What is an accounting assistant? (With skills and duties)
Updated 31 July 2023
The accounting or accounts assistant role is a supporting position within the financial sector. Accounting assistants work in a variety of businesses, from small accounting firms to the accounts department of large corporations where they're typically responsible for basic accounting and routine clerical tasks. Understanding their duties and responsibilities may be helpful if you're considering a career in this field. In this article, we answer 'What is an accounting assistant's role?', explore the reasons for choosing this career, list the essential skills, outline what education and qualifications are necessary and determine how to succeed.
What is an accounting assistant?
The typical answer to ‘What is an accounting assistant?' is that it's someone who provides assistance to an independent accountant, an accounting firm or the accounting department of an organisation. Their day-to-day tasks often involve keeping financial records up to date, accurate and in order. The duties of an accounts assistant may vary depending on the size and structure of their work environment, but their daily tasks often include:
communicating with clients
handling client enquiries
maintaining records and ledgers
preparing reports and budgets
assisting with audits
dealing with other administrative tasks such as filing paperwork, entering data and answering calls and emails
Why choose this career?
A degree in accounting isn't always necessary to become an accounts assistant, as learning on the job is common. Job security in this field is high, as accounting is an essential requirement for all businesses. It's also a role that has good career prospects both in terms of progression and earning potential.
The role can be a great starting point for anyone considering a long-term career in finance or accounting, and it's fairly common for employers to subsidise their employees' fees so that they can obtain further professional qualifications. This may result in greater responsibilities and the opportunity to progress to a more senior role, such as accountant or finance manager. The skills and knowledge you develop are also transferable to many roles outside of finance and accounting.
Accounts assistants use a variety of professional skills to complete their day-to-day tasks. Below are some of the accounts assistants' essential key skills:
Numeracy: Accounts assistants work with numbers and financial data on a daily basis, so it's necessary to be proficient with numbers and maths.
Proficiency with computers: Accountancy is heavily reliant on accounting software and databases, so the ability to use this technology is essential.
Written and verbal communication: Accounts assistants often communicate financial information to people who may not have a background in this field, so it's important that they can explain complex concepts clearly.
Knowledge of accounting terminology: Familiarity with accounting terms is necessary to be able to work efficiently and communicate effectively with clients and colleagues.
Understanding of basic bookkeeping practices: Being able to understand and maintain basic financial records is a key part of the role.
Independence: Assistants typically do their job on their own with minimum supervision, and effective assistants are able to work autonomously and manage their time efficiently.
Teamwork: Although accounts assistants work mostly on their own, they may also be part of a team in which it's necessary to collaborate with their colleagues.
In addition to the key professional skills, there are also certain character traits that are invaluable for success as an assistant. These typically include:
Strong ethical values: Companies and clients trust assistants with sensitive financial information, so ethical behaviour is of the utmost importance.
Attention to detail: This is necessary to enter data accurately and to detect errors, both of which are useful when working with financial information.
Accuracy: When handling financial data, even small errors can have big consequences, so this skill is essential.
Effective organisation: Assistants often work on multiple tasks at any given time, and good organisation skills help them meet deadlines.
Efficiency: In accounting, there's often a limit on the time available to complete certain tasks, so being able to work quickly and efficiently is important.
Ability to work well under pressure: Accounts assistants often have tight deadlines and maintain a high level of accuracy while working under pressure.
Desire to learn and develop: The desire to develop professionally is important in this role, both to learn the practices and duties when entering the profession and to keep up to date with any changes or developments in accounting technology.
How to become an accounts assistant
There are several ways to become an accounts assistant. Below are several options available to those who would like to have a career in this field:
1. Get the necessary GCSEs
Strong GCSE results are one of the basic requirements for becoming an accounts assistant. The key subjects are maths and English, which usually require a passing grade of C or above. If you don't obtain these core GCSEs, you can retake them. Having the relevant experience in a similar role can sometimes make up for not having the necessary GCSEs.
2. Complete further and higher education
Further education, such as an A-level, BTEC or HND in accounting or a similar subject isn't always necessary. Yet, taking a one- or two-year course at a college can teach you the theoretical knowledge you require to work within a business. Studying accounting or a relevant subject, such as finance or business, also demonstrates your commitment to entering the profession.
The most sought-after positions may require an undergraduate degree. Degrees in accounting, finance or business are the most obvious choices, but any academic degree may be beneficial. Although not all assistant positions require a degree, having some form of higher education can give candidates a competitive advantage.
Read more: How to write an accounts assistant CV
3. Obtain on-the-job training
On-the-job training involves working under the supervision of colleagues with more experience and developing the necessary skills for the role. In certain situations, you may accept an entry-level position, such as an accounts clerk, and receive on-the-job training to become an accounts assistant. An advantage of this approach is that qualifications or further education may not be necessary.
Related: How to become an accountant
4. Do an apprenticeship
An apprenticeship combines on-the-job training with studying for a qualification, and the employer usually finances it. Many employers offer apprenticeship schemes in accounting and finance, which can lead to a career as an accounts assistant. Completing an apprenticeship usually takes between one and four years, and employers recognise it as a valuable way to develop their employees' skills.
Tips for assistants to increase their earnings
Below are four ways assistants can improve their earnings:
Get more experience
One of the best ways to improve your earnings potential is to gain more experience. Those who have several years of experience working as an accounts assistant can receive higher salaries than those who are just starting out. Employers may also agree to pay a premium for candidates with experience in specific areas.
Move to a larger organisation
Larger businesses tend to have more resources and can therefore afford to pay higher salaries than smaller firms. A larger organisation may also offer a more attractive employee benefits package. Moving to a larger organisation may also provide greater career progression opportunities.
Get a professional qualification
Obtaining professional qualifications can improve your job prospects and earning potential. For certain roles, having a professional qualification may be necessary. Relevant qualifications typically cover topics such as accounting principles, financial reporting and bookkeeping. Various organisations, such as the AAT, offer widely-recognised accountancy qualifications.
For those with a high level of motivation and good organisation skills, self-employment may offer greater earning potential. Self-employed assistants set their own rates and are responsible for finding their own work. Being proactive in finding work is essential to succeed as a self-employed assistant.
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) proposes the following popular professional qualifications for accounting assistants:
AAT Foundation Certificate in Bookkeeping: This qualification teaches the basics of bookkeeping, such as processing customer and supplier transactions, maintaining ledgers and executing double-entry bookkeeping.
AAT Foundation Diploma in Accounting and Business: This qualification teaches basic costing principles, business communications, double-entry bookkeeping and personal skills.
AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting: This qualification teaches more complex accounting, such as advanced bookkeeping, financial processes, final accounts and ethics.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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