Accounting Career Trajectories - Episode 1
In the first of a series of interviews with Rebecca Wood of Fellows Finance with a focus on career development and career choices for accountants, Rebecca speaks to Andrew Thomas. Andrew is an FCCA qualified accountant who currently works as a Finance Business Partner within industry.
Which route did you take to becoming an accountant?
I originally completed a GNVQ/Business Studies course at college and then started studying the ACCA qualification in a small private practice on a study package. I worked in two practices over a three-year period and once part qualified decided to take a break from finance and my studies.
What made you decide to move to industry?
I personally found auditing quite dull and didn’t feel I was adding value for my clients, however my first permanent role outside of practice was in internal audit for a housing association and I enjoyed this as I could see that my findings and recommendations were making an immediate impact on the organisation.
How easy was it to transition into industry?
I found getting into industry quite hard as I had taken a break from finance for 18 months, and was part qualified with no relevant experience. Luckily, I landed a temporary maternity cover role as an accounts assistant. This worked well for both myself and the employer as I was able to gain experience quickly and become heavily involved in both the day to day transactional work and the month end processes and routines.
What were the advantages/disadvantages of your route compared to your peer group within private practice?
I had a friend who completed an accounting degree before he got a job in practice and I don’t think it gave him any benefits except for the exam exemptions, we were still doing the same work and working on similar clients. With either route you still have to complete 3 years of work experience to become qualified, so in my mind it makes more sense to do this while studying, plus I found some exams a lot easier if I was applying the same knowledge at work – not something you will get with degree studying. The other big advantage is cost, I have completed all my exams funded by my employers, so haven’t been left with a big student debt to clear.
Do you think the route you have taken has hindered you in any way or has it helped you to progress?
I don’t believe it has hindered me; some employers will specify that you must have a degree just in the same way that some will specify that you need to be qualified. The majority of the time when I have been interviewing for roles they have been interested in my achievements and experience to date rather than the qualifications I have. I do believe that starting the ACCA in practice allowed me to gain good work experience, and provided the best study support.
What advice would you have for a 15-year-old interested in becoming an accountant? What do you think the best route to take would be?
I would suggest that a young person wanting to become an accountant should start studying AAT which is widely available now through apprentice schemes, either in practice or industry. I think the AAT is undervalued and the content is challenging. It’s a good stepping stone if you haven’t got exemptions, and I would then recommend studying ACA/ACCA/CIMA afterwards depending on the career route. I don’t think there was enough advice available to me at the start of my career about the practice/industry routes, so it would be important to consider both properly.