To become an accounting technician you will need excellent commercial sense, an interest in business and finance and confidence when handling numerical data

As an accounting technician, you would 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.

Responsibilities

Depending on the route taken, qualification and subsequent work experience, you may cover a range of roles including gathering, checking and analysing financial information.

Responsibilities in all company sizes would 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. Accounting technicians can develop specific skills depending on which area of finance they work 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;
  • consultancy.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for trainee accounting technicians can range from £16,000 to £22,000.
  • Once qualified and with experience, an accounting technician may earn up to £30,000 or more.

Salaries vary according to the employer and sector of employment. There are regional variations with higher salaries in southern England, particularly London.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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. Temporary and short-term contract are also available.

What to expect

  • The role is mainly office-based with much work being 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 are self-employed and need to make visits to clients. Absence from home overnight is not usually a feature of the work.
  • The qualifications for accounting technicians, obtained through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) are recognised globally, which means that work abroad is a possibility.

Qualifications

There are two vocational qualification routes:

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 CIPFA Finance Apprenticeship Scheme, which provides opportunities in public finance, accounting and audit. Apprentices will work for partner employers on a fixed-term contract of 12 months, during which time they will study the AAT Level 4 qualification.

The scheme provides a serious alternative to university or postgraduate training schemes and enables those selected to carve out a career in public financial management.

The AAT have designed a useful tool to help decide which level of the core AAT Accounting Qualification may be suitable for you and this is called AAT Skillcheck.

The AAT Accounting Qualification is split into three levels:

  • Introductory Certificate in Accounting;
  • Intermediate Diploma in Accounting;
  • Advanced Diploma in Accounting.

To become a member of AAT, at least one year's work experience must be completed 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.

The AAT apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with the AAT Accounting Qualification. Here's how they work:

  • The 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 learn on the job, develop knowledge and skills, gain an AAT Accounting Qualification and earn money - all at the same time.

Find out more about apprenticeships.

Short courses to see if accountancy and finance is a definite career choice are available via AAT Access; an introduction to fundamental business and finance skills.

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 to be able to study part-time, full-time or via distance learning.

Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) status is awarded by ACCA upon completing one year of relevant supervised work experience, and demonstrating a level of professional competency based upon this. Unless students actively choose to opt out, they are 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.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an interest in business and finance;
  • a thorough, methodical and logical approach;
  • competence in and confidence with maths;
  • strong interpersonal and communication skills;
  • excellent commercial sense;
  • good IT skills, particularly in the use of spreadsheets;
  • self-motivation;
  • the ability to work as part of a team;
  • the capacity to understand and handle complex information and solve problems;
  • the ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines;
  • discretion and honesty when handling confidential information.

Employers

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.

Employers include:

  • accounting firms;
  • banks and building societies;
  • charities;
  • educational institutions;
  • health authorities;
  • insurance companies;
  • local government;
  • manufacturers;
  • 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, there is the option to become 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:

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.

Professional development

Evidence of practical skills is required by both the AA) and the ACCA, in the form of the AAT Accounting Qualification and the ACCA Certified Accounting Technician qualification.

Once fully AAT or CAT qualified, the pathways are open to continue study to become a chartered accountant. All of the professional accountancy organisations offer fast-track routes and exemptions whether an AAT member or CAT qualified.

Technicians may also use voluntary work or hobbies, such as being the treasurer for a local society, as an example of work experience.

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 are working.

Employees are recognising the need for continuing professional development (CPD). Many employers are prepared to offer some form of support to employees to enable them to update and improve their skills and knowledge.

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.

Career prospects

Accounting technicians can progress higher positions such as:

  • auditors;
  • directors of finance divisions;
  • finance controllers;
  • internal auditors;
  • payroll managers;
  • tax analysts.

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:

AAT's fast-track route allows faster progression to chartered accountant status for non-graduates and school leavers.