Stefanie Luker Edwards
Navigating a Career in Finance: an interview with Matthew Proudlove
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Navigating a career in finance: from a year in Germany to Yorkshire puddings – an interview with Matthew Proudlove
Matthew Proudlove is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Retail Assist, an IT solutions company based in Nottingham and Northampton, United Kingdom. In the forty-minute Microsoft Teams video call that I shared with Proudlove, we discussed not only the obvious frustration of interacting behind a screen, but crucially his route to success and advice for students and young professionals entering a career in finance.
Prior to joining Retail Assist as CFO in 2014, Proudlove spent thirteen years in corporate finance, after initially starting as a fresh-faced auditor with the highly competitive accountancy firm, Deloitte. He then turned to industry, where he worked as the Finance Director (FD) of food manufacturer, The Real Yorkshire Pudding Company and now at his most recent post as Retail Assist’s COO, a position he assumed after the company management buyout in 2017.
His interest in working in finance began at university on his year abroad in Bavaria, Germany. The University of Warwick alumni was inspired by the German education system which ensured that students remain in education until their mid-twenties, as opposed to entering the world of work aged 21/22 as is the norm here in the UK. Surely there is some benefit to pro-longed study he implied, speaking fondly of his time in the European country. As a result, he continued his study, gaining his Institute of Chartered Accountancy (ICAEW). Despite enjoying education, the COO admitted combining work and study was difficult; but when asked, agreed the ICAEW or CIMA certificate was a necessary qualification to becoming an FD of a company.
For students wondering whether their degree can take them into finance, Proudlove, who studied German and Business Studies, argued lots of people who have not studied accounting or business at university have done really well in finance. This applies to all professions, he adds, remembering a friend who studied History and went on to become a fantastic lawyer. Firms will look at the fact you have a degree, but it is definitely important to demonstrate an interest and initiative for business. He recommends reading the Sunday Times on a weekly basis. Having worked alongside someone who had previously been a P.E teacher, he adds that switching to finance later in life is not unheard of either and there is definitely room to move around.
In the current economic climate, there are plenty of challenges working in finance. With government schemes such as Bounce Back and CBILS Loans, implemented to help smaller businesses impacted by Covid-19, the banking system is very stretched; and in addition to this, there is Brexit! These schemes have affected so many people working in finance and will no doubt cause a considerable employment crisis in the years to come.
When comparing starting out in finance in 1994 during a post-recession, to students graduating in 2021/22, the economy will have shifted dramatically. This means students need to be broad-minded about where to gain experience, consider all options and look around themselves. Companies will always need new people, so taking every opportunity to gain experience throughout education will help you to make the best possible impression when you graduate. It is also important to remember that employers make decisions based on personality and whether they can see you fitting into their team. Therefore, by presenting the best and most transparent version of yourself, you are more likely to be successful.
When discussing what Proudlove enjoys most about his job, he immediately stressed “the people”, closely followed by strategy and numbers. His role as COO and CFO of Retail Assist allows him to interact with a variety of people and take on a more managerial role within the company. Throughout his career he has come across people from all ends of business and it’s this network that he has leveraged over the years, gaining both of his industry roles from previous clients in corporate finance. Traditional cold applications will only get you so far and especially in such a competitive market, building relationships and keeping hold of them will stand you in good stead. He jokes: “Have a good reputation and don’t burn bridges!”.
From corporate finance, private equity, to sales and trading, there are several directions people can take in finance and Proudlove believes this is learnt as part of the journey, not from the outset. He is grateful for his thirteen years in corporate finance, as it has got him to the position, he finds himself in today, but admits this culture lends itself to unpredictability. Late nights and producing what your client require the next day is something you have to come to expect.
When considering what route to take, industry-based accountancy roles are characterised more by routine and set working hours. For example, there will always be repetitive tasks like invoices, budgeting and financial decision making for the business. In contrast, working in advisory roles such as corporate finance is about meeting the needs of the client and understanding key value drivers. However, the principles of finance apply regardless of the industry, so it’s a versatile role to be in as you can move between sectors relatively easily.
Aside from thinking more broadly about where to gain experience in finance, Proudlove also advised students to dismiss the assumption that all the best financial firms are in London. There is lots of opportunity here in Leeds, Nottingham or Bristol with great transport links across the country – and this comes with far more reasonable living costs too. Finally, do consider going abroad. One year in Germany kickstarted Matthew Proudlove’s career and he would have loved to have spent longer there if he could, stating “family happens!”. But certainly, gaining an international perspective is hugely beneficial if you have the chance and these factors have helped Matthew Proudlove to have forged the successful career he has had thus far.