How to become a financial accountant (with certifications)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 April 2022

If you have strong numeracy skills and can focus on details, becoming a financial account can be a rewarding career. There are several ways to become a financial accountant with different academic pursuits and qualifications. Understanding how to become a financial accountant can help you decide if it's a profession you want to pursue. In this article, we discuss the role of financial accountants, list their responsibilities, share which qualifications you can complete to become more employable and explain which skills you can develop to excel in the role.

What is a financial accountant?

A financial accountant is someone who records, prepares and files the financial information that companies must submit by law. UK law states that companies keep detailed records of their financial affairs and regularly submit various financial documentation to regulatory bodies. Financial accountants usually work independently as part of a wider team to ensure compliance with these laws.

Financial accountants also provide information that allows company managers and stakeholders to make more informed business decisions. They might also assist in financial planning and investment of company funds. Some of the best-paid roles are for those who drive business growth in addition to the core duties of financial accounting. Experienced financial accountants may also provide feedback and work to improve their company's financial policies and strategies.

Related: 12 types of accountants and different areas of accountancy

How to become a financial accountant

Here's a three-step guide you can follow when learning how to become a financial accountant:

1. Complete an undergraduate accountancy degree or an apprenticeship

An undergraduate degree is not a requirement to become a financial accountant, but it can make you more employable. These programs also prepare you with foundational knowledge and technical skills that can help you excel in the role. In addition to accountancy, employers typically value degrees in subjects like economics, finance or mathematics. An alternative to a degree is an accountancy apprenticeship. These are typically paid opportunities that allow you to gain professional experience while earning an income as you start your career.

2. Get some work experience

Having some work experience can be beneficial when applying for your first accountancy position. Internships and shorter-term work placements are a good way to experience a variety of financial accountancy duties. There is also the chance that your work experience may lead to a job offer.

Related: Learn How To Write an Accountant CV in 6 Steps

3. Get a professional certification

While you might find a role that doesn't require any qualification, having a professional accounting qualification widens your employment options. It can help demonstrate your knowledge and provide a deeper understanding of financial accounting. Financial accountants with professional qualifications usually earn more than those without.

Related: How to get an accounting degree and succeed as an accountant

What are a financial accountant's duties?

Financial accountants prepare and report a company's financial statements in accordance with statutory legislation. Their exact duties vary depending on the company they work for. A financial accountant's responsibilities include:

  • collecting and reviewing financial documentation

  • monitoring cash flow

  • examining and interpreting financial data

  • reconciling financial data

  • compiling monthly and annual reports

  • ensuring regulatory compliance

  • assisting with creating annual budgets

  • forecasting

  • preparing and filing regulatory returns

  • helping companies achieve successful external audits

Related: Essential business roles and their responsibilities

Entry-level accounting qualifications

Entry-level accountancy qualifications include:

AAT Professional Diploma Level 4

This is often the minimum level qualification employers ask for when looking for a financial accountant. It includes studying units in budgeting, financial statements, accounting systems, business tax, external auditing and credit management. There are no set entry requirements, and gaining this certification requires successfully completing six assessments.

ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB)

This is an entry-level accountancy certification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW). The CFAB is comprised of six modules and six computer-based assessments. Modules include Technology and Finance, Law and Assurance and Principles of Taxation. Other than a good command of English, there are no requirements for this qualification and you can achieve it in 12 months.

CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting (Cert BA)

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) provides the Cert BA for people with little or no accounting experience. It can provide an alternative to university for school leavers wanting to become an accountant. You can study for this qualification in a classroom, in live online classes, via on-demand online lessons or self-study with provided materials.

Related: Guide to accounting certifications to help you stand out

What skills does a financial accountant need?

Becoming a financial accountant entails developing excellent numeracy skills and knowledge of financial accounting practices. Financial accountants are analytical and have high levels of accuracy when reconciling financial data and producing accurate reports. It's also important for financial accountants to have strong mathematical and analytical skills to manage large amounts of data and identify trends and patterns.

Being well-organised and able to multitask is imperative, as is the ability to prioritise tasks to meet deadlines. Financial accountants also need a strong understanding of the business and industry in which they are working. The ability to communicate accurate financial information with the company's managers and stakeholders is also important. Financial accountants use integrated accounting systems, so to become a financial accountant requires computer literacy.

Related: 13 essential accountant skills

Average salary of a financial accountant

Financial accountants offer a specialised and in-demand service, and experience and specialising in a particular sector can lead to increased earnings. The national average salary for a financial accountant is £42,350. The best way to command a higher salary as a financial accountant is to become a chartered accountant.

What's the difference between an accountant and a chartered account?

Accountants do more general accountancy work, such as compiling financial reports, keeping records and filing regulatory returns. A chartered accountant is an accountant who has undertaken additional training and passed exams to gain an industry-recognised advanced qualification. Chartered accountants are members of a professional body.

Becoming a chartered accountant shows you've worked to obtain the highest possible standards of accounting knowledge and understanding of the field. This enables you to manage complex tasks and offer specialist accountancy services. Chartered accountants often work as management accountants, become partners in accountancy firms or lead other departments within a company. Becoming a chartered accountant requires an industry-recognised chartered accounting qualification and exam. As a chartered accountant, you can use the letters CA after your name to convey your designation to others. Some employers offer training agreements and support so that you can study for these qualifications while working.

Related: How to become a chartered accountant

Chartered accountancy certifications

Industry-recognised chartered accountancy certifications include:

ICAEW Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA)

This is a highly valuable chartered accountancy certification. Completing this qualification requires a minimum of three years of on-the-job training at an ICAEW authorised training employer and passing a series of 15 exam modules. There are flexible ways to study for this qualification, including online study and in-class study in institutions worldwide. Upon successful completion, you earn the title ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

CIMA Professional Qualification

This is a high-level, widely recognised business finance qualification that builds onto the Cert BA. There are three levels, operational, management and strategic, and 12 exams which you can take online or in test centres. On completion of this qualification in addition to the Cert BA and once you qualify for CIMA membership, CIMA awards you with the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation.

Professional ACCA Qualification

The Professional ACCA Qualification leads to membership of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Completing this qualification involves passing up to 13 exams, completing an ethics and professional skills module and gaining three years of relevant work experience. Studying for this qualification involves modules in strategic business reporting, advanced financial management, advanced audit and assurance and ethics and professional skills. On completion, you become a certified chartered accountant and can use the letters ACCA after your name.

Related: Guide to accounting certifications to help you stand out

ICAS Chartered Accountant (CA)

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) offers a range of training routes to the CA qualification. They offer pathways for prospective chartered accountants at all levels of their careers. There's a minimum of minimum 450 days of relevant practical experience with an ICAS-authorised employer. The ICAS has training vacancies and study centres across the UK. They provide options for school-leavers, graduates and experienced professionals and assist in finding employers who offer training agreements.

AIA Professional Qualification: Accountancy

The Association of International Accountants requires people taking this qualification to have a minimum of two A-levels. The AIA awards this professional accountancy qualification once entrants have passed a combination of 10 exams, completed an ethics paper and gained a minimum of three years' work experience. Entrants can gain the required work experience before, during or after taking the exams.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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