What's it really like?
Hugh Allon-Smith is 25 years old and an accounts assistant at Russell Smiths Accountants in Leeds. He gives us the inside story.
Before I started working in my current role I did a degree in Natural Sciences at Durham University and then I spent a year working for Christians Against Poverty, a debt counselling agency in Bradford. I have been considering a career as an accountant for a while so thought a job as an accounts assistant would be a good way to find out if it is something I’d like to do long-term.
Russell Smiths is a small thriving accountancy firm which specialises in providing tax and accountancy services for clients in the arts, media and creative sector. There is quite a lot of variety in my job as I do most of the office admin as well as various accounts related tasks. At the beginning of each day I check my emails and respond to any messages from clients or refer them on to members of staff. Throughout the day I act as the first point of contact for clients who email, phone up or come into the office. I also deal with new and potential clients, sending them ‘starter packs,’ initial invoices etc. I prepare accounts and spend quite a lot of time doing tax returns and chasing clients for payments. I also deal with the office's own accounts.
I enjoy the variety that comes with the job – although I have a number of specific tasks I do regularly, every day is a little bit different depending on the clients we are working with at that time. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with completing someone's accounts and I also enjoy the daily contact I have with clients. On the downside, a lot of the day is spent working on my own on lengthy (and sometimes boring!) jobs without much interaction with other people.
I would recommend working as an accounts assistant to anyone who wants to get accounts experience without committing to a graduate training scheme or similar. If I choose to I could train with Russell Smiths in my current role to gain a professional qualification such as ACA or ACCA and I know many firms offer accounts assistants a similar opportunity. Working in accountancy is ideal for people who are logical thinkers and good at working with numbers – it’s not really suited to those who crave a lot of people contact! I am still considering what career path to take in the long-term. I may well choose to stay in my current role and eventually train to become a chartered accountant. I am also considering undertaking a graduate scheme with a bigger firm or something completely different - working within a sustainable energy company. Whatever I do, I know this role will have given me a wide portfolio of skills I will be able to apply to various roles.
Accounts assistants assist with financial records, deal with tax return forms and help to prepare accounts within an accountancy firm or as a member of an in-house finance team in one of a wide variety of industries.
Accounts assistants work for an accountancy firm or other business, assisting with the preparation of accounts, keeping books, dealing with tax return forms and maintaining financial records. They may be responsible for a wide variety of financial tasks or, in larger firms, specialise in a particular area of accounting such as payroll or credit control.
Accounts assistants with little or no experience typically start on £12,000 – £14,000 per annum though this can rise to £20,000 per annum with further training, qualifications and experience.
Accounts assistants are responsible for tasks relating to the preparation and maintenance of financial records as well as cash handling and office administration. Typical responsibilities include:
- Balancing accounts
- Processing receipts, sales invoices and payments
- Maintaining financial records which accurately record the business’ incoming and outgoing finances
- Completing VAT return forms
- Ensuring that accounts are accurately monitored and recorded
- Dealing with a company’s payroll by processing wages and employee expense claims
- Preparing profit and loss accounts sheets
- Preparing balance sheets
- Answering the phone and reading/sending emails to clients
- Meeting and greeting clients when they come into the office
- Minuting meetings/ photocopying/ filing and other administrative duties
- Processing office post
- Client engagement – sending out starter packs to clients/ answering enquiries etc
- (In an accountancy firm) Processing company’s own accounts
There are no specific qualifications needed for accounts assistants as most employers offer good on-the-job training, although requirements do vary depending on the size and nature of the company. Most employers will usually expect prospective employees to demonstrate quick thinking and a logical mind and often ask for a good number of GCSEs at grades A-C including Maths and English. Others more competitive firms may also want to see an AS or A Level in accounting or a related subject.
A qualification in bookkeeping or accounts preparation will act as a good grounding for the job and will usually enable accounts assistants to progress to higher wages faster although training towards these qualifications is usually offered by employers through the job. More specific qualifications related to the job of accounts assistant include:
- Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Level 2 Certificate in Book Keeping
- International Association of Bookkeepers (IAB) Levels 2 and 3 Certificates in Bookkeeping
- Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) Level 1 Certificate in Basic Bookkeeping
- Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) Level 2 in Manual or Computerised Bookkeeping
- OCR Level 1 Certificate in Bookkeeping
- OCR Levels 2 and 3 Certificates in Accounting
- City & Guilds (8953) Levels 1 and 2 Certificates in Bookkeeping and Accounts
Accounts assistants are required to have a logical mind and an ability to work well with numbers. Other skills needed for the job include:
- Good verbal and written communication skills
- Excellent attention to detail
- The ability to maintain clear and accurate financial records
- Computer literacy and the ability to use various specialist applications
- Reasonable word processing skills
- A genuine interest in business and finance
- Good administrative skills
- An organised and methodical approach to working
- The ability to concentrate on one task for long periods of time
- The ability to work independently and as part of a team
- A polite cheerful attitude, particularly when meeting clients
- An honest and discreet attitude when dealing with company accounts
- A willingness to undertake professional development
- The ability to work to deadline
- The ability to balance a number of conflicting demands
- The ability to learn quickly and adapt to (often complex) in-house systems
Accounts assistants work typical office hours, usually Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Most are largely office based although accounts assistants may be required to travel to clients if they are self-employed or work for an accountancy firm. Although there are some client-facing tasks involved with the job, accounts assistants spend most of their time working at a computer so it is important they are happy working independently for large parts of the day. Most accounts assistants work full time although there are often part-time, job-share and flexible opportunities particularly if working as part of a larger team.
Employers don’t usually expect accounts assistants to have a huge amount of relevant experience but some previous work in an office environment will usually be expected. Experience using computer applications such as Microsoft Excel and Access, or other database packages will also be a big advantage as will word processing experience.
Accounts assistants can find work in almost any profession. Potential employers include corporate businesses, sole traders, local authorities, not-for-profit organisations and educational institutions. Accounts assistants may work in-house for an organisation or they might work for an accountancy firm on behalf of several different clients each week.
Accounts assistants have good opportunities for career progression and professional development and most employers offer the chance to train for further qualifications as part of their working week or at night school after office hours. Many accounts assistants go on to become specialists in a particular area of accounting, often progressing to becoming an accounts technician after that and, with the appropriate training, going on to working as a fully chartered accountant.
Advanced qualifications relevant to accounts assistants include:
- NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 in Accounting
- AAT Accounting Qualification at Foundation, Intermediate and Technician levels
- IAB Level 3 Diploma in Accounting and Advanced Bookkeeping
- IAB Level 3 Diploma in Small Business Financial Management
- ICB Level 3 Diploma in Manual or Computerised Bookkeeping