‘My initial trainee role was more focused on processing and preparing accounts for ‘straight-forward’ cases. As I developed through second and third year, my workload became more technically complicated and I moved onto larger, more interesting clients’ – Andrew Grant talks us through his career progression and offers some advice for those considering a job in accountancy.
I am a manager in the accounts and audit department of Saffery Champness LLP, a mid-tier UK accountancy firm. I joined Saffery Champness from university, trained with the firm and have had subsequent promotions to manager level. My areas of focus are primarily with landed estates, charities and owner-managed businesses, and I provide a number of services including accounts preparation, audit and VAT compliance.
In my third and fourth years at university, I attended courses on career planning and development. These courses were predominantly led by two ex-employees of large, multinational businesses, one of which was a ‘Big Four’ accountancy firm. They suggested a number of careers and highlighted accountancy in particular as being a career that could offer a vast array of long-term opportunities. I took this information and looked at various options, including other professional careers, and thought that accountancy would suit me personally, given that my strongest skills were numerical and analytical.
I looked around various sources of information (university, accountancy bodies) and gained a deeper understanding of the different careers within accountancy. I decided that I wanted to go into practice and thought that mid-tier firms would suit me best, given that I would get exposure to some larger clients but also be a key part of the team, rather than being one of a large number of trainees.
As a trainee I studied and sat accountancy exams through the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). This involved three stages, each of which had its own set of exams:
The first stage introduces general accounting, auditing, finance and law principles to give you a base understanding of these areas. I found these to be quite demanding as there are a lot of key principles to learn over a relatively short three-month period, but they are invaluable for your long-term career.
The second stage takes what is learned at stage one and further develops this to give you a deeper technical understanding of the topics, introducing more complex areas. This stage was interesting as I was able to pull from experiences working with clients but also apply more technical detail to the work I was doing in the office at that time. At this stage, I was able to demonstrate a better understanding of technical accounting and also what needs clients have. As a result, my workload became more complex and much more interesting.
The last stage of ICAS is a five and a half hour case study. The case study includes aspects of accountancy, audit, finance, tax and other areas that you study, and applies them to a real-life situation. The aim is to write a report advising on accounts, finance and tax implications, recommend how to resolve any issues and plan for the future. This was a very interesting exercise as I developed a better understanding of how to convey issues to clients in a concise, relevant manner.
In addition to the above external ICAS training, Saffery Champness provided additional internal training at various stages throughout my training contract. These courses were either residential or based in the firm’s London office and tailored to relevant accountancy topics (e.g. for farms or charities) as well as developing soft skills and IT training. These were really useful as I was able to meet peers from around the firm and develop skills that would not normally be covered by professional exams. Post-qualification, the internal courses change in nature and have a larger focus on soft skills. Technical training becomes more focused on updates in the accountancy, audit and tax arenas and is often implanted at an office level. Soft skill training helps you develop management and IT skills that are useful on a daily basis.
My current role
My initial trainee role was more focused on processing and preparing accounts for ‘straight-forward’ cases. As I developed through second and third year, my workload became more technically complicated and I moved onto larger, more interesting clients. Given their nature, these clients had more complex accounting issues which improved my technical knowledge greatly.
As a manager, I now have a broad portfolio of different client types in a variety of sectors. I have a large number of audit clients and generally my role here is to arrange staffing; ensure that the team plan, lead and complete a job appropriately; and then to assist the partner with their overall review and any queries they may have. I manage both down and up: assisting job seniors with any technical queries they may have, and managing Partners’ expectations and demands.
The most interesting aspect to my role is when clients need advice on unusual issues or transactions. There have been a large number of changes to accountancy standards over the last couple of years and it has been a very interesting time to assist clients through this, answering their queries and concerns. More specifically, clients often want reports on specific accounting treatment or other issues. An interesting piece of recent work related to a financial controller who had defrauded a company and I was involved in tracing what had happened, what the implications were and how the company could resolve this. This tested a number of different areas and it was a really interesting challenge to undertake.
I am also involved in the firm’s internal training courses and teach certain aspects of accountancy and audit to the trainees on their residential courses. It is very interesting to discuss these issues, to help develop their technical knowledge, and to see how they approach these subjects.