If you’re looking to get into the world of accounting – for a career in accounting – you’re going to have to do an accounting qualification. There are plenty of different options to choose from, from the undergraduate degree in accounting to the postgraduate, from the pathway to be a chartered accountant with one of the professional bodies to diplomas in financial accounting, management accounting, and auditing.
Whichever you choose – and there isn’t strictly a ‘best’ option – you’ll be covering the central accounting principles, from the financial statement to the cash flow statement, from business law to the theory and practice of business decisions and financial transactions. Each will give you a firm grounding in the arts of accountancy and bookkeeping.
The thing about professional accounting is that, if you want a successful career, you really need to complete the training from the correct professional bodies. This is pretty much a certainty. But there are increasingly so many ways to do it that it can be a little overwhelming.
So, let’s talk through some different ways to become qualified – so that you can actually call yourself one of the chartered accountants.
Why Bother Taking an Accountancy Course?
As we just mentioned, if you want to become a qualified management accountant, public accountant, or any other type of professional accountant, you are going to need to ensure you are recognised by one of the professional bodies.
For those of us in Northern Ireland, we have a couple of these to choose from. The most prestigious are the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), and Chartered Accountants Ireland. The respective designations that these will give you will open the door to plenty of career opportunities. (There are more bodies, as you’ll see below).
And this is the thing. Chartered accountants are always going to be in high demand. In financial management, by auditors, in a school of business, in your own business management, you’ll have so many career paths and career options that all the fuss of getting qualified will seem worth it in the long run.
If you’re into financial analysis, information systems, and managerial concerns, you’ll certainly enjoy it – as you’ll be at the heart of the world of business.
Also, whilst ‘accountant’ or ‘bookkeeper’ admittedly doesn’t sound very sexy, there are loads of jobs that such a qualification prepares you for, including forensic accounting and governmental or public accounting. And you needn’t feel like you are limited to a business environment – because all public organisations really need an accountant at the end of the day. So, you could end up with both the analytical skills and technical skills and the opportunity to do something good with it.
Oh, did we mention? Accountants and auditors can take home a pretty tidy sum at the end of the year. If nothing else, this may be worth your while.
The Different Types of Accounting Qualifications.
As we said above, the world of accounting and finance is presided over by professional bodies. If you are working with businesses, they are going to want to know whether you are trustworthy, professional, and competent – and it’s these professional bodies that rubber stamp you.
And alongside the ICAEW, the ICAS, and the CAI, there are a couple more to be aware of. There’s CIMA, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, and then there’s the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
All of these are fairly respected bodies – and you’ll find that most courses, any accounting degree, or any diploma that you see will be accredited by one of these organisations. The one that you pick will be up to you, honestly.
The main differences between the different bodies are as follows.
The ICAEW’s ACA Qualification.
In the UK, the most in-demand public accountants and professional accountants in general are those with an ACA qualification. This is awarded by the Institutes of Chartered Accountants, of which the ICAEW is a part – as well as by the CAI.
For these, you need to stack up 450 days of professional experience with an accredited employer, over the course of five years. This is also the amount of time you have to complete the training – and sit all fifteen exams. This thing about the accredited employer is something different to most of the others – as you have to commit to that job, and that place, for that amount of time.
For CIMA and ACCA qualifications, this doesn’t apply. You have three years to complete the respective courses and you’ll need three years of professional experience too – but you can do this whilst working with any employer you like (as long as it’s relevant).
CIMA? Or, the Difference between Management Accountants and Financial Accountants.
You’ll have noticed that CIMA specifically refers to management accountants. And whilst this body boasts a huge number of members worldwide, you’ll be following a different sort of career path.
The difference between these two types of professional accountants is that management accountants tend to work in businesses, whilst chartered accountants more generally work for external auditors or independent accounting firms.
As a management accountant then you’ll be more concerned with corporate finance and the language of business.
For those of you not yet at the stage when you want or need to be chartered, there are the formal but more foundational accounting qualifications that are run by the AAT, the Association of Accounting Technicians.
Most technical colleges will offer diplomas accredited by AAT, which progress according to level. In these courses, you’ll be covering all the stuff from financial data, financial reports, and financial records, but if you want to become chartered, you’ll have to go and do one of the above qualifications subsequently – or else take an accountancy degree at undergraduate or graduate level.
Your Options for Accountancy Courses in Belfast.
As one of the UK’s major cities, there is no shortage of opportunities to learn to be an accountant in Belfast. From a business school to a graduate certificate, from specialised finance academies to private tuition, there are plenty of different routes to follow.
Here are some of the best ones from across the city – designed to get you into professional accountancy.
If you're still at high school you can find accounting lessons for high school students here.
Take an Accredited Accountancy Degree at Queen’s University Belfast.
One of the nicest ways to start out on the road to a career in accountancy is to join a degree program in the subject. The one at Queen’s University is particularly good – as it is recognised and accredited by CIMA, ACA, and Chartered Accountants Ireland.
Across the three-year course you’ll study everything from tax laws and tax preparation to advanced financial accounting and international business. You’ll also get a lot of transferable skills in the meantime.
Watch out for the entry requirements. This is a degree level program – so you will have the correct A Levels to be considered.
Pursue a CIMA Qualification at the Richard Clarke Academy, Belfast.
On the Stranmillis Road, you’ll find an institution offering a specialised CIMA-accredited course. These, you’ll remember, are designed for the route into management accountancy – and are aimed primarily at recent graduates.
They’ve been going for ten years already and are prepared for everything: helping you practice exam questions, delivering lectures and classroom support, and even offering online tuition.
The courses cost a wee bit – predictably – but the Academy pretty much guarantees that they’ll get you chartered.
Join an Accounting Graduate Diploma Course at the Ulster University.
Like QUB, Ulster University also offers accredited courses in accounting. These are recognised by ACCA, CIMA (you’re getting the hang of these acronyms now!), and Chartered Accountants Ireland.
The course they offer is specifically a GradDip, meaning that it is best if you have a degree already. There are English language requirements too, by the way – for those international students reading this.
This course takes a year!
Prepare for All Accounting Exams with a Private Tutor from Superprof.
If you want support for any of your accounting qualifications, you may well benefit from finding a private tutor. These can provide bespoke tuition on the things that you are struggling with particularly – and they are nice enough to give you lessons from your favourite café, your front room, or wherever else you would like to learn.
At Superprof, we can connect you with five private accounting tutors across the Belfast area – who can help you with all aspects of the course.
So, if you are taking those accounting exams, this is your place to find some extra help!