The majority of trainee opportunities are in advisory (also called assurance or audit) and tax.
The role of an auditor is to ensure that a company’s statement of its financial position is a real reflection of its financial situation and reported in a ‘true and fair’ way. Auditors apply a critical eye to information and the explanations provided, and this could involve analysing both risk and systems within an organisation, testing financial information and consequently providing the client with advice on how these systems and areas of the business could be improved. Building close working relationships with clients is vital and Chartered Accountants may frequently work at the client's site(s) with people at all levels (including senior managers) within the client organisation.
Many career options open up to you after qualification. Do you continue to work in ‘practice’ and plot a career path to director/partner, or consider a move to financial services, public sector or industry? What size of company should you join? Whatever the options, a chartered accountancy qualification generally leaves you in a very marketable position.
Starting salaries for ICAEW Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) trainees vary widely, with larger firms tending to offer higher salaries. Pay is also affected by the sector in which you work and office location. Expect starting salaries between £28-£38,000, and salaries can increase during the course of your training. On qualifying, new accountants earn £30-£53,000 (£40-57,000 in corporate tax), rising to £54-79,000 for accountants with two-to-four years’ experience. Directors' pay, including bonus, can be upwards of £110,000. (Stated salary information for guidance only: see www.ICAEW.com for current information).
Management accountants tend to work within an individual organisation, with a focus more on the financial future of that organisation. This work is likely to involve:
- forecasting, and preparing financial statements so the business can make financially informed decisions
- auditing internal systems to improve the many processes that impact on major corporate costs
- advising on improving business performance
- providing input on strategic planning
- providing financial advice to various management functions
- engaging with multi-disciplinary projects that require financial planning.
Management accountancy can be a great stepping-stone to strategic, general management within even the largest multinational businesses, and a number of large organisations in the UK have former financial directors managing them. Although post-qualification routes differ, most management accountants will seek to advance within their organisation or sector as their experience grows, with a view to becoming a senior manager, finance director or chief financial officer (CFO). An alternative route is to transfer to financial management consultancy and put your experience to use advising others.
Starting salaries for management accountant trainees also vary widely, with larger firms again offering higher initial salaries. The average starting salary is £29,000, rising to around £35,000 for a part qualified CIMA student. A year after qualifying, the average salary for fully qualified CIMA accountants is £47,500 – rising to an average of over £63,000 plus bonus. Some industries will pay trainees higher, notably in the legal and banking sectors [Source: 2019 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Salary Survey].
Other options: specialist areas and smaller firms
A number of large and medium-sized firms recruit into specialised fields beyond audit and tax. These opportunities can provide highly attractive career paths and personal development. These specialisms may include:
- Business recovery and insolvency
- Business advisory and corporate finance
- Financial reporting and enterprise risk analysis
- Forensic accounting
Within a larger firm, you might have the option to start within a specialism or to specialise later after qualification, whilst at a smaller firm you may train either as a specialist or gain experience across more than one of these fields.
Big firms with multiple offices do not suit everyone, and there are both opportunities and benefits that can come from training with a medium sized, independent firm. Graduate trainees will study for the same professional qualifications and should expect the same quality of training, which is usually delivered by specialist external training providers. Trainees at smaller firms can also expect a similar level of commitment and support from their employer in provision of study leave and residential learning for some parts of the training. Other benefits that come from working with a smaller firm can include:
- exposure to a wider variety of clients in more industries
- the chance to gain experience across more than one of the fields or practice rather than being expected to to specialise from the start
- you may get more direct experience of working with partners and senior managers in the early part of your career.
Independent medium-sized and smaller firms can also be a good option for graduates who have a particular interest in working in a particular region or city (outside London and the SE). They may also be a good option if you wish to develop a career in specialist field. There are, for example, independent firms that have developed a client portfolio focused around working within the media, TV and film sector, or who have strengths in the publishing sector (including private client work for authors and writers) or the arts, museums and heritage fields.