Finding your Career path in the Accounting Profession

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Finding your Career path in the Accounting Profession

Whether you chose to study accounting at University because you absolutely loved numbers or you somehow fell into this area, like a lot of people, wouldn’t you be interested to know where it can actually take you in the future.

I was in the second category of falling into accounting, after starting out with a business/computing degree at Uni.  After one semester of studying computing I realised this wasn’t for me and continued to complete a commerce (accounting) / business administration degree at Macquarie Unversity.  I’ll be honest that after studying accounting for 4 years and then finally working in this field, they were two completely different sides of the coin and it took me some time to adapt to working life and the real world challenges in the accounting profession.

It wasn’t until I studied the CA program through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia that I really understood the concepts well and could put a lot of this knowledge into practical use.

But after 8 years, having worked across many different areas of accounting from tax, audit, financial/commercial accounting and financial management I can now say that it is an extremely enjoyable, challenging & diverse field.  It is one of the most portable professions that are needed in every single business.  The choices are truly endless where it can take you.

I’ve had the benefit of working across many different types of industries from medical, property development, motor industry, FMCG wholesale distribution, engineering, mining & oil/gas.  This is all in the space of less than 10 years, due to some of the roles where we were servicing clients that worked across a number of sectors.  I’ve also had the benefit of working in small, medium and larger organisations and have been able to understand the different dynamics in different sized organisations.

So, if you’re studying accounting, have just graduated or even having had some experience working in accounting, what area to you choose and what is the best path for you in the accounting profession?  Where is even the best place to start?

Solid skills base

My advice if you are just starting out is to get a good solid base of core accounting skills, the broader the better.  When starting out it’s probably too early on to start specialising, unless you are convinced you know what you want to do.  If you become too specialised too early on this can limit your future job prospects, so important to consider this.

It’s really important to get a good job in a supportive environment where you can learn as much as you can about accounting whether this is in tax, audit, insolvency, commercial or another finance related functional area.  It is important thing is that you are working with numbers and know how to use them, read them, interpret them and can develop your skills to become more accurate and develop a stronger attention to detail.

Gaining valuable experience

The best type of organisation you can work for is to work with other qualified accountants within the business that you can learn and gain valuable mentorship.  It doesn’t really matter the size or the type of industry so long as you are learning not only accounting but how to work with other people.  I’ve noticed a number of graduates getting roles in large top tier Chartered Accounting firms for the broad level of experience and training that these organisations offer.  Having worked in one of these organisations, myself, I can say that they do offer a brilliant training ground, through a wealth of experienced people, resources, client experiences and challenges.  There are also plenty of organisations offering fantastic graduate programs and good career paths.  Even a number of smaller organisations can offer a great starting point of accounting graduates, due to the broader level of duties required to do due to being smaller in size, which can offer great experience.

Finding your strengths

What you will find after working for a while is what area interests you and where your strengths lie.  It is important to recognise what area interests you the most.  This may take you some time to recognise and understand.  For example you may love auditing companies and going into businesses and learning about how they operate and identifying all of the risk factors.  Alternatively you may love working with accounting systems and working on accounting-related IT projects involving change management, training & technical systems understanding.

You may be a very process oriented individual and love to develop and enforce business processes.   I’ve also come across very technical people in accounting and taxation concepts and who love accounting standards & tax law and have moved onto much more specialised areas within these fields.  What is important is that you enjoy what you’re doing, in adding some type of value to the business and being recognised for what you do.

Here is a small sample of some of the types of areas that you could try:

  • Analysis
  • Advisory
  • Budgeting / Forecasting
  • Business decision support
  • Compliance – audit & tax
  • Commercial
  • Insolvency
  • Financial Control
  • Financial Management
  • Financial Processing
  • Projects
  • Government
  • Systems support
  • Training

Thinking ahead

It is important to recognise different jobs that you could see yourself doing one day and this generally takes some time and experience once you have had exposure to different fields within Accounting.  If you can think ahead in 5 – 10 years what you would like to do, this makes it a lot easier to start getting experience that will provide you with the right skill set for these roles.  It’s always good starting point to look on a job search website and find out what skills are required for the job of your dreams.  Also talk to other people working in accounting roles and get their insight.  In the mean time you can work away refining these skills until you finally land the job of your dreams.  Good Luck.

If you would like any further information feel free to contact me or goto Tutor Finder

Visit some of my other blogs:

How to pass an accounting exam

Does private tutoring actually help students

Think Numbers

FX Option Trading – Is it for me?

Trading FX Options – Is it for me?

With access to almost unlimited liquidity, the FX market has to be the most exhilarating markets to trade in the world.  There are almost weekly events that can cause massive movements in currencies that result in an abundance of trading opportunities.  Finding these opportunities for the trained eye, is really not that hard.  But once you’ve found an opportunity holding onto your capital and growing your account is not so much a battle of how well you are a trader, but how well you can manage yourself.  The ability to interpret information and make the right decisions is something you have to learn to develop but there are plenty of resources out there to assist.

I’ve been trading on and off for the past 10 years or so and have had a variety of amazing experiences and absolute trading disasters.  But I’ve learned to be a lot more disciplined over the years to improve my trading as I become more and more consistent.  How i’ve managed to discover this consistency is through combining options trading with the FX market.

FX Options give you the right to buy or sell a certain currency pair at a certain point in time.  They can work on margin or cash but are generally highly leveraged and considered a derivative type of trading instrument.  They are generally traded through a CFD provider and whilst highly liquid, they don’t have the same regulations and rules as a plain vanilla style share or index option.

If you’ve ever traded Share or Index Options, they don’t offer the same type of trading products like Spreads or Butterfly’s or Iron Condors.  Its a bit more basic in that you can buy or sell calls or puts.  But the leverage is insane.  For $1,000 you can control up to $100,000 of capital on the live FX market, but through an FX option.

You not only have the high liquidity of the FX market supporting you but you also have volatility in the premium price.  This can vary significantly between brokers so its important you research this in depth before committing any serious money to trading.  The other thing to note is that its a double edged sword in that if you are right with direction, you can make money very quickly within days, hours or even minutes.  However, with FX options if you are a seller of premium your position can fall into loss making very very quickly if you are too close to being ITM.

An example of an FX Options Strategy that has worked for me, is that I sell a Put in which I receive premium with around 40 days until expiration.  I usually take a medium term directional trade such as the bullishness in the USDJPY.  I sell a put well away out of the money, at a minimum 400+ pips away.  But I get into the trade when the market dips.  The benefits of this are you receive the premium upfront and spend the rest of the trade awaiting for the option price to fall in value.  As time goes on the time decay eats away at the option price, which is what you want as the less its worth the better for you being the seller.

Be careful of the amount of spread you lose when entering the trade, it is no where near as tight as the spot market and can put you in a loss making position from the time you enter the trade.  But with a medium term outlook of say 40-60 days, you will have time to recover into profit if your direction is correct.

It is important to research and become engaged with the market.  I generally checkout FXEmpire.com which gives great technical analysis, forecasting, fundamental research and whatever you want to know about FX, Commodities, Indexes etc..  Another great source of information is Investing.com, which is another great source of information about the markets, news and economic data.

Some great trades I’ve done recently were to sell put options in the USDJPY around 45 days out when the market was falling.  Lets face it, currently in 2014 and early 2015 the Japanese Yen is extremely bullish and doesn’t look like its going to fall drastically anytime soon.  It has some really good support at 115 and has the Japanese government working strategically to weaken the Yen as well as the US going from strength to strength, so a great pair to be trading at the moment.

So I basically as the market was on a bit of a sell off and went as low as 116, which was quite a bit of an overshoot, I was selling put options at around 200 pips below the market, know that the market would be finding support and due for a rally.  Very soon after this trade was executed, the market bounced back into bullish territory and was back up around the 118 level.  The position was already up 200 pips higher than I got in.  On a $1,000 investment for a couple of weeks work i’ve doubled my money, not bad!!USDJPYDaily 220115

The plan is not necessarily to hold onto this position until expiration, but until around 30 days until expiration, of which time decay can work significantly in your favor during this period.  I would never hold the position until expiration unless it is staying a good 400 pips away from the market price.

Where you can really go wrong as i’ve mentioned, is being too close to the market price in which this can significantly affect the options price that you pay.  Secondly, just picking the wrong medium term direction of the pair, as once you get into these FX options, you are initially losing on the spread until the market moves in your direction.  This sometimes take 50+ pips before you’ve broken even to cover this spread.  Depending on the broker, they don’t always allow you to set limit orders and to be honest this is how the brokers make their money.

The potential to make money with FX Options however is massive and gives any everyday trader plenty of opportunities and just look how many there are.  But money management, trade size and protecting the risks are the main demons you need to overcome to be successful.  You can easily make 25%, 50% or even double your account size in a matter of days using FX options.  But be very wary you can losing it just as quickly if you don’t protect your positions, particularly using naked options as i’ve described a trade above.

I would love to hear your trading experiences with FX Options and whether you’ve ever traded with naked options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to read and interpet a balance sheet

It’s the dreaded task of having to understand the financials. What purpose does it serve? Leave it to the accountants to work it out. The bean counters. Why do I need to understand the numbers?

Whether you like it or not to survive in business today it’s a numbers game. If you don’t understand what the financials are telling you, you’re behind the 8 ball.

So, how do you ever learn to understand what the financial statements are telling you if you’ve never had any formal accounting training or have never bothered to pay attention during that sleepy afternoon lecture back in your University days?

It may all seem like code language to understand what a balance sheet it telling you, but in fact, it’s actually quite simple and powerful at the same time. The key to understanding is a bit of training and some practice at reading them and before you know it, once you’ve been shown the ways, you know what you’re looking for. By understanding just a few of a balance sheets elements, you have already learnt a lot about what accounting is all about.

The balance sheet is really crafted from a simple accounting equation:

ASSETS = LIABILITIES + OWNERS EQUITY

The assets are the current and future benefits to the organisation such as cash, accounts receivable, inventory, prepayments, property plant & equipment & intangibles. The way they affect the accounting equation are that they are what a business has to show for its efforts and increase the net worth of a business. They are basically ranked in order or liquidity or conversion into cash, the most liquid form of an asset. Whilst holding many assets may seem like a good thing, it’s not always a healthy sign for a business to have too many assets, if they are not adequately used to generate a good return on investment. If you think about it, these are the items that the business is investing in, to generate revenue.

The liabilities are the current and future obligations to the organisation such as trade creditors, accruals/provisions, employee entitlements, unearned revenue & loans. These are debts or obligations a business owes to its stakeholders and have a negative impact on a company’s net worth. Whilst too much debt is definitely not a good thing, having a healthy balance of leverage or gearing in a business, can allow a business to grow significantly, compared to if it grew with no help. Within the liabilities section of a business’s balance sheet if a company is funded through debt facilities this is where it will show up.

The owner’s equity section of the balance sheet shows a number of things such as the ownership structure whether it is funded by share capital or the owners personal contribution of funds. What this section also shows is the retained earnings of the business. Retained earnings is a combination of all previous [revenues – expenses = profits / (losses)] from all previous periods plus the current period as well. This is what causes the balance sheet to balance and is the direct link for the profit and loss statement, so that the accounting equation will balance. Having strong equity is a very healthy sign for a business as this indicates that the business has been profitable and has subsequently re-invested in new assets to generate more profit. The owner’s equity balance is the same balance as assets – liabilities or net assets of a business. This is important because if you sold all assets and paid back all liabilities this is what you would have left for the owners of the business.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. It’s not as complicated as you may think. It just requires a bit of practice and with more experience you will feel more confident every time you pick up a balance sheet. Already just knowing the basic concepts you can tell the liquidity or solvency of a business, you can understand the ownership structure of what is funded through debt vs equity and you can determine what the business is worth on the books. Whilst this may only seem like a few things, it actually tells you a heck of a lot about the business regardless of what industry or sector it is in.

If you would like any further information feel free to contact me or goto Tutor Finder

Visit some of my other blogs:

How to pass an accounting exam

Does private tutoring actually help students

Think Numbers

How to pass an accounting exam

Why is it that so many students struggle with accounting exams?  Is it the ambiguity of the concepts or the way in which the subjects are taught in our Universities?

This area has been a focus for me over the past few years.  After tutoring several hundred students and seeing the variety of courses available through Universities, both undergraduate and post-graduate, there are usually a number of techniques, that while may seem relatively simple, are usually the reason for the downfall in students not passing he dreaded accounting exam.  Its amazing that passing accounting can sometimes be the difference between a few marks and that is why its important to maximise your marks.
Here are my list of top tips for passing the accounting exam and can also apply to other topic areas as well.  While they may seem to be generic, this is typically what lets students down and the reason for having to repeat a class again:-

1. Read the Question carefully – while this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised to see how many students fail to actually read and understand what the question is asking of them.  Accounting concepts can be broken down into the various topic areas and once understand what types of questions belong into what topic area, you can learn the technique to answer these questions.  For example posting journal entries, creating a trial balance and financial statements, ratio analysis etc..

2. Read the question prior to reading the supporting material – a number of students, particularly in accounting, spend their time during reading time absorbing all of the facts rather than pin pointing what the questions is asking, then fishing for the right information.  This is a technique that will guarantee you to focus on the right answer.

3. Include narrations and workings – this is typical for accounting journal questions and it is important to lay out your assumptions and narrate what the transaction is for.  You never know the marker may give you extra marks if he can see where you went wrong, yet your presentation and logic were almost correct.  So use this technique to be clear in your responses.

4. Ensure to include the correct format – i’ve seen questions where the marker can offer you a mark purely for putting the right format such as a cash flow statement or balance sheet.  Just by putting in the company name, report name, period & correct sub-headings can make a massive difference.

5. Time management – work out the number of minutes for the exam and divide by the number of marks.  So for example a 3 hours exam work 100 marks should be work 1.8 minutes per mark.  It is important to plan this out during reading time and then to stick to this time frame, which will make a massive difference during the actual exam, if you can be this disciplined.  If a question is incomplete, just move on to the next question.

6. Prioritise the question from easiest to hardest – this can be planned out during reading time and this technique helps you to maximise your marks.  So for example if there is a question on T-accounts versus doing a cash flow statement, you may be able to start with the t-accounts, if you find this easier.  That way you are maximising your marks to help your chances of passing the course.

7. Think in concepts rather than rote learning – the biggest problem in accounting exams is that students rote learn material rather than thinking in concepts.  Taking a much higher level view and thinking and understanding the concept will guarantee you a much more successful preparation and pass mark for your course.

8. Everything comes back to the basic principles – at the end of the day Accounting isn’t rocket science and all come back to basic principles which appear simple, yet are the foundation of understanding more advanced principles.  Everything comes back to the accounting equation, understanding your debits and credits etc…

9. Accounting follows a standard structure – nearly all accounting courses start off with the same principles of A = L + OE, then move onto the various elements, then onto T-accounts, ledgers & preparing the trial balance, adjusting entries, preparing financial statements, ratio analysis etc… Likewise with management accounting there is a pretty common theme of concepts such as cost accounting, cost volume profit analysis, overhead and allocations, budgets & forecasting, investment decisions, value-chain / retail accounting etc…  So once you learn the structure and what type of questions belong into what type of topic area you will find it a lot easier to know how to approach these types of questions.

10. Check your calculations – simple easy marks can be lost through careless calculations and by not checking your figures, you can lose out which can cost you the difference between a pass and fail grade.

All of these tips sounds simple in theory, yet require discipline to implement in practice.

If you would like any further information feel free to contact me or goto Tutor Finder

Finding your Career path in the Accounting Profession

Does private tutoring actually help students

Think Numbers