CIMA: tips for a successful career in finance and management accountancy

We spoke with Abbie Percox, a Finance Graduate at Network Rail, about what management accountancy involves, how to combine work and studying for accountancy qualifications, and where her CIMA qualification could take her.

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Why CIMA and management accounting?

After school I was unsure about what I wanted to do. I chose to study business management (at the University of Sheffield) as it was a broad topic that would allow me to sample a lot of different things. I found that, just as at school, I really enjoyed the mathematical and statistical elements of the degree, and tended to choose the more operational, mathematical modules. I completed a placement year at Network Rail and, through a combination of university and the placement year, realised I wanted to pursue management accountancy with CIMA as it is the perfect combination of maths and people. It’s very people focused and future looking – you’re always thinking about what a business wants and needs. Plus, it involves less number crunching than other types of accountancy!

I decided to do the placement year at Network Rail for three reasons: it would help me stand out from other candidates when it came to getting a graduate job, allow me to gain some work experience and help me decide if a career in finance was really for me.

After my placement – which I thoroughly enjoyed as Network Rail is a real people company, with endless opportunities and the promise of much more to explore – I was invited to the equivalent of the graduate final stage interview and was offered a place on the graduate scheme.

What is your role at Network Rail?

I am on the two-year finance graduate scheme here and am currently on a placement within the Financial Planning and Analysis Efficiencies team – we hold ownership of the fishbone framework and our aim is to support and drive the business to achieve renewals and enhancements efficiencies targets. Within this control period the business is saving £4 billion through efficiencies and the use of this framework.

What attracted you to the Network Rail grad scheme?

The speed of getting my CIMA qualification, for one thing. The scheme lasts two years, and two months after it has finished, I’ll be siting my final CIMA qualifying exams, which is very fast progress. For the first three months on the scheme, we complete mini placements. These allow us both to have a great deal of variety – meeting lots of people and learning about lots of different roles in the business – and give us the time to complete five of our entry level exams. For the remainder of the scheme we complete three placements (Group Finance, Capex, Opex) which can be located anywhere in the country.

Placements at Network Rail don’t finish after the grad scheme if you don’t want them to, however. Even within finance, there are many different areas to join. You’re never pigeonholed.

What skills are valued in management accountancy?

University and my placement allowed me to pick up a lot of the softer skills useful in management accountancy. These three skills are also key to a successful career:

Can you offer us some tips for being successful at working and studying?

  • Set boundaries: schedule relaxation time so you don’t risk burnout.
  • Have a good revision plan – one that is achievable and made far enough in advance.
  • Keep your manager and team members in the loop so they can cut you slack, if necessary, offer you help and support, etc.
  • Have a timescale for all your exams so once you finish one you know when the next one is, so you don’t slack off. This alleviates the motivation slump!
  • Try not to panic. Give yourself a break and don’t pile on the pressure.

I’ve been lucky that there are seven of us on the grad scheme, all in the same position, going to college together and having exams at the same time. The camaraderie and support are definitely a boost when it comes to working and studying. My employer also makes sure we have lot of days out – site visits, for example, and visits to places of interest such as the Forth Road Bridge in Edinburgh. These offer us a chance to learn and relax and hang with our team.

Has anything about CIMA surprised you?

The wide variety of topics – for some reason I thought it would be narrower. And with the three pillars ( CIMA’s three pillars of learning ), you use a different part of your brain for each, which is great. I have also enjoyed studying again – I was worried I wouldn’t. I also love the application of what I’m learning to my actual role at work– I don’t know why, but that has surprised me, that they’re so connected, even at the operational level.

CIMA is a global qualification. What does that mean to you?

I’ve always wanted to travel and planned to after uni, but Covid scuppered that. I think it will be even better now though, travelling once I’m qualified, as I’ll be able to travel and work too, and know that my qualification will be recognised wherever I am. I also love the fact that there is a huge community of CIMA students and members out there.

Even if I stay in one country for a prolonged period, with my CIMA qualification I can work for a global company with no restrictions on my ability.

Tell us about your extracurricular activities and volunteering.

Network Rail offers us five paid volunteer days a year. As a team we went to Forest of Marston Vale and helped to maintain areas of the forest that posed a safety risk– it was a fun bonding experience. We also volunteered in a charity shop, helping to sort through all the donations.

In my non-work spare time I love to dance. I have done ballet, tap, modern etc in the past and am now taking Latin/ballroom lessons.

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