Working life

Why I chose EY to kick-start my career in Assurance

11 Apr 2024, 13:40

Emily Strange and Anthony Hickling joined EY’s Assurance Graduate Programme in different regions. They explain how training in a regional office has allowed them to learn their profession, gain qualifications and skills, and make an impact beyond their core role.

Life as Assurance Graduates at EY

Anthony works at EY’s office in Aberdeen, a city known for its energy industry. Scotland feels like home to him now; visiting Essex, where he grew up, is a long car drive, a train ride or a plane flight away. In contrast, Emily enjoys a short commute from an Oxfordshire town where she went to school to EY in Reading, a hub for high-technology and telecoms businesses.

Why Assurance at EY?

Anthony’s life changed when he attended a University of St Andrews open day. ‘There was just no way of convincing me to go anywhere else from then onwards. And after four years, I made the decision to make Scotland home,’ he explains. Though interested in the non-applied abstract elements of mathematics during his studies, he took a pragmatic approach to his future career, looking for numbers-based roles rather than something in academia.

‘I wanted a job that would use the transferable skills that I’d learned, such as recognising patterns within numbers,’ Anthony says. ‘Audit offers this big view of how everything works, all at once. From a maths point of view the opportunity to analyse data from a statistical perspective has been interesting.’

EY has invested heavily in its analytics technology, something Anthony has found fascinating to learn about alongside his accountancy qualifications. ‘It is a step up from previous audit approaches of getting a sample of transactions, testing them and agreeing that they are correct. It’s very much about taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture,’ he says.

Emily considered continuing studying for a master’s while in the final year of her Business Management degree at the University of Surrey, but she also researched prospective employers.

‘EY jumped out because it offered so many options and came across as really inclusive within the LGBT+ community. Another draw was its sustainable practice – EY cared about improving both clients’ practices and EY's own internal practice,’ she says. Her choice of employer made, she weighed up which areas of work she could join within the firm and liked the fact that Assurance would give her insights into how businesses operated as a whole while she studied for and gained professionally recognised chartered accountant status. Emily explains further: ‘Assurance also offered a client-facing role and an opportunity to gain a Level 7 qualification in Accountancy and Tax.

Why choose a regional office?

‘Reading is quite an affordable place to live, and several people at work house-share,’ explains Emily. ‘Starting your graduate programme at EY in Reading along with 30-40 people, roughly the same age, doing the same programme as you, you do make a lot of really good, close friends.’ She was also drawn to EY Reading’s busy football, netball and rugby communities and the town’s social scene. London is not that far away, but for her a plus point was the short 20-minute drive from her hometown to the Reading office.

Anthony says EY’s Aberdeen office strikes a good balance between being relatively small but having Big 4 networks and expertise behind it. ‘There are around 150 people across all business areas in the office, meaning there’s a real community spirit. Everyone in audit knows each other, and it is much less daunting than entering an office with thousands of people whose names you don’t know. It has been the best of both worlds for me,’ he says. And as the city shifts focus from oil and gas industries to renewables there are other avenues to explore.

‘We have had industry-specific training on how to audit renewables and climate disclosures. We have the knowledge and services to help our clients navigate new regulations around climate. There are massive opportunities to find your niche within these new industries,’ he enthuses. ‘I can’t sugarcoat the weather here,’ he adds, smiling, ‘though if you are a fan of snow and warm jumpers, this is the place for you!’

Career highlights and professional growth

Anthony has enjoyed taking on bigger tasks within EY as his knowledge and confidence have grown and taken satisfaction in seeing one client’s accounts in particular go from ‘challenging’ in his first year to being a smoothly conducted operation in his third year. Developing a professional relationship with the client meant detailing his team’s expectations while also highlighting the cost of over-running deadlines. On EY’s side, building a bank of knowledge based on the client’s needs has improved its service offering. ‘This year we signed off on time, with no issues and without lots of overtime leading up to the deadline,’ he says.

In 2023 Anthony completed his Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) qualification and credits supportive colleagues who gladly offered him insights during his studies. He is already gaining EY Badges through EY’s career development programmes , learning specific topics such as data analytics and data visualisation, which in turn can lead on to a tech MBA or a masters in business analytics .

Emily’s career high to date came when she spotted an inefficiency during an Assurance audit for a big client. ‘Audit is about ensuring that the financial statements our client has created are both true and fair… all checked, tested and reviewed by us,’ she explains. She appreciated the encouragement and trust placed in her abilities when her seniors asked her to present her findings and question the client about what she had spotted. ‘It helped build my confidence as I was a second-year staff at the time. It felt like a big win due to the complex nature of the client, so I was proud of myself,’ she says. ‘I wanted to improve my communication skills and understanding of accounting concepts because clients’ financial teams tend to be very experienced, qualified accountants, and so you really have to know your stuff when dealing with them, especially when you are still training.’

Communication, curiosity, a desire to learn and professional scepticism are all skills needed to have a successful career in auditing, she says. It also helps to be flexible and adaptable, as audit has peak periods where the hours can be longer; organisational skills and good time management are needed to get through the work. Emily’s thoughts are echoed by Anthony, and three years on from his first day with the firm, Anthony appreciates recreating the welcoming environment and enthusiasm for learning he experienced for the latest cohort of trainees.

Making a difference within and beyond the workplace

The environment at EY is both diverse and inclusive, built around the idea of recognising and celebrating all differences, which is one of the reasons Emily has felt so comfortable at the firm. In her first year of training, she and another first-year graduate employee pitched bringing a US-style Eco-Innovators’ Network to Reading and were supported by Reading’s office leadership team in the firm. It became the first such network in the UK.

‘Literally just a few weeks into starting your role, you can start to make a real difference,’ she says. Quarterly newsletters help educate fellow staff and enable them to make sustainable decisions in everyday life and they hold lunch-and-learn seminars. When EY moved office within Reading the Eco-Innovators helped with sustainable operating decisions.

‘We are rolling out to more offices so we can broaden the network. It’s been amazing, I never thought I could do something like this within a financial role,’ says Emily. And her network connections opened up further opportunities, since the partner involved asked Emily to lead the office’s Unity (LGBT+) network .

A recent transgender internal speaker inspired her ambition to be a role model for other people. ‘EY is very good at shining a light on different people from all backgrounds which can encourage less represented groups to feel seen and supported. With this platform, I feel like I should do all I can to raise awareness for the LGBT+ community, to help make a more enriched EY workforce,’ she says.

Anthony is EY Aberdeen’s self-appointed Unity network representative and aims to make people aware of the issues raised within the trans and non-binary sub-community. EY has sponsored and collaborated with Trans in the City, opening up new opportunities for learning. In addition, this year Anthony nominated Autism Understanding Scotland as the office’s chosen charity, because he had been referred to its services in the past.

‘I became the relationship manager working with the charity, communicating with the office about what the charity does; I have really enjoyed doing that. I am very open about my autism because we are trying to reduce the stigma surrounding it and encouraging more people who are autistic into work by generating environments that are accessible and friendly towards autistic people.’

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