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What is a Chartered Accountant?

Posted by Laura Bell on 08/22/2023

What is a Chartered Accountant? Are you a student, graduate or career changer looking to understand what a career as a Chartered Accountant could look like? Well, look no further!

Definition: What is a Chartered Accountant?

A Chartered Accountant is someone who has completed an advanced professional accounting qualification, and who has professional experience working in accountancy.

Chartered status is conferred by the professional bodies which regulate the accountancy profession. Our graduate trainees work towards Chartered Accountant status with The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) via the ACA accounting qualification.

ACA is short for Associate Chartered Accountant. It’s a prestigious and in-demand level 7 qualification, equivalent to a Masters’ degree. It typically takes three years to complete.

An ACA is someone who has passed 15 exams, amassed a minimum of 450 of relevant work experience and completed a program of continuing professional development. The topics studied include accounting, audit, business planning, business strategy, corporate reporting, financial management and taxation. For the current ACA modules see the ICAEW website.

Anyone can legally practice as an accountant but Chartered Accountants are actively sought out because their in-depth professional training is designed to ensure a high standard of practice.

What is a Chartered Accountant likely to do day-to-day?

To understand what a Chartered Accountant is, let’s first take a very broad look at where they work:

In practice – working for an accountancy firm providing a range of accounting and tax services to clients. In larger practice firms there are more options, for example you can work in corporate finance which means mergers, acquisitions, buy-outs, and raising finance, or in forensic accounting which is investigating fraud and using accounting skills in legal cases.

In industry – working directly for a business and typically in an internal finance team; typical job titles include Management Accountant, Finance Manager or CFO.

In business leadership or entrepreneurship – Chartered Accountants study business and see the inside workings of many businesses, and in time some naturally step into broader business roles anything from Founder to CEO.

Now let’s zoom in to look at the type of work undertaken by Chartered Accountants day-to-day:

  • Preparing accounts and tax returns
  • Preparing financial analysis such as financial forecasts and statements
  • Managing financial systems and budgets
  • Financial audits of organisations (this is an independent check of their finances)
  • Supporting clients with forward planning, anything from cash flow to tax planning
  • Advising business owners on exit strategy and corporate finance transactions
  • Supporting owners of struggling business to recover or to manage insolvency
  • Leading or managing your own team of accountants

One thing all accountants must do is to get to know the businesses they work with to develop long-term trusting relationships.

What is a Chartered Accountant? They often have a love of numbers and business, as well as analytical thinking, organising, and problem-solving skills.

Does it surprise you that great communication and interpersonal skills are crucial too? They are so important for building trust with your clients.

And then there is the change. Things don’t stand still in business – there are regular changes in the economic, legal, political, social and technological environments. Thinking about this, and establishing what it means for your clients, keeps things interesting!

Accountants never stop learning. In fact a culture of learning is baked into the profession and many Chartered Accountants choose to follow their ACA with a specialist qualification sooner or later, for example in insolvency or tax.

What qualifications do you need to become a Chartered Accountant (ACA)?

Now that we’ve explored what a Chartered Accountant is, let’s look at the educational requirements for our ACA trainees:

You can start ACA after completing any undergraduate (or postgraduate) degree. You don’t have to study accountancy, business or finance at university. See our graduate trainee roles.

You don’t have to go to university to start the ACA. As a non-graduate you can complete the popular Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification and then potentially progress to ACA. See our AAT apprenticeship roles

We offer the above routes into studying ACA at PKF Francis Clark and you’ll find further options on the ICAEW website.

We’ve enrolled the help of Archie, a newly qualified Chartered Accountant, to help us answer the question what is a Chartered Accountant?

He told us: “The path from trainee to qualified accountant is quite steep, and also incredibly rewarding. ACA is a step up in terms of complexity and intensity compared to the level 3 and 4 AAT qualifications. As I progressed through the course the difficulty increased, but so did the relevance to my day job. I was continuously developing a better understanding of what I was doing, and using it to do better work for my clients”.

Archie’s journey to become a Chartered Accountant

We asked Archie to explain how his job changed as he progressed. He explained:

“I started out in a bookkeeping team, reconciling accounts and maintaining purchases and sales ledgers. I was recording information and I enjoyed it, but back then my understanding of how this translated into accounting and linked to other areas of the business was limited.

“It was when I started the AAT training that I was really able to grasp how everything was intertwined. It was then that I moved into my first accountant role. I was preparing statutory accounts and tax returns, it’s important work because clients are required by law to submit these to the government. I was putting what I was learning into practice, and I soon noticed an acceleration in my progress.

“By the time I’d completed AAT I had a really good understanding of accounting work, but I found that unusual or one-off assignments were tricky because my training hadn’t covered this. ACA really added an extra dimension to my skillset; I learned how to tackle more challenging and bespoke assignments and my knowledge was increasing considerably.

“The step up from AAT to ACA was incredibly challenging at times, but I’ve come out the other end with a globally recognised qualification and many more open doors.  ACA doesn’t make you a specialist in any one area, instead I now feel confident in my ability to operate well across most areas of accountancy. I’ve got the option to specialise in future, and I know the firm will support me.”

To conclude, we’ve asked what a Chartered Accountant is and found that they are recognised experts – and that skilled accountants are key to financial success. And they are generally held in high regard, we’ll go back to Archie one last time for more on this:

“I think there is an element of prestige to being an accountant. If you say “I am a chartered accountant” then people instantly recognise the weight of the qualification, and respect you for having that job.”

Does being a Chartered Accountant sound good? We think so! But of course we’d say that as we’re the largest independent firm of Chartered Accountants in the South West. Big enough to offer you amazing opportunities but small enough for you to stand out.

Interested? Find out more about our trainee accountant careers or specifically our Chartered Accountant (ACA) route.