Route to Qualification: Comparison with Accountancy

Discussion of the route to qualification often leads to comparison with other professions.  In particular, accountancy is a broadly similar professional services profession where further qualifications and training beyond an undergraduate degree is required for entry to the profession.

Michael ThomsonIn this guest post, Michael Thomson discusses the options available for those seeking to qualify as an accountant.  Until recently, Michael was practice manager and a tutor at the Strathclyde University Centre for Professional Legal Practice and solicitor/director at EK Business Law.  He also teaches business and law to accountancy students on the ACCA and CIMA professional accountancy courses.  Michael’s website is here.  He tweets as @ekbusinesslaw.

When I look at the routes to qualify as an accountant I feel a little bit jealous of what this profession has to offer in comparison to the solicitor profession.   For a start the accountancy profession has a number of regulatory and professional bodies, each with their own pathway to qualification.  The choice of pathway is likely to depend on whether someone is interested in working in the public or private sector, in-house or within the wider business community, or as a management or financial accountant.

There are no particular entry requirements in order to set out on the route to qualification as an accountant.  It is possible to start straight from school, or anytime thereafter.  If someone has completed an accountancy, finance or business related undergraduate degree, it is possible to obtain some exemptions from entry level modules.  Accountancy professional bodies have around 16 examinable modules in their qualification programmes.  The modules can be studied as independent self-study, or supported online, distance learning, or classroom based depending on the service provider you choose and the needs of the individual.  Module tuition and revision can be purchased from a variety of providers, and candidates are certainly not tied to a University as they are with legal education and training.

The total cost of purchasing the tuition modules and revision classes is likely to cost in the region of £18,000.  However, many employers pay for modules, associated revision programmes, and exams for their staff as part of their ongoing professional and staff development.  It is also possible to share this cost with staff, or for the individual to self-fund.  Usually people opt to take 2 modules in each diet, and there are 2 diets each year.  This is just about manageable, but definitely not easy, when working full-time.

If a candidate passes 4 modules each year they could qualify in 4 years.  It is possible to take a maximum of 8 modules each year and qualify quicker, however this would be very difficult if studying alongside full-time employment.  Modular based learning has the benefit of being at the individual’s own pace.  This means it would also be an option to limit modules to 1 each diet, or to take a break from studying and not take any at all.

In order to become fully qualified, accountants also need to complete 3 years of work experience.  The difference between this and a legal traineeship is accountancy work experience can be gained before, during and/or after the required modular based training, with a variety of employers, and with breaks in employment.  In the vast majority of cases people work as an accountant in an accountancy practice while studying.  Accountants therefore get the opportunity to earn, learn, and gain the necessary practical experience as a package.

The route to qualification as a solicitor lacks the flexibility and choice that is available in the route to qualification as an accountant.  I hope this is a situation that will change.

Michael Thomson