot about looking for jobs. As it grew, I got an office, then some staff, then a bigger office and so it went on. Now, I've downsized quite a bit as I'm reducing hours ahead of a gradual retirement.
The practice growth was really due to the internet/website - right place, right time, just as it took off and long before where all accountants have websites. It was quite rare/niche back then to have an "online" accountant and I cashed in on that. It wouldn't work today as every firm has websites and apps, "cloud" accounting is more mainstream, and the internet has given a marketplace for any man and his dog to set themselves up as an accountant, qualified or not, so the competition is far greater now. As an example, the "market rate" today for contractor accountants (my niche) is the same as I was charging 20 years ago - so no increase at all to account for inflation - the difference is that today, it's mostly unqualified accountants in that market, which is a good rate for them - qualified accountants aren't really interested any more as the rates are too low to bother with.
I went in to a grad scheme straight from uni and qualified 12 years ago now. I did ICAS (CA) and yes the exams are tough although the structure has now changed which makes them more manageable (2 exams at a time rather than 4). Personally, I wouldn't want to be doing them now that I have kids but I know people that have, and that might not be applicable to you anyway.
You definitely need a training contract where you work and get relevant experience alongside exams as that's actually a requirement to be a CA.
Where you get the experience varies though - I did the traditional audit department in a top 5 accounting firm but friends did tax, insolvency, internal audit for a large plc, banking so lots of alternatives.
As for audit, well yes people tend to complain about it but actually it can give you a really good grounding in business in general through exposure to different businesses, people, operations etc. I stayed for a few years after qualifying up to senior manager level and now work in a totally different area but still as an accountant (with part-time hours, flexi hours and loads of holidays ie the opposite of my previous role!)
Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
soulrunner I would hope that the confidence of being in the workplace would help with the inevitably stress of a pressured work environment. Do you no longer work in audit? I'd love to know about the routes you could take
I left audit after 3.5 years and did 1 year in the same firm in corporate recovery. That was ok but involved working away a lot. I then left and worked in-house for a global healthcare company in its UK business as a financial analyst doing all the management reporting, forecasting and performance analysis for a specific business unit, and then worked for a different listed company doing a global business analysis role (less reporting, more forecasting and the more technical side of investor relations (so helping the investors understand how we were calculating things so they can understand and predict performance better). Then I moved into asset management as an equities analyst/ stock picker. I still work for that company but I now work for its philanthropic foundation. That's not a typical route to be fair. The global financial analyst role would have set me up pretty well for division financial controller/director roles. That's the way most people go.
A tonne of people went into investment banking straight after qualifying with Big 4- either M&A, equity research or middle office roles like product control. Not sure if that's still a thing.
Global roles are good experience as you have to do consolidation (rolling up of all the subsidiary companies into the parent company accounts) which is one of the more complex areas of accounting (or can be). It's also good to get experience with listed companies and working to the deadlines for results etc. That said, my first role doing a UK division was also good experience as it was the first time I had to do actual accounting (i.e. put all the adjustment entries through) as opposed to just audit them.
As others have said just having the exams won't guarantee you a job, you will need experience in a relevant field too.
If you are wanting to practice as an accountant from home at any point then you really need to work for an accountancy firm and ensure you get the relevant experience, both pre and post qualification
In all honesty you are very likely to have to take a pretty significant pay cut for a number of years before you start to see any increase
Also, you sound like you have a great degree so I would start with ACCA and skip AAT
I am ACCA, qualified about 20 years ago, run an accountancy practice in London remotely and prepare UK tax returns for expats (mainly Americans). I know make very good money, but it was very hard work on low wages getting where I am now
I’m a CA working in practice for top 10 National practice. I started off in audit and accounts with a 4 partner firm, moved to a smaller firm on qualifying. This was then bought by a larger firm and a much larger firm.
About 6 years ago I moved from audit into our internal compliance department which I love. I am finding it tough at the moment as the big new practice doesn’t have the same infrastructures my last firm had and 8 am trying to drive forward people with a “small firm” mentality.
There are lots of options within practice
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