Interested in a career in practice? Part one!

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A career in practice is a fantastic pathway for ACCA members and future members. The roles, locations, experiences and opportunities are as varied as the shapes and sizes of modern-day practices themselves. 

From setting up a bold new technology driven practice to managing teams of accountants or overseeing international tax, this first in a series of articles talks to ACCA members who are redefining what practice career paths can look like.

Alastair Barlow

Alastair Barlow is the found and chief dreamer at flinder

content fliner alastair barlow [square]My role at flinder is to lead the brand and strategy. We build and run smart finance functions for fast-growth and complex businesses. We use technology to simplify complex data and deliver insight to enable better business decisions. 

We’re a relatively fast-growing brand so we’re continually bringing on new clients but also exploring how we can continue to expand how we continue to deliver value to our existing clients. As well as strategy and brand, I also lead on growth which means I’m often talking to new prospects.

It’s continually evolving, embraces technology and we have a positive influence on businesses, helping to navigate complex decisions that ultimately drive the economy. It’s such an exciting space to be in!

What I enjoy the most about my job is the diversity. I love what we’re creating at flinder, how we’re helping our clients and how we’re developing talented professionals for tomorrow. Overall, I enjoy being in control of my own destiny and creating change, but if I hadn’t gone down the accountancy route, I’d probably be an architect. As a child, I would draft elevations and house plans – I loved creating something from just an idea.

If you’re on a digital transformation journey, I recommend that you listen, learn and collaborate with others. Understand your own challenges and your clients’ challenges. Search for technology that will reduce that friction and don’t use technology for the sake of it. 

One of my proudest achievements is qualifying with ACCA. Others include living and working in a different country, taking the risk to start flinder from a very secure and promising career at PwC, supporting more than 30 people in their careers to become talented professionals, and winning three Accounting Excellence awards in one night – that was pretty special.

If you ever get the opportunity to live in another country or culture, take it. It will diversify your thinking significantly. I spent three years in Amsterdam with PwC. It was an incredible experience and one that’s certainly shaped me – both personally and professionally.

Sustainability is so important. For me, at its most basic, sustainability means making a decision, not just for today’s benefit, but to balance that with the benefit of tomorrow’s stakeholders. If I look at my responsibility for flinder, that’s about investing in our business to develop talented professionals, our methodologies to support our clients, challenging them to make future-proofed decisions, developing technology and processes for the future and sharing our philosophies for the wider benefit of the profession.

Julia Brown

Julia Brown is an accountant at Equiom Group

content julia brown equiom [square]I didn’t have a traditional journey into the accountancy profession. I was a professional musician (as were both my parents) and it’s a profession that you spend your entire childhood dedicated towards so by the time you’re 18, you’re one of the best musicians in the world. But it’s a harsh environment and when I went to music college, I realised that it wasn’t the career path I wanted. Despite winning awards and prizes and having rave reviews in The Herald, I was deeply unhappy and so I left before completing my degree. 

My husband is a chartered accountant and I got a role as the receptionist in his practice. I did some Accounts Assistant work and enjoyed it, so I approached my boss and asked if he would put me through a qualification. Since the ACCA qualification was cheaper and would not require me to be put on a contract, he was willing to get me started on my journey and funded my first examination sitting and books. 

My husband was my line manager and is basically the person who trained me – people ask how I could deal with my husband being my manager, but he knew more than me about accountancy so it was fine! He’s one of the best accountants that I know.

I genuinely loved every minute of those three years studying and doing my exams. I got my final exam results on a Monday and I’d had all my experience signed off long before, so I was able to send off my membership application straight away and within three days of becoming an affiliate, it had been approved and I was a member of ACCA.

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The journey is much more enjoyable than that of other bodies that require degrees and training contracts. I’m very proud of ACCA’s diversity in its truest sense and whilst I wanted to be a chartered certified accountant, I didn’t expect to be so proud of the organisation.

I now work for Equiom which provides financial management solutions aimed at the wealth sector. I manage a team of trainee accountants as one of the department's senior accountants, preparing financial statements and VAT returns. It's a brilliant team to work with and now that I have my qualification and a great job, I'm very excited for my future within the company.

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah is an International Tax Partner at Gerald Edelman

content sonal shah gerald edelman [square]Accountancy wasn’t my dream. Numbers don’t excite me. But there are always different ways of looking at things, and it helps if you have the right guidance. For me that came fifteen years ago when I approached my boss to hand in my notice. I felt my accountancy journey had run its course, but his response was to hand me a new challenge and convince me to stay while I tackled it. I recall that each time he saw I wasn’t being challenged, he gave me something new and extended my comfort zone further. Finally the penny dropped and I realised there was a place for me within the industry. International tax is where I found my perfect fit. 

I represent multinationals, SMEs and individuals, and I learn so much from my clients – their entrepreneurial journeys always interest and inspire me. I’m privileged to help my clients through some of their key moments and milestones, whether I’m assisting them to structure their assets before a move to or from the UK, preparing them for a sale or exit after a successful business launch, providing guidance to successfully expand their business into new markets, or helping them build a property portfolio with succession planning in mind. 

Gerald Edelman value their people and pride themselves on equality and diversity. They place a strong emphasis on empowerment, and I’ve felt supported every step of the way towards achieving my ambitions. The focus on fulfilment and happiness at work definitely brings out the best in the team. 

Accountancy as an industry is moving quickly, and so are client expectations. Artificial intelligence is rapidly improving within our sector, and digital technology continues to develop apace. Both are transforming the way we work, and no one can afford to be left behind. Where compliance was our driver historically, the bar has been raised and clients are now looking for advisory, consultancy and specialist services too. 

In the same way, the battle to attract and retain the best people has never been more testing than it is today. The generations coming up think differently and they’re not afraid of change, so it’s critical to tailor your approach and stay relevant to them. Whilst technical ability remains at the heart of accountancy, a wider skill set is required to achieve success in today’s changing market. Having the emotional intelligence to understand and empathise with the evolving landscape clients are working within is a critical asset, as is infectious energy and belief.

In terms of leadership, I was once a trainee too and I never forget this. Recognising and reaching out to people who may feel undervalued or alienated is crucial, as is identifying and harnessing talent. 

Be inclusive, share information, communicate relentlessly, and constantly reinforce your vision, embedding it in everything you do. Transparency and integrity are key assets too, but my ultimate weapons are resilience and being brave. Having difficult conversations as soon as the need arises – whether with clients, employees or fellow partners – is something all leaders should be encouraged to do.

Despite never originally setting out to do this, the world of international tax has enabled me to travel the globe and meet many interesting people. It also gives me the opportunity to share the stage with prominent figures in the world of tax, which keeps me sharp, focused and on my toes.

And what happened to the boss who mentored me all those years ago, whose intuitive approach, support and unwavering faith helped me carve my own path to a role I love? Well I’m happy to say we still work together today, but now side by side as two of the sixteen partners leading Gerald Edelman forward.

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