One of the most important services provided by firms in public practice is the annual company audit which all registered public and private companies are required to have by company law. Chartered accountants carry out three-quarters of these audits, and every audit provides them with an unrivalled insight into business affairs. It is the auditor's task to ensure that the company's annual report and accounts present a true and fair' picture of its operations, and to do that the auditor must look at the accounting systems, check the accuracy of record-keeping and take into account its commercial environment.
The analytical and business skills that chartered accountants develop lead to the fact that 25 per cent of the top British companies have a chartered accountant as their chief executive. Accountants who have been approved for training by the Institute, they pass the Institute's exams. The exams are tough, and a condition of the training contract is that you should have time off to prepare for them at least 20 weeks' paid study leave. Most of those entering training contracts are graduates, who join public practice firms. There are still opportunities for people with good 'A' levels, AAT or NVQ qualifications. Some places are available under the TOPP scheme, (Training Outside Public Practice).
The training contract must be registered with the Institute, and must give the student a planned programme of training and practical experience, although the work will vary according to the firm. It should include a variety of auditing, tax and accounting assignments for different kinds of company. After two years, you will have responsibility for the field-work on some jobs, and may be supervising the work of younger trainees.
You have to keep a training record, giving details of the time spent on assignments; your firm should review this six-monthly to see that you are getting proper experience, and it has to be submitted to the Institute when you apply for membership.
'A chartered accountant needs to be a good communicator; a high academic achiever, a good team player; comfortable in a numerate environment; able to manage time effectively; analytical; self-motivated'
With maths and economics among her A level subjects, Carol, knowing that she wanted to be a businesswoman, applied to the University of Kent to study for a BA Honours in Accountancy. After getting her degree she joined a medium-sized practice, and after five years is now the assistant manager in a large firm that's part of a group dealing with financial institutions.
After leaving university I decided to accept a place in an informal office because the friendly atmosphere appealed to me. I knew I'd have to study for the Institute of Chartered Accountants' exams during my training contract, and, although I had an exemption in accountancy and the company made it easy for me, it was a tough three years.
I became part of an audit team from the very start. I was doing quite routine things at first checking the cash and bank balances at the client's offices but it's the best way of learning the business. Our client was a Baptist Missionary Society. Odd £10 notes would turn up in envelopes with no note of origin. We assumed they were anonymous donations and entered them into the appropriate column.
I passed the first part of my exams and was promoted soon after to my first grade Senior III. The work became more varied and more difficult, but it always had a useful relationship to my exam studies theory and practice helped each other. At the end of my third year I passed the final exam and was shortly after promoted to Senior II. I was taken off audits and put on to a variety of other assignments including insurance investigations, and seven weeks at the tuition centre teaching students on their introductory courses.
In due course I was promoted to Senior I and became supervisor in the Business Services Group. This gave me a fascinating insight into the all-round services (including tax work and company secretary assistance) that the firm can offer its existing clients.
I now had my own portfolio of clients 60 in all for whom I had full audit responsibility. The projects were very varied. An overseas organisation with its accountancy base in this country needed some investigative work done into its accountancy procedures. Some large bills had been incurred which needed explanation. I had to visit the three areas where the accounts were kept, talk to the people there, detail their systems and find out the amount of money passing through. All this gave me the raw material I needed to assess how much would be involved in preparing an audit. When it was done I organised a report to be presented to the client.
This extension of our services into management consultancy is a growing part of our business and one that interests me greatly. I felt I was now in the position to sell the company to existing and prospective customers. Whenever I met clients I was listening for clues about their present moods and future needs. I was given a lot of responsibility by the Partners who trusted me to act on my own initiative if I scented something interesting in the wind.
After I had been qualified for a couple of years I felt it was a good time to consider a change. With this in mind, I applied to and was accepted by a Big 6 firm, where I am now working as an assistant manager. Whatever I choose to do next I know that I will have both a marketable qualification and sound business experience behind me.