To become an accounting technician you'll need excellent commercial sense, an interest in business and finance and confidence when handling numerical data
As an accounting technician, you'll prepare the financial information which professional accountants or business managers use when making decisions. You could be part of a large team or you could be the only financially-trained member of staff in a small enterprise. Accounting technicians can be employed in industry, commerce or the public sector. Most people in this job start their careers in a finance support role.
Depending on the route you take, your qualifications and subsequent work experience, you may cover a range of roles including gathering, checking and analysing financial information.
Wherever you work, your responsibilities will include:
- assisting in the preparation of accounts
- dealing with basic book keeping
- processing and paying invoices
- recording receipts and payments
- preparing and checking ledger balances and other monthly and yearly accounts
- completing and submitting tax returns, VAT returns and National Insurance contributions
- handling company expenses and payroll systems that pay wages and salaries
- using computerised accounting systems.
With experience, you might take on supervisor responsibilities and more complex tasks, such as:
- preparing financial reports
- planning and budget control
- helping qualified accountants with accounts inspections (audits).
Different financial departments require different specialist knowledge. You'll develop specific skills depending on which area of finance you're working in.
Self-employed accounting technicians provide a range of accountancy services to businesses. These tend to be in a specialist area of accounting and may include:
- advising on budgets
- advising on taxation issues and ensuring compliance with taxation legislation
- calculating end-of-year accounts
- Starting salaries for trainee accounting technicians range from £16,000 to £22,000.
- Once qualified and with experience, you could earn up to £30,000 or more.
Salaries vary according to your employer and sector you're employed in. There are regional variations with higher salaries in southern England, particularly London.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Accounting technicians usually work standard office hours. Busy periods may occur when processing end of month accounts and at the beginning and end of the financial year.
Part-time work and career breaks are usually possible, as well as temporary and short-term contracts.
What to expect
- The role is mainly office based with much of your work taking place at a computer, using financial software packages or spreadsheet applications.
- Self-employment is an increasingly popular option in this profession. It should be noted that self-employment brings its own pressures, including a lack of job security and no holiday pay or company pension scheme.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK and internationally.
- Travel within a working day is more common if you're self-employed and need to make visits to clients. Absence from home overnight is not usually a feature of the work.
- Qualifications for accounting technicians, obtained through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), are recognised globally - meaning that work abroad is a possibility.
There are two vocational qualification routes:
- AAT Accounting Qualification
- ACCA Certified Accounting Technician qualification (CAT)
There are no specific minimum entry requirements to train with the AAT, although a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy is essential.
Many technicians train while on the job via part-time study or distance learning, or on apprenticeship schemes that may be on offer.
One such scheme is the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) Finance Apprenticeship Scheme, which provides opportunities in public finance, accounting and audit. CIPFA offer AAT Levels 2, 3 and 4, as well as a new Level 7 professional accountant standard.
The scheme provides an alternative to university or postgraduate training schemes, and enables you to carve out a career in public financial management.
The AAT has designed Skillcheck, a useful tool to help decide which level of the core AAT Accounting Qualification may be suitable for you.
The AAT Accounting Qualification is split into three levels:
- Foundation Certificate and Foundation Diploma in Accounting
- Advanced Diploma in Accounting
- Professional Diploma in Accounting.
You'll have to complete at least one year's work experience to be able to apply for full AAT membership and use the letters MAAT after your name.
Many study AAT qualifications as part of an apprenticeship programme.
These apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with the AAT Accounting Qualification. Here's how they work:
- Your employer pays your wage and trains you at work. A manager will mentor you throughout your training.
- The training provider delivers your tuition. A liaison officer will support, coach and mentor you while you're studying. They'll work with your employer to make sure your apprenticeship stays on track.
- AAT supports you during your apprenticeship and study with e-learning, study support and your AAT student membership.
- As an apprentice you'll learn on the job, develop knowledge and skills, gain a qualification and earn money, all at the same time.
Find out more about apprenticeships.
You can also take a short course, to see if a career in accountancy and finance is the right choice for you, with AAT Access.
The AAT's Certificate in Bookkeeping is another pathway to become equipped with the skills of basic accounting tools and techniques.
All of the AAT qualifications are designed to ensure flexibility with options of part-time, full-time or distance learning.
Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) status is awarded by the ACCA upon completing one year of relevant supervised work experience, and demonstrating a level of professional competency based upon this. Unless you actively choose to opt out, you're automatically transferred to the ACCA qualification register upon gaining CAT status. This avoids the need for further forms and fees involved in continuing accountancy education.
You will need to show:
- an interest in business and finance
- a thorough, methodical and logical approach to your work
- competence in and confidence with maths
- strong interpersonal and communication skills
- excellent commercial sense
- good IT skills, particularly in the use of spreadsheets
- the ability to work as part of a team
- the capacity to understand complex information and problem solve
- the ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines
- discretion and honesty when handling confidential information.
You could use voluntary work or hobbies, such as being the treasurer for a university society, as an example of work experience. You could also accountancy firms to ask about opportunities to gain relevant pre-entry work experience, which you could complete during holidays. Ask about any possibilities for work placements or work shadowing.
Accounting technicians work in a variety of organisations throughout all sectors of business, industry and commerce. Many begin their training in firms of chartered or certified accountants. It may be possible to change employers during training. Employers often ask for either part or fully-qualified accounting technicians.
You could find work as an accounting technician in:
- accounting firms
- banks and building societies
- educational institutions
- health authorities
- insurance companies
- local government
- the media
- public utilities
- retail companies
- service industries
- small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where you may be the only qualified member of accounting staff.
Alternatively, you could go self-employed. The number of AAT members who work on a freelance basis is increasing. Freelance accounting technicians provide specialist services to a range of businesses.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Accountancy Age
- Accounting Web
- GAAP Web
Professional bodies may also provide useful links to vacancy websites. Some produce monthly magazines that provide useful sector information and vacancies.
Specialist recruitment agencies handle temporary and permanent vacancies.
Evidence of practical skills is required by both the AAT and the ACCA, in the form of the AAT Accounting Qualification and the ACCA CAT qualification.
Once fully AAT or CAT qualified, you can continue studying if you'd like to become a chartered accountant. All of the professional accountancy organisations offer fast-track routes and exemptions whether you're an AAT member or CAT qualified.
Most accounting technicians receive on-the-job training. Procedures and software packages vary depending on the sector, the company and the area in which you're working.
Many employers are prepared to offer some form of support to employees to enable them to update and improve their skills and knowledge through continuing professional development (CPD).
Support from employers can include payment of college fees or time off for study, either by attending a day release course or being granted study leave.
From the role of accounting technician, you could progress to a higher position, such as:
- directors of finance division
- finance controller
- internal auditor
- payroll manager
- tax analyst.
The AAT Accounting Qualification is a recognised qualification in its own right. Although some accounting technicians with the AAT qualification manage to reach senior levels, many see it as a stepping stone to further professional qualifications.
Five major accountancy training organisations offer exemptions from some of their modules/examinations to qualified accounting technicians. See their websites for further details:
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
AAT's fast-track route allows faster progression to chartered accountant status for non-graduates and school leavers.