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Accounting Career Trajectories - Episode 6

In the sixth 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 Sarah Greenwood. Sarah has many qualifications and a very interesting career so far; she is CPI, ACCA, and CTA qualified and has recently sat the ACA Pathways exam to convert her ACCA to ACA. e

What does your career as an accountant look like so far?

I completed a degree in Economics, Accountancy and Finance at Aberystwyth University. After finishing university, I joined the Business Restructuring team at BDO Stoy Hayward LLP where I worked for BDO for almost 7 years, completing my ACCA and CPI along the way. I gained a great deal of experience whilst there and undertook two secondments to the Global Outsourcing and Audit teams.

I left BDO to join Deloitte to work in their Forensic Accounting department and worked at Deloitte for just over a year before joining a small firm where I have worked since 2015. Whilst at Whitesides I completed my CTA and I have recently passed the pathways exam to cross qualify to the ACA.

Did you prefer working in a large, mid-tier or small firm?

I enjoyed working at all three but for different reasons.

At BDO and Deloitte there are lots of opportunities they both had a lot of trainees and other members of staff a similar age and so there was a lot of social events and support at an early stage in your career. I feel I was really lucky to train at BDO they gave me all the support I needed in order to pass my exams. The firm was a great place to work and I had supportive managers and partners in my team.

Now I am a bit further on with my career, I love the work-life balance I get working in a smaller firm. I live very close to the office so I can walk to work and go home to see my dog at lunch time!

I would definitely recommend starting in a mid-tier firm as you can either move up or down.

Which exam did you find the most difficult?

Definitely the CTA. I expect if I sat down and added up the number of hours I spent studying for the CTA it would be somewhere around 500-600 hours per exam whilst I probably only spent about 200-300 hours studying per final exam of the ACCA/CPI.

Did you enjoy insolvency or forensic more?

I preferred insolvency work, it was very varied as you would always have a lot of active cases at the same time. Depending on the case you could be completing an AMA process, undertaking an orderly wind-down or trading a business which can be very intense. Insolvency work is far more like the general practice work that I do now where you have huge variety of work at the same time.

Have you had any setbacks in your career?

I am not sure I have had any setbacks, I think if I went back to the start I would probably focus more on what I wanted to do long-term. Although having worked in a lot of different departments and sat so many exams I have acquired a lot of knowledge that other staff working in a small firm don’t have which is really useful when I am advising clients.

I would say, having always worked in practice, it would be difficult for me to move into industry or the public sector as I don’t have the experience they need.

What would your advice be to someone wanting to become an accountant?

I am very glad I trained in a mid-tier firm, it gave me loads of opportunities and from a mid-tier firm it is fairly easy to move into the big-4, smaller firms or industry. If you train in a big-4 firm you may struggle to move to a very small firm as you don’t have the breadth of experience they need and likewise if you train in a small firm it would be very difficult to move into the big-4.

If you want to work in either a smaller firm or specialise in tax, I would recommend completing the ACA CTA Joint programme because it reduced the number of exams you have to take.

I would also recommend looking at what you want to do long-term. If you want to own your own practice you probably need to work in a small practice so you have the skills and experience to advise small businesses. If your aim is to be a partner in a big firm then it is probably best to specialise in the stream you want to work in early on. If you want to move into industry, I would suggest starting in a big 4 or mid-tier firm in audit as this will give you the best foundation to be able to move into industry.

In the sixth 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 Sarah Greenwood. Sarah has many qualifications and a very interesting career so far; she is CPI, ACCA, and CTA qualified and has recently sat the ACA Pathways exam to convert her ACCA to ACA.

Sarah works at Whitesides Chartered Accountants in Leeds. 

Want to get involved and have us interview you about your career path? Email contact@fellowsfinance.com

You can read our other episodes here: one, two, three, four, five, seven. 

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