An accounting degree is a popular choice for those deciding on a degree to pursue – regardless this can be a difficult decision with financial, social and career factors all to be weighed up. For those hoping to build a career in finance, an accounting degree may be a good first step but the question is; is a University degree in accounting necessary to build a career in the accountancy profession?
An accounting degree is worth it in the UK because of the country’s strong financial industry and increasing need for qualified professionals within companies. The high-income propensity in the field, along with the promise of a stable future, makes accounting a golden certificate in the UK economy.
This article will help the reader to establish if accounting is the right degree for them. The article will go on to explain the primary difference between accounting and finance degrees and provide an overview of different professional qualification opportunities available in the country.
Is Accounting the Right Degree for Me?
Accounting degrees are one of the first options that come to mind when discussing career prospects. Suppose a student has a high aptitude for numbers and logic, in that case, they are seemingly directed to the field of accounting and finance by default.
If you think you have an analytical mind, sound numeracy skills and resilience, then accounting may be the correct career path for you.
Whether you choose to do an accountancy based undergraduate degree or instead do a more general degree before embarking on a professional qualification in accountancy is a choice dependent on other consequences such as the specializations required and the practical implications of the degree itself.
If you are looking for reasons to validate your choice of an accounting degree in the UK, then the following points may help convince you.
Lifestyles Change but Accounting Persists
In recent years, the press has begun to suggest students should abandon accounting degrees due to the rise in business-friendly digital solutions for financial management. It is said that robots will soon take over a significant chunk of employment opportunities from the field. But in my view, this is premature and accounting will continue to be a strong and prosperous career path for many years yet.
Taxes, for example, are one of the few certainties in life. Robots can be trained in accuracy and efficiency of calculations, but the advanced analytical abilities required to balance macroeconomic matters and offer a client the optimum tax planning solution are still beyond the grasp of technological solutions. The need for critical thinking will always persist in human societies and so will the need for qualified accountants.
The Spread of E-Commerce Boosts the Need for Accountants and Auditors
The United Kingdom is among the top developed countries with accelerated growth in e-commerce and other ventures. As more of these ventures grow, it is clear that the need for accountants will have to grow. It would be incorrect to assume that accounting degree programs have gained popularity in the millennial population alone with more recent generations also signing up to accounting degrees in significant numbers.
There Are Other Doors to a Career in Accountancy
A common misconception about accounting stems from the concept of monotony associated with the subject. We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom around accountants being boring but this if often over-stated.
Whilst it’s true that a career in Accountancy could rarely be described as thrilling, it does have a number of benefits, not least the fact that it is very stable and ensures a strong floor to your future earning potential.
In the UK for example, a fully qualified accountant could expect to earn at a very minimum £40,000 for the rest of their career. It’s important to note, this is just a minimum and many accountants end up earning considerably more than this into the six figure salary band.
From leadership to entrepreneurship, many doors are opened for those with an accounting degree due to its sheer diversity in critical thinking skills and useful knowledge. At its core, an accounting degree empowers the student with the knowledge of regulations and financial expertise required to analyse the economic position of a firm or individual.
What Is the Difference Between Accounting and Financial Degrees?
A Bachelor’s degree in accounting teaches students the skills of creating, recording and analysing financial statements. All of these skills are critical for monitoring the financial performance of a business and helps to guide future strategy.
On the other hand, if you enrol in an undergraduate degree in finance, you will likely attain a slightly different skill-set with a greater focus on budgeting, financial planning and more commercial finance. The key activities someone with a finance degree may be involved in within the workplace may include cash flow management, fundraising, and financial forecasting.
Both degrees will overlap with key skills such as reading financial statements, recording transactions and basic corporate finance likely to be covered in both.
In a nutshell, finance is the study of the future where you predict and adapt strategies based on forecasts, whereas accounting is more concerned with the past – recording previous transactions and evaluating previous year’s performance.
How To Choose the Right Direction in Accounting?
The majority of the students who undertake an undergraduate degree in accounting or finance will opt for a job immediately after completing their degree.
The most common careers for graduates of these programmes includes becoming accountants for companies or audit and advisory services within professional services firms such as Deloitte or KPMG.
Regardless of the above choices, many undergraduate degree holders go on to complete a professional qualification in accountancy or management accounting which employers frequently sponsor to further enhance their employees skills.
Here is a list of the top accounting and finance programs currently available in the United Kingdom for students to pursue.
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
Better known as ‘ACCA’, this is a program that combines the core components of accounting and wider finance. The modules expand across various topics such as corporate law, assurance and audit to provide a comprehensive learning experience.
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
The ICAEW facilitate the highly coveted ACA qualification which typically consists of 3 years of exams and professional work experience. The fifteen exam modules cover accounting, audit, law and more general finance to provide a well-rounded and thorough knowledge of accountancy.
If the ACA is something you would consider in the future, make sure you check out my recent post on the 15 ACA exams ordered by difficulty.
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
The primary difference between CIMA and other qualifications is the greater focus on management accounting and the consequential benefit for those planning to work in industry (within a company’s finance department) rather than practice (e.g. a professional services firm).
For this reason, if your career goal is to work in the finance department of a particular company, such as Vodafone or Renault, CIMA may represent the superior qualification whereas if you plan to work in practice, i.e. for a Big 4 firm like KPMG, ACA or ACCA is likely to be more suitable.
Unlike the ACA, CIMA can be done independently outside of a formal place of employment which increases flexibility and allows individuals to become fully qualified accountants without first being accepted by an employer which may have involved a challenging recruitment process.
What Is the Worth of an Accounting Degree in the United Kingdom?
Accounting qualifications are well-regarded within the UK. This degree can lead to respect, high income, and financial stability in the long term when combined with a professional qualification. A degree in this field not only ensures a great breadth and depth of knowledge but also ensures the availability of opportunities for further development in your career
Other than the prospects of employment, accounting degrees in the UK ensure job security. It is a field that still lags in digitization initiatives and continues to boost demand for newly qualified graduates globally. You have the chance to ensure a financially carefree future for yourself if you invest your early years in a well-recognized accounting program.
Other Career Path Considerations for Accountants?
Given the accounting industry’s trajectory, further consolidation among the big accounting firms is to be expected. In such a climate, one can either double-down on a perfect resume and top-notch academic scores or can diversify their skills for a more well-rounded knowledge base.
If you wish to increase your employability, you should learn more about e-commerce, marketing, and social media management, particularly if you like the idea of working within start-ups or small enterprises. Smaller service-practices in the UK have already started offering marketing and bookkeeping services under the same roof.
Accounting is a field that will continue to grow irrespective of the scale of automation in the United Kingdom. It helps students develop superior skills that prove to be helpful in every other financial field. Despite a few periods of recession faced by accountants recently, it is evident that the industry continues to perform strongly.
With any degree, it’s worth is dependent on a multitude of factors including how it relates to your future career and how happy you are whilst doing the degree itself.
In my view, an accounting degree is a great first step for those looking to forge a career in accounting or wider finance. Not only does this degree choice ensure students will develop a great knowledge base in accounting and finance (which is helpful in pretty much every job to some extent), it can also lead to a stable, high-income job in the future.
As always, please remember I am an Accountant, but not your Accountant. In this post (and all of my others) I share information and oftentimes give anecdotes about what has worked well for me. However, I do not know your personal financial situation and so do not offer individual financial advice. If you are unsure of a particular financial subject, please hire a qualified financial advisor to guide you.
This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my ‘About‘ page for more information. To verify my ACA credentials – please search for my name at the ICAEW member finder. To get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts, please comment below or contact me here.