Running your own practice is potentially the most rewarding direction you can take in your accountancy career.
Here, award-winning accountancy firm director Laura Whyte MAAT, who now employs 12 people and has some 700 clients, shares some of the lessons she has learned since first applying for her AAT licence in 2014.
Benefits of having an AAT licence
The main benefit of holding an AAT licence is that you can start taking on clients and offering professional services on a self-employed basis. You’ll be supported by AAT, who will usually also act as your anti-money laundering supervisor, which is a legal requirement,.
“It is great to run and grow a practice that is based on your own values and work ethos, and then get the opportunity to employ and train individuals who share these values,” Whyte said.
“The satisfaction you feel seeing your own business grow is not something you would ever probably experience otherwise – although you need to work hard and make the right choices.”
Fortunately, becoming an AAT licence holder also entitles you to a range of resources that will help you develop a successful business.
These include networking opportunities, free helplines, discounted CPD resources and the opportunity to use the AAT licensed member logo on your website and business materials.
Strong and consistent CPD support
“There are always events, webinars and training opportunities to keep your knowledge current and allow you to socialise with other AAT members and licensed accountants with whom you can share best practice.
“You can also feature on the AAT website in the licensed member directory, and can get exclusive rates on Professional Indemnity Insurance to help you ensure you have all the cover you need in place” said Whyte.
AAT licences explained
AAT offers two types of licence for people looking to set up a business or provide services on a self-employed basis: AAT Bookkeeper and AAT Accountant. So the first thing to understand is which one is right for you.
This will depend on your qualifications and experience, as well as the services you wish to offer. The services you can provide as an AAT Licensed Bookkeeper – as long as you prove yourself competent in each area – are payroll, VAT, bookkeeping, computerised accountancy systems, and financial accounts for sole traders and partnerships.
As an AAT Licensed Accountant, meanwhile, you can potentially provide all these services, plus a range of others including budgeting and forecasting, management accounting, and internal audits.
“If you are just starting out, you could begin by getting a licence for bookkeeping only, for example. You can then add other services such as payroll as your experience increases”.Laura Whyte MAAT
Applying for your AAT licence
All AAT members offering self-employed bookkeeping or accountancy services within the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man must hold a valid AAT licence in accordance with the association’s licensing requirements.
The few exemptions to these requirements include if you are authorised by another recognised accountancy body, or are offering services on a voluntary basis.
But even if you do qualify for an exemption, it’s crucial to complete a Licence exemption application form.
For everyone else, the good news is that applying for an AAT licence is a simple process. The first step is to check out the information online and download the AAT Licensed member application form. It includes guidance on how to complete each section.
Just be sure to download the form to your computer or tablet and save your progress to avoid losing your changes!
Steps to becoming licensed
- Complete the AAT diagnostic tests
- Arrange a professional reference
- Take out Professional Indemnity Insurance
- Register with the Information Commissioners Officer (ICO)
- Apply for a Basic Disclosure Certificate (this is vital so the AAT can act as your approved supervisor for anti-money laundering compliance)
- Arrange “continuity of practice cover”
- Complete and send your application form to AAT, along with your fee.
Whyte said: “AAT provides a lot of information on how to apply for a licence. “However, it only gives licences to people who can do the work to a good level, so you will have to prove you are competent in each area.
“Getting this information together takes quite a bit of time – it took me about three months to get my licence and insurance in place” said Whyte.
As an AAT professional member, you are eligible to apply to become an AAT Licensed Bookkeeper or Accountant.
It’s an easy process and could be the first step towards running the business of your dreams.
Just remember that in almost all cases, you’ll need a valid AAT licence – and the anti-money laundering supervision that comes with it – before you start offering self-employed bookkeeping or accountancy services.
Take your first step to getting licensed by checking out the Be Your Own Boss support online.
Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.