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Career paths in accounting

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 22: David Baldwin Managing Director of Contact Energy talks to shareholders as Contact Energy hold their Annual General Meeting at the Michael Fowler Centre on October 22, 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** David Baldwin

The ultimate aim of any accountant is to make it to chief financial officer (CFO). Assuming you do so, the rewards can be great. The CFO of a FTSE 100 company, for example, earns a salary of £500k ($770k), according to recruiters Robert Walters, and bonuses will be many times this.

But this is getting ahead of yourself. Before you can reach the top, you must earn your stripes. There are few occupations so reliant on qualifications as accounting, and yet the type of qualification varies from country to country. Most large accountancy firms will demand a finance-related degree, but the first few years in the job are spent becoming qualified.

In the U.S., for instance, if you want to work in assurance or public accounting it’s de rigueur to undertake the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) qualification, which requires a combination of study and work experience. There are also the options of Certified Internal Auditors (CIA), Certified Management Accountants (CMA), and Accredited Business Accountants (ABAs) qualifications.

The qualification favoured by Big Four accountancy firms in London is that provided by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ACA), something that is regarded internationally and most investment banks in the City expect of their product controllers. Another option is the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification, which is internationally-recognised with over 320,000 members worldwide, while most management accountants tend to study the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) exams.

On the European continent, meanwhile, there are a whole host of local qualifications. In France, for instance, there is the DCG (Diplôme de Comptabilité et Gestion), equivalent to a three-year degree, and the DSCG (Diplôme Supérieur de Comptabilité et Gestion), equivalent to a Master’s. In Germany, accountants work towards becoming a Wirtschaftspruefer’, but must first take their chartered adviser exams to qualify as a ‘Steuerberater’, and most also firms provide vocational training.

The national industry body in Australia is the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, and to become a member, it’s necessary to complete the Chartered Accountants Program. Singapore has launched the QP qualification, which is mandatory for any chartered accountants in the country, and the Hong Kong Institute of Public Accountants runs its own CPA programme.

So, assuming you embark on an accounting career, the first three years will be spent training towards one of these qualifications. If you make it, you’re a ‘qualified’ accountant, but the exams are always combined with an element of work experience, so most accountants train on the job.

After this the world is your oyster. OK, maybe not but there’s a whole range of options both in terms of the firm you can work for and the specialisation you choose.

By contrast, the career path of accountant is a structured beast. You start out as an accountant, you may become a manager after two years and then a senior manager three years after that. At Big Four firms, the next level is director, a role that typically requires at least eight to ten years of experience. If you’re lucky, you can make it to partner, but this is by no means a guaranteed step in your career and is highly competitive.

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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