From Big 4 to start-ups, training as an accountant can lead to a stellar career in finance

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Meet the business shakers, the technology shapers, the dream facilitators and the path makers – all of whom hold ICAEW qualifications. It’s time to kick out old stereotypes and find out where modern accountancy can take you.

Image for From Big 4 to start-ups, training as an accountant can lead to a stellar career in finance

Building a career on good foundations makes sense whatever job you choose to go into and whichever employer you settle with. ICAEW professional qualifications are versatile, internationally recognised and respected, and are valued in all kinds of sectors. Not only do they add strength and depth to your CV, they allow you to spread your wings in careers you may never have associated with accountants.

Shaking up fashion

Take Zoe Wong’s experience as a case in point. As the finance director of Depop for nearly six years, she helped to shape one of the most exciting disrupters in the world of fashion. Zoe’s career journey started in audit and tax consulting at Deloitte, where she completed her ACA qualification, before she moved to Tesco’s online clothing division. She joined Depop in its early years, staying as it went from start-up to tech UNICORN status (when a start-up hits a value over $1billion).

‘On a typical working day I would sit down with business stakeholders to talk through recent spend, or to input into any ongoing projects which affect finance,’ she says. Her role supported business stakeholders who dealt with celebrities and events, which added interest to her tasks of budgeting. Zoe’s other responsibilities included approving payments for suppliers, managing expenses and assessing the ongoing cash forecast. She also managed compliance matters, such as negotiating the renewal of contracts and filing quarterly VAT returns.

Fellow accountancy professional Bina Vyas studied economics at Queen Mary, University of London, before working first for PwC then moving on to global online fashion retailer ASOS. She studied for the ACA and wants to dispel the myth that accountants are office types.

‘I’ve been able to support the strategy of a global fashion retailer and have fun whilst doing it!’ she says.

As a senior finance analyst at ASOS she most enjoys completing a piece of analysis or supporting a project, then seeing it come to fruition.

‘I am able to see the real impact I’ve had on the performance of the business as well as helping to achieve its strategic goals; this is a really rewarding part of my job. I feel that the ACA equipped me with the relevant analytical skills and business acumen to undertake my current role and remains invaluable,’ she says.

Fast track finance

Financial controller Billy North wanted a job that combined his love of sport with his academic strength in maths. After a degree at Loughborough University, a job in Formula One with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP), where he’d done a stint as an intern, was a dream, especially as he was able to complete ACA training alongside. Mercedes HPP is a favourite employer in targetjobs’ UK300 rankings, but more often thought of in terms of its engineering and technology openings, not business or accountancy. Every day in Billy’s work-life is different, based on results from the last race and the challenges of the next. He works with stakeholders such as programme management and engineering, making sure budgets are maximised to bring success on the track.

‘Seeing the tangible result of the work we do during race weekends is very satisfying,’ he says. Since Mercedes bagged its eighth consecutive world championship title in 2021, Billy’s contributions are no mean feat.

‘Our team plan budgets, analyse spend and report to the senior management team, which provides a nicely balanced and varied workload,’ he says. ‘We have a relatively young team at HPP and innovation is the cornerstone of our company. This translates to finance so coming up with new ideas and process improvements is also of particular focus – it creates a very interesting and diverse job role.’

View the UK300 rankings .

Challenging stereotypes

Gaining a qualification with international links was a key reason for civil servant Henry Dence to choose to study for the ACA. After university he joined HMRC, working as an analyst in the customs and international trade directorate. He led on counter-fraud and expense compliance within the Cabinet Office before moving back to HMRC. He sees the ICAEW’s global recognition as career enhancing.

‘The ACA is a prestigious qualification, and coupled with the right mind-set, will hopefully open doors around the world to new experiences and adventures!’ he says.

Though there is a stereotype associated with his profession Henry is certain he’s never seen a live one in the flesh. He has worked on Covid-19 based projects, among others linked to current affairs, and strives to ensure he adds value to whatever he works on.

‘I’d say I challenge that stereotype as I am not a conventional accountant,’ he says.

Like Henry, Jess Masters – who worked for fast-growing online sports apparel and accessories company Gymshark – is bemused that accountancy has yet to shake off the dusty stereotypes of old. Now finance director for international haircare company Philip Kingsley, she says, ‘Even now, in 2021, it has a reputation of being quite old-fashioned and it has really surprised me that the world is very slow and not quite ready yet for a different profile of accountant,’ she says.

While at school Jess worked inputting figures for a book-keeper, and she went on to gain a BSc in business management at King’s College, London. When she started getting graduate job offers she opted (with wise counsel from her dad) to join Deloitte, mainly because it supported professional training and studying for ICAEW qualifications alongside work life. She also advises researching a company, making sure that its values align with your own, including culture, location and the type of clients you will look after.

‘Every company has its own nuance,’ she says. ‘Make sure you go to one where you will be really comfortable — a place where you can thrive.’

Jess felt fortunate that Deloitte blocked out time in her work diary for studying.

The resources ICAEW offers, including the library, are especially useful, she says, and the building in London is a spectacular place to attend training courses in person. And on that subject, she emphasises that beyond qualifying as a chartered accountant, there are ICAEW courses that encourage further professional development and learning.

‘I’ve done NFL, the Network for Finance Leaders, and then there’s also a Women in Finance course, which I’d love to move on to,’ she says.

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