To the general public, both a generalised accountant and a chartered accountant are commonly categorised into the same box; from the financial activities they complete, to their specialism level. From tax returns and yearly accounts, to the maintenance of accurate financial statements, accounting services are conventional.

Yet, to the professional eye, the difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant fall down to a number of key factors, along with varying situations to utilise their skillset.

With this in mind, if you’re looking to work with an accountant, it’s key to understand the difference between both, ensuring you’re receiving the level of expertise required for your accountancy needs.

The key difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant

Generally speaking, individuals with accounting experience and qualifications can perform accounting activities, following this a career path. Pretty much anyone with practical experience and accreditation in the industry can call themselves an accountant. From freelance and industry specialised accountants, to large accounting firms, there’s a wide range of professional routes to consider.

Yet here lies the key difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant; their accreditation under a professional body. A chartered accountant can hold a membership under either the Institute of Chartered Accountants or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. However, to be accredited under this specialised standard, a series of chartered examinations will be passed, along with practical industry experience to match membership eligibility.

Another difference lies in an accountant’s specialism; focusing in on the best time to utilise either a general accountant or a chartered accountant. If you’re requiring basic accountancy services, for example, your yearly tax return, this is a common activity, completed to a high standard by everyday accountants. With this in mind, you’ll receive great value for money on a regular basis when requiring standardised accountancy support.

However, if you’re in a difficult financial situation, or lack knowledge on finances, accounts or forecasts, working with a chartered accountant will be beneficial. Here you’ll receive value through their specialised knowledge and processes, while also understanding your financial situation greater. By working with a chartered accountant, you’ll have peace of mind that no matter how complicated your accounting needs may be, that accuracy and standards can be maintained.

Another benefit to some by utilising the experience of a chartered accountant is their certification for public practice; if achieved, this will ensure that your selected accountant is qualified to a standard which matches your requirements. Although greater cost is behind employing a chartered accountant, you’ll have knowledge that experience will master demanding accountancy activity and solutions.

Both general and chartered accountants can offer a valuable service, ensuring that industry strategies, rules and procedures are followed. However, to benefit your needs and budget, it’s wise to select the most appropriate specialism; placing emphasis on the importance of differentiating both accountants.

What are the general practises of an accountant?

The general practice of an accountant is to offer accounting and financial support through a range of routes. Some accountants will select to support a single business within a specialised industry, while others will work across a range of sectors. Commonplace accounting activity focuses on the organisation and accuracy of accounts, with a large focus on tax returns, profit and loss statements and forecasts. Their key skills fall on observation and analysis, helping to maintain procedures and standards.

Further accountancy services commonly offered include the balancing of accounts, the maintenance of financial practices, ethics and legislation, planning and budgeting strategies for future investment recommendations, and entering and managing financial transactions.

Alongside these conventional services, some accountants will specialise in corporate accountancy, offering key insight into business investment, forecasts, risk analysis and financial health assessments.

Likewise, a large proportion of standardised accountants will usually advance through alternative fields, such as retirement arrangements, insurance and venture capital. However, within this position, remaining on top of current trends, policies and legislations are required to offer such accountancy expertise.

Accountants in general can complete a wide range of accounting services, many with highly focused expertise. However, depending on your knowledge, budget and input, the in-depth comprehension of chartered accountants may suit your needs greater.

What does a chartered accountant do?

When considering the career of a chartered accountant, greater education is required to achieve future accreditation. As touched on above, a number of examinations on a postgraduate basis must be passed to fall under the accreditation and membership, along with a comprehensive mentorship programme. With this in mind, a chartered accountant will usually focus in on a specific area of accountancy. Instead of fixing on commonly demanded services, a chartered accountant will work closely within one organisation, providing a personalised accountancy service.

Although conventional everyday accountancy services can be implemented, a chartered accountant will mostly focus in on one specialism; usually decided while completing their initial mentorship scheme.

With the specialities of a chartered accountant, greater investment will be required to employ their services. However, for large organisations, this is a necessity to ensure industry focused services can be obtained.

This is a vital factor to consider when looking at the difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant, ensuring you have the level of experience, qualification, and industry understanding to reflect your company needs, size and budget.

Making the right selection between an accountant and a chartered accountant

Like any other business decision, selecting between both a generalised and a chartered accountant can be difficult. However, selecting the right level of expertise is vital to fulfil your accounting needs. Without differentiating the skillset of both accounting routes, you could end up with an underqualified accountant, failing to fulfil your needs, or an overqualified accountant, charging a hefty invoice.

A quality accountancy firm will offer a wide range of commonplace and specialised accounting services. They will advise the most suitable route for your business needs, whether that’s through a general accountant or a chartered accountant.

Rachael Olukoju
Rachael Olukoju

Rachael is a diligent qualified accountant with audit experience and joined us from a top 15 accountancy firm. With a thirst for knowledge and personal development, Rachael continues to study towards further qualifications. She is a strong communicator who is passionate, goal-driven and leads by example. Rachael has significant experience in management and statutory accounts preparation and review alongside a strong understanding of reporting and completion against strict deadlines.