Accountancy may be seen as dull, but nothing could be further from the truth

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The Independent Online

Accountancy is well known for the money, but not for the excitement and variety. Numbers are just numbers, right? Wrong. A new report on the sector published recently shows an industry in flux, and paints accountants as positively risky when it comes to their careers. More than 80 per cent of the 2,000-plus accountancy and finance professionals interviewed expected to change job in the next 12 months. Another indicator of financial meltdown? Hardly. The report's authors, Badenoch & Clark, the financial services recruitment consultancy, say that none of these accountants will have any trouble finding work.

"It's very much a candidate-led market," says Nick Eaves, executive director at Badenoch & Clark. "Demand is outstripping supply."

A newly qualified accountant can expect to earn £40,000 to £60,000, says Eaves. With experience, that touches £100,000, he adds, with accountants who take on more strategic roles, such as chief finance officer or chief executive, taking home more than £200,000.

The flipside of the opportunities for accountants is the discomfort that comes from constantly moving around. And high employee turnover is a pain for employers, which means many offer serious incentives for workers to stay.

There is, according to some, no need to rove. Catherine Burnet has been working at KPMG for the past 13 years. Since her six-year-old was born she has been working four days a week. Last year, she was made Accountancy Age accountant of the year. "The opportunity to find the thing you want to do is definitely there," says Burnet.

Burnet joined KPMG after graduating with a degree in geography. At first, accountancy was just a job and a chance to get a qualification that opened doors, but after looking round KPMG she came back enthused. "It was definitely a people decision," she says. "I really liked the people, and I enjoyed what I was doing so much I stayed." And it is the people that keep getting her out of bed in the mornings. "A lot of people think accountancy is all about numbers," she says. "Obviously it's part of our job, but one thing I love is the variety of work I get and the variety of people I work with, in KPMG and with clients."

While some accountants, like Burnet, find working for one firm most satisfying, there is nothing wrong with moving around. If anything it will do your career good. Annie Graham is, at 30, the youngest partner at Ernst & Young. She joined the firm on a graduate training programme in 1998 after graduating from Strathclyde University in accounting and finance. In January she was made an audit partner. Graham says that one big boon to her career was an 18-month secondment to a private equity firm. "It is important," she says. "Spending time out of the business let me better understand my client's perspective, what it feels like to try and implement business strategy."

This is crucial, she says, in the area of auditing. "The key thing is to understand your client's business," she says. "Where they are today, what their risks and opportunities are, what their aspirations are for the future. You get a very broad perspective of business."

The opportunities on offer are so various, in fact, that the hardest decision for an accountant can be which to take, says Dan Schwarzmann, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) with more than 20 years' experience. "I've never had a dull day," says Schwarzmann, who now works in PwC's advisory business. He has worked for a variety of clients, from a company that produces CDs and a television studio, to insurance giants. "You get tremendous opportunities to move around," he says. "On the client side you get a lot of variety, and it's very common for individuals to move from audit to tax to advisory."

What accountancy certainly is not, says Schwarzmann, is predictable: "You can't predict where you're going to go," he says.

Accounting for yourself

How long does it take?

Most people will spend three years getting their ACA, the Associate Chartered Accountant qualification run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, or CA, the Chartered Accountant qualification run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.

Do I need a degree?

Most chartered accountants are graduates, in any discipline, but it is also possible to sit the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification straight after GCSEs and A-levels, and from there to do the chartered accountant qualification.

How much does it cost?

To qualify you will need to be on a training contract. Most employers will pay your fees.