What does your perfect accountancy role look like post Covid-19?

If you are in the middle of studying for your AAT exams, Covid-19 has meant that much of your studying has had to be done at home, and without the support of in-classroom learning.

At the same time, you may be trying to balance the new demands of childcare, working from home, and financial and time pressures. It can be hard to stay motivated when you are working alone, without the camaraderie of fellow students. At times like this it can be helpful to think about why you are studying in the first place, what skills you will acquire, and the exciting roles that await you when you are qualified.

Learning skills for life

“Accountancy will provide you with good self-motivation as you have to push yourself to study, to stand out, and to succeed,” says Sophie Tyler (MAAT), Accounting Team Manager at Dolan Accountancy. “You will develop skills in time management, as there are always urgent deadlines and things on your schedule to juggle around and prioritise.”

She says the profession offers a variety of interesting challenges. Accountants are skilled at working the mind with numbers and taxes while being mindful of the ‘social’ aspect of customer service. In other words, you are not simply hidden behind a desk. 

“Working full time plus studying is difficult, but you must make yourself a realistic study plan and then stick to it,” she says. “You should look at setting yourself weekly study goals and working to achieve those, and after each exam, take even just a week or two as a ‘break’ so you can enjoy your evenings and weekends again!”

She says it is important to think of the end goal and always keep that in mind; whether it’s a slightly different industry you wish to work in, a pay rise, a promotion, or even the feeling of having the letters after your name once you’re qualified. 

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The profession that is always changing

For students, companies in all areas of accountancy look for apprentices and study support is usually offered by most employers in some form. One of the most exciting aspects of the profession is that it is always changing.

“For example, each Budget there are usually new/amended taxes to consider and to update your own knowledge, so always something new to learn,” she says. “Due to the recent pandemic, there have been different styles of working – accountants working from home and not needing to stick to the general ‘stuffy’ atmosphere that some people assume accountants work in.

“I currently work in a niche market with contractors, so one-man limited companies and sole traders. I enjoy the technical side of the work and how I have been able to experience a breadth of experience in company accounts and also taxation.”

A fulfilling career

“The role of the modern accountant isn’t that of the stereotypical number cruncher who just works out profit and gets a balance sheet to balance,” says Sara Whitton, Client services director at My Management Accountant. “There are a range of roles that suit individuals who enjoy detailed analysis and mathematics, but it is also important that we listen to clients.”

She is AAT qualified and self-funded her studies when she was 21 (25 years ago) while working as a cashier at Symphony Group plc. 

“The industry has changed a lot in those 25 years, I used to keep a manual cashbook when I was cashier. Now I’m working in cloud accounting and my role and that of the modern accountant and business adviser has changed a lot too.

Strong communication skills are a must

As a company MMA presently employ three apprentices who are studying for AAT, and other members of staff who are also studying AAT.  

“Obviously we look to recruit candidates with good accountancy skills, but good communication skills are equally important to the company. The role of the modern accountant is to understand and assist as much as it is to deliver numerical data. Our team enjoys assisting owners and managers and helping them achieve their goals is enjoyable and fulfilling.  Accountancy is a whole lot more than adding up, as my children seem to think!”

Opportunities for growth

James Brent, Director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, says there is great potential for personal and professional growth in accountancy. Most graduates start off as accounts assistants and ledger clerks but after getting to grips with the basics, more doors quickly start opening up. Experience counts for a lot in this field and the more of it you get, the greater potential for you to grow.

“Working in accountancy can provide you with a varied and progressive career path, with many choices of jobs and industries from an Internal auditor role in financial services to a commercial director job for a premiership football club,” he says. 

A lucrative profession

It can also be a very lucrative profession to work in – you can earn an attractive salary and often receive generous company benefits including bonus and share options. In terms of studying, he says prioritizing really is a skill and the more you work on it, the better you will be able to manage your study and personal life.

“If you are feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, start by ranking the importance of each item and how long you have to do it. This illuminates the things which you need to get done for that day and what you can leave for the next day. The key is to stop once you have finished that day’s priorities so you can enjoy your personal life too.”

His tips for staying motivated include pushing yourself outside your comfort zone so you can find out what you are capable of. Also, try to interact with positive, enthusiastic, ‘can do’ people and avoid those who are negative or who bring you down. Positive energy will rub off on you and help you feel more motivated.”

He says accountancy has given him the chance to work for a wide range of industries and jobs across the globe. As well as this, other opportunities include leading teams, being involved in projects and some generous salaries and bonuses. 

Digital transformation is changing entry-level jobs

“Automation in particular is reducing the manual tasks that entrants into the field often have to do, which is opening up opportunities for them to add human value to more strategic projects. The industry is changing to prioritise analytical and strong IT skills more than ever before” says James.

Although accountants are usually praised for their proficiency with numbers, more surprisingly, working in the field makes you a good communicator. Accountants need to explain their work to people who are not necessarily in the profession and tell the story behind the numbers.

“It’s no secret that accountancy requires ongoing study which means accountants also develop an enthusiasm for learning,” he says. “They invest in their professional development perhaps more than those in other industries and strive to grow in their role.”

A chance to lead and grow

“An experienced qualified accountant will have gained many additional skills over and above the accounting knowledge and application,” says Andrew Moss, Corporate Partner at DSG Chartered Accountants. “Team working and judgement are brought into play on an almost daily basis as well as negotiation and communication skills (both written and oral).  As you progress and take more responsibility, leadership skills are tested as well as motivating others.”

He says that once you have qualified there are numerous opportunities that can open up.  Salary will also increase over the course of the training contract and is often exam-related so that can motivate people.

In summary

Working hard for your exams will be worth it in the end! You have the opportunity to join a fast-moving and exciting profession that is well-paid, has lots of scope for learning and growing, and provides a huge range of different roles.

Investing in your skillset now and in the future will help you develop as an accountant and a leader. Don’t forget that communication skills are also important because the role of the accountant is becoming much more consultative and strategic.

Key takeaways

  • Rank the items on your to-do list by importance to help you feel more in control of your schedule
  • Stop once you have finished that day’s priorities so you can enjoy your personal life too
  • Challenge yourself to move outside your comfort zone so you can find out what you are capable of
  • Focus time and energy on tasks you perceive to be more difficult because accomplishing these helps you expand your skillset
  • There is a lot to learn from ‘failing’ and it often helps you stay motivated to keep at it until you succeed
  • Interact with positive, enthusiastic, ‘can do’ people and avoid those who are negative or who bring you down. Positive energy will rub off on you and help you feel more motivated.

Further reading:

AAT professional membership: supporting your journey to career success

Our professional membership offers you flexible options whether you’re focused on bookkeeping, accounting, becoming chartered, or even want to run your own practice.

Find out more

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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