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What can I do with the ACA accounting qualification?

The ACA qualification opens doors to limitless possibilities. We look at some of the different career paths taken by ICAEW Chartered Accountants.
Types of work

From becoming a specialist in a particular field, to working with small and large companies or even launching your own enterprise, with the ACA, you can shape your career to suit your interests and aspirations. 

We spoke to three qualified ACAs, each of whom have taken very different paths in their career. Their experiences highlight some of the many opportunities that an ACA qualification can lead to.

Starting your own business

Andy studied Geography at Reading University before joining BDO on the firm’s audit training scheme. From here he joined Dulux, going on to become financial director for the firm’s UK operations. He then switched over to the commercial side of the business where he worked as a sales director. 

“I’d always been interested in business and starting my own company was the natural extension of this. My ACA experience has been a crucial factor in my career – I was surprised by the extent to which my financial background helped me in sales, for example.

“It allowed me to better understand the kind of deals we were making and the financial implications of these deals. This gave me the confidence to take the next step and launch my own business. 

“While at Dulux I had kept in touch with a good friend from my ACA training. Together, we came up the idea to start up a gift card company. We decided to leave our jobs and to dedicate ourselves to the business.

“The company is called Love From Me. It’s a relatively simple premise – we give customers the option of purchasing a gift card, which can be spent at any company in the world that accepts MasterCard.  

“We launched the business with some seed capital of our own and then last year we were able to raise £150,000 through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). Things are going well – we’ve since opened an office in St Pauls and hired our first employee. We’re now hoping to raise a further £350,000 through crowdfunding to kick-start the next phase of our expansion.

“Make no mistake – there’s a big jump from full-time employment to running your own business. You have to learn how to do things for yourself; this means everything from designing your own logo to learning to code and to build a website. 

“The ACA qualification has been a fantastic grounding for the day-to-day running of a business. Some people perceive it as purely a financial or accounting qualification, but it’s so much more than that. You get to learn how a company operates at close quarters – you see what works well and are then able to incorporate the best parts into your own business.”

You can view Andy’s handiwork by visiting www.theirperfectgift.co.uk

Forensic accounting

Victoria studied Management Science and Operational Research at Lancaster University. After graduating, she joined the PwC Audit/Forensics split scheme in Manchester, focusing on the financial services industry. She then had the choice to specialise in Audit or Forensic Services following her ACA qualification.

“Forensics sounded like a really exciting field and the chance to work in this area was a big factor when applying to employers out of university. 

“The Forensic Services division at PwC performs a range of different functions. Much of the work I do involves undertaking investigations into alleged incidents of bribery and corruption.

“Forensic accountants are also often called upon to intervene in cross-company disputes following a merger or acquisition. 

“I’m really enjoying the work and since qualifying as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant I’ve had the chance to get stuck into a number of exciting projects. Last year my team were asked to work on a large bribery case for a multinational company. We were called in to perform an internal investigation and to identify any payments that might have been unlawful.  

“I’ve also worked on a multi-million pound dispute following a major company acquisition. We were asked to investigate possible accounting errors that could have resulted in the firm paying over the odds for the business it had bought.  

“There have also been a number of smaller projects – at the moment I’m working with a client – a retail bank – to help them verify the procedures they have in place for dealing with politically exposed people. 

“In simple terms, a politically exposed person, or PEP, is someone who holds a public office and is therefore at a higher risk of potential involvement in bribery or corruption. By law, banks and other financial institutions must have policies in place to identify potential sources of corruption and to detect any illegal activity.

“Smaller projects like these are great as they mean a high level of responsibility and the chance to work independently much of the time – I am the client’s main point of contact at PwC. Larger projects might involve me taking on a role with less client interaction, although the demands are still significant. 

“The more time I spend in forensics, the more interesting I find it. It’s becoming an increasingly sought-after specialism within accountancy with incidences of cyber crime and online fraud on the rise.

“This should lead to plenty of opportunities opening up for me over the next few years. I’m hopefully in the running for promotion to manager next year and then my aim is to progress to senior manager within the Forensics practice here at PwC. 

“The great thing about the ACA qualification  is that it opens up so many different avenues; it’s just a question of finding out what interests you and letting this guide you.”

Working with small businesses 

Carol graduated from Cardiff Business School with a degree in accountancy before securing an ICAEW audit training contract with Grant Thornton. She then worked with Ernst & Young (EY) for 10 years in the firm’s Birmingham and Bristol practices, before joining KTS Owens Thomas in Cardiff nine years ago. 

“My career has given me exposure to businesses of all different shapes and sizes.

While at EY in Birmingham much of my work involved assisting listed, international companies – indeed one of my largest client accounts was with British Airways, who were a FTSE 100 company at the time. 

“I worked closely with the company’s procurement team. This meant overseeing expenditure for different parts of the aircraft that are purchased externally, everything from the seating to the landing gear. You don’t necessarily think about these details when flying off on a holiday, but they have a big impact on the operating margins of an airline company.

“My area of specialism has shifted since then. After transferring to EY’s Bristol office my focus sharpened on the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) market, and I began working with smaller companies based in Wales and South West England. 

“I now work for an independent accountancy firm in Cardiff called KTS Owens Thomas. It’s a smaller firm and I’m one of just six directors at the company. I also juggle my responsibilities here with my role as president of the South Wales Chartered Accountants Society.

“Having worked predominantly within larger organisations throughout my career, this felt like a new challenge and the fact I work for a smaller firm means I’m well placed to understand the needs of many of the companies we work with. 

“Even at this stage of my career I still find I’m learning new things each day and expanding my skill set. One of the advantages of working with smaller companies is that you get to learn about the business and its employees in greater depth. 

“Accountancy and audit are really just one element of the service we typically provide. I’m often called upon to provide strategic advice and mentoring to our clients, and from time to time I’m invited to participate in company board meetings.

“My experience means I’m in a position to offer suggestions or ideas that the management team might not have considered. The work I do is very similar to that of a management consultant in many ways.

“Communication is key to all of the work we do. People don’t always realise how important interpersonal skills are in professional services –  ACA training  places great emphasis on teamwork, for example.

“Whoever your client is, as an auditor or accountant you have to think about the bigger picture and getting your head around the whole of the business. This means building relationships and getting to know the people behind the numbers. 

“In undertaking the ACA you are embarking on a lifetime’s journey of learning. The sooner you begin connecting with people and learning how to leverage their knowledge and insight, the better.” 

Recommended reading

Interested in learning more about the ACA? Read our interview with a Senior Financial Accountant at a leading accountancy firm on her experience of qualifying.

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