Interested in a career in practice? Part two!
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.
Stevie Jepson is MD at Platinum Accountancy Services, head of finance at Fashion Revolution and World Finance Committee Member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
When I was eighteen, I went to South Africa volunteering in a township and a lion sanctuary, and there I met an accountant who advised me not to go to university but instead get a job and do the ACCA qualification. I thought that was great advice, so I got a job then hit my first obstacle. I was doing my AAT privately funded but my employer didn’t want to fund my ACCA studies. I wanted to have the backing of a solid qualification for my career and was keen to get started as quickly as possible. I had to job-hop in practices for those first few years, because I couldn’t find an employer who would support me at the speed that I wanted to progress. I was being offered one exam per session at a time when there were only two sessions a year so it would have taken me five years. So I went into industry and was able to qualify more quickly.
I have worked for some big multi-national companies and became qualified in 2015 and recently become a fellow of ACCA. Then I had children and that changed everything. I didn’t feel able to go back to the corporate world because women are treated differently there. Volunteering work is very important to me and employers in the corporate world were inflexible with that.
But several years ago it was a real challenge for me. I now do work with Fashion Revolution and a small charity called The Aplastic Anaemia Trust, and I’ve started my own practice.
I’m a real advocate of getting a qualification. I was in the final year of when university fees would only be £3000 so there was massive push from my school, my parents, from everybody to go to university but that wouldn’t have been right for me. Looking back, it’s the best thing that I never did! The on-the-job learning I did was invaluable because I started at the bottom and worked my way up meaning I saw everything.
I’m also a big advocate of volunteering. I’m on the World Finance Committee for WAGGGS and work with some incredibly talented women in senior positions globally. I was only in my twenties and not yet qualified when I was encouraged to apply for the role - I wasn’t sure I should apply but the WAGGGS movement is all about advocating for the under 30s, and ensuring that the voices of girls and young women are heard and that they have opportunities, so it was a great organisation to get involved with and I have learnt so much!
I think unfortunately that women are always going to be treated differently in the corporate world. I was always expected to organise team days because I was a woman. Then I was made redundant once I had a child and had to assert my legal rights. The support for women in the corporate world with young children – the flexibility that is needed – has been missing. Compare that with the not for profit sector where the flexibility and the support is tremendous.
That’s where I hope the corporate sector can change. The need to work from home during the pandemic should help the industry to get on board with the need for flexibility with employees.
It all depends on the employer – you could say that it’s not so good in the corporate world and great in the NGO world but I worked for JDWetherspoon, a PLC, yet it really cared about its employees. It is one of the best places I’ve ever worked and that was because people were motivated, and my line manager was completely invested in his company and his team. Large corporates just need to be a little more flexible and willing. The NGO world is so rewarding – you don’t get the best pay, but it rewards in different ways.
I saw that ACCA was doing something with the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s an area that Fashion Revolution is focusing on, but I had never thought about ACCA being involved with SDGs. I liked ACCA’s approach because it is relevant and probably not widely communicated apart from by NGOs. I doubt that the corporate world would be pushing sustainable development goals in the same way. It’s good that ACCA is going down that route and informing its members - it gives you inspiration that as an accountant, you can incorporate these important issues into your work.
Jake Muir is a client relationship manager at Critchleys
I have been a fully qualified accountant since 2018, and it has been an incredible journey so far. Accountancy had always appealed to me as it was a secure job with a clear career path, and I felt my skills naturally pointed towards a structured profession that let me work with people.
Many people have influenced me but, in particular, my parents have always thought the best in me and have always believed in me, as most parents do. During the more challenging times in my studies, I took great inspiration from my father.
Critchleys was established in 1906 to help businesses, charities and individuals. Today, we have a team of over 100 staff based in the centre of Oxford, and we offer a wide range of financial services. In our 114 year history, COVID-19 has had the most significant widespread impact across all the sectors we represent. As well as our usual jobs and deadlines, it has been an ongoing task to support our clients through the changes COVID has caused. This has included helping with the furlough scheme, applying for additional Government grants and advising our clients on future planning.
Sustainability and the environment is now a big talking point with clients. It has encouraged us to move towards being a paperless office, introduce plants into our working area, and think about our overall impact. We work with several environmental charities, and it is great to see the increased engagement they have had recently.
There are always business issues or challenges to overcome. At times I have undertaken certain projects or have been seconded to other departments. I would say honesty is the best policy, and normally there is a wealth of experience around you. I would suggest to anyone that is struggling with something to speak up and request help. The problem is never as impossible as you may think, and having a great team around you really does make things easier.
This is also great for our clients; with the proper use of the available technology today they can free up some spare time to concentrate on the more important things - their business and family.
The image of accountancy is changing. It has been described to me as grey, dull and repetitive, but this is not the case. It is an interactive role that involves people and problem-solving. With the improvements and changes in technology, it is an exciting time to get involved, but we need to communicate this with new talent.
I think that new talent entering the profession is ready for work, but the best way to learn is through experience. The skills that are important for future accountants are all relationship-focused. They will need to be able to talk to clients, communicate clearly, and build rapport. The added value from these skills help win new business and retain long-term clients.
Fahad Faiz is the managing director of Faiz Accountax
When I was an 8th class student in Pakistan, we were given subjects choices for our upcoming O levels and it was a choice between science subjects or business subjects. There was an accounting firm right next to our school so I asked the owner for guidance and prospects for becoming an accountant. As a child, I’d heard that becoming a qualified accountant was tough but the owner told me that if I worked hard, then one day I would have my own firm. That’s the day I decided to become a qualified accountant and open my own firm.
After completing my A levels, I registered as an ACCA student after researching different accountancy bodies.
I figured that if I needed global mobility and the flexibility of working in different countries then becoming an ACCA member would enable me to go to any major economy of the world and find work.
I decided to study ACCA in UK. The journey was not easy as I was a young student - not yet 18 - in a foreign country without any family members. I kept my focus on my goal and worked hard to clear ACCA challenging exams while working part time in an accountancy practice which gave me a chance to apply knowledge learned in college into real life.
I was lucky to have a workplace mentor who helped me on every step of my journey. He placed trust in my abilities when I was young and gave me a chance to achieve all the technical competencies.
I completed the exams, became a member and got a practising certificate. As my work responsibilities increased, I developed a greater interest in tax and realised that to give the best value to clients once I had set up my firm, I needed to be more skilled in tax matters. So I studied in the evening and on weekends to became a tax specialist through the CTA qualification.
Once I’d done that, I knew the time had arrived to bring my childhood dream of running an accountancy practice into reality. Today after 13 years of exams, work and all those performance objectives, as a 30 year old now I am finally running my own accountancy and tax practice in London.