You don't have to go through university to become a chartered accountant, as Aimee Dimmock's experience shows
From mergers and acquisitions to tax, audits and investigations, there is much more to accountancy than spreadsheets. But as a profession it has the reputation for being, let’s be honest, a bit dry. All stiff suits and briefcases. What’s the reality?
Aimee Dimmock is an accounts and audit semi-senior who is currently on a training scheme to become a chartered accountant. She went straight into the profession after finishing her A-levels, bypassing university in favour of on-the-job training. Her day often involves delving into the files of charities or limited companies, sampling data and checking it’s all correct.
“We’re a bit like accounting detectives really,” she says. “On the bigger audits we will go to our client’s offices. We do a lot of travelling around the country and meeting people, that’s probably one of my favourite bits of the job.”
Then there’s the studying part. About 20% of Aimee’s time is spent in some kind of structural learning. This generally involves a week or so off work to go back into the classroom and learn the course content and prep for exams (accountancy involves exams, whatever your route).
Getting paid to train
It is widely assumed that you would need a degree to go into a white-collar profession like accounting but, as Aimee proves, that’s not the case. Yes, you could go to university, get a degree in finance or economics and find your place on a brilliant grad scheme to continue your training.
Or, like Aimee, you could go for an apprenticeship straight after A-levels (or equivalent) and learn on the job, with a company who will sponsor your studies right through to your chartership. Not only do you avoid student loan debt, but you also get paid while you’re doing it.
“Throughout my A-levels I was set that I was going to university and studying psychology,” says Aimee. “Then my maths teacher gave me a leaflet about this apprenticeship.” After initially thinking it would be a good back-up option if she didn’t get a place at uni, Aimee ended up turning down her degree offer to take on the apprenticeship.
“In hindsight, it was probably the best decision I could’ve made,” she says. “I’m en route to a career, I enjoy my job and I’m earning money, and I’ll be chartered much earlier than if I had gone to university first.”
Protecting the public
‘Chartered’ accountants are required to have specific qualifications such as the ACA, which is awarded by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). The ICAEW is a kind of independent regulator to protect the public interest by making sure firms, members, students and affiliates are properly trained, constantly up-to-date, and “maintain the highest standards of professional conduct”.
You can study any undergraduate degree and begin working towards the ACA in your own time or opt for a degree that offers accredited work placements or ACA exam credits. Both are great routes in. But the bare bones of it is that students must complete at least three years on-the-job training as well as passing a series of exams, and there’s no short-cut.
“The perception is that accountancy is purely number crunching and compliance, but actually the role is very client focussed,” says Aimee. “There’s a lot of assisting clients and involvement in business advice. Accountants are one of the most trusted advisors to businesses.
Finding the right place
“The role involves helping clients with queries, solving accounting problems and turning business data into useful information, which I find really rewarding. The apprenticeship has been a great alternative path to university.”
So, if you’re interested in becoming an apprentice chartered accountant then how do you go about it? Aimee applied directly through her employer, but you can also contact the ICAEW for help and guidance.
Then it’s about researching the options in front of you. Aimee advises looking into the company’s attitude to exams – how spread out they are, whether they allow retakes, and how the training sessions are structured.
“It’s worth taking the time to find the route that’s perfect for you,” says Aimee. “My company is really supportive, I know they want me to do well, and that’s a really nice way to work.”
About our sponsor
ICAEW is a world leading professional membership body for chartered accountants with 154,500 members in 149 countries. It provides qualifications for students that enable them to start their own business and undertake rewarding careers in chartered accountancy. 96 of the world’s 100 global leading brands employ ICAEW chartered accountants so there’s no end to where these qualifications can take you.