Careers: Examining the way forward

IMA and ACCA newly qualifieds can be excused for feeling a little smug. Demand for their qualification is high in both the public and private sectors and this is reflected in their salaries.

Career paths are becoming increasingly varied and the traditional audit work is being edged aside in favour of areas such as consultancy and corporate finance. By most yardsticks CIMA and ACCA qualifieds have never had it so good.

In a career survey last month, carried out by Accountancy Age and recruitment specialists Nigel Lynn Associates, both institutes fared well. Some 67% of CIMA members said they thought their qualification gave them a good preparation for the business world, with ACCA members also rating their qualification highly.

For accountants working in practice, the CIMA qualification topped satisfaction ratings with 67%. The English Institute – once the gold standard – fared less well. Just over half (53%) of its members thought their qualification prepared them for working in business.

Starting salaries are also good, although a pay divide appears to be emerging between industry and practice. According to ACCA figures, a newly qualified certified accountant working in central London can expect to earn between £29,000 to £34,000. The salary bracket for those in practice is significantly less at £25,000 to £28,000.

Salaries have also climbed steadily. In less than five years after qualifying the average 30-year-old accountant – male graduate and chartered – earns between £30,000 and £40,000 around five years after passing their exams.

More newly qualified accountants now see their certificate as a passport to a career in industry. Sectors currently showing the fastest growth are IT, followed by ethical choices such as charity.

Sport and leisure is also growing in popularity. Certified accountant Rita Purewal, company accountant of Wolverhampton Wanderers football club typifies the new breed of industry-orientated accountants. After training with ACCA while working as a financial accountant with Friendly Hotels she joined the Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1994 as company accountant.

The job as accountant for a football club may seem like a dream for a football fan.

Purewal, however, stresses that it is a varied business job – demanding knowledge of the leisure industry and IT skills.

Purewal, who at the time was not a football fan, says the main attraction of the job was steering the business interests of the first division club.

Over half of the club’s revenue comes from commercial interests, including a health and fitness centre. But despite this the club didn’t have a finance department.

‘The fact that I didn’t have a passion for football meant I could look at the figures clinically and treat the club as a commercial entity,’ she says.

But after only six weeks her role changed abruptly after the company secretary resigned during the football season. This meant handling the demands of a 150 staff payroll and monitoring the players’ pensions and player transfers. It also meant working closely with Graham Taylor, the ex-England football manager.

‘Taking on the football side of things was invaluable to me.’ says Purewal. ‘I was promoted and sat in on board meetings.’

In her company accountant role the main tasks was to computerise the manual accounting system and improve the financial reports to the board.

IT skills are fast becoming a prerequisite for many accounting positions and software companies are now luring new recruits with hefty salaries.

‘Accountants are moving from practice to IT companies and getting pay rises of up to £15,000,’ says Helen Beverley, ACCA’s training projects manager.

Apart from the booming IT industry, Beverley says new members are also flocking to charities and the public sector.

‘You take a lower salary and it’s a zeitgeist thing,’ she says. ‘People are also taking the jobs for the job security.’

She adds that small and medium-sized companies make popular first jobs as early on, new recruits are given more CV-enhancing responsibility.

But the basic accounting skills are still in demand. Charities and IT consultancies want candidates who can interpret a balance sheet and offer sound business advice.

‘We can teach consultants how to understand software,’ says John Oates, a partner and director of HLB Kidson’s IT practice. ‘But consultants need to have an understanding of things like stock control and debtor days, particularly in the SME market.’

IT consultancy is no longer viewed as a peripheral area for ‘techies’. An IT audit will open numerous doors in business and practice.

Oates adds that career prospects for IT consultants are rosy once they have a year’s experience under their belts. ‘After a year they have an idea of how to control and run a business,’ he says. ‘There’s a whole host of opportunities from fiddling around with PCs to project management IT consultants are pretty valuable.’

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