Wisdom from three financial experts: Generation X vs Y
Andrea Pankhurst is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a small specialist cleaning company, based in Derbyshire, UK. Her husband, David, is the programme director of HSO, a consultancy that implements business software for client Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). The couple met whilst training as Chartered Accountants at PWC in the 1990s. In their combined 60-odd years working in accountancy roles, it is fair to say that the couple has a broad outlook on the profession and have seen how companies operate from several different angles; working for both small and corporate businesses, large accountancy firms, and in self-employment. Conversely, Information Risk Management (IRM) Analyst, Tobias Fletcher is at the start of his career path at KPMG, after graduating with a degree in Biochemistry, with a year in industry, from York University, in 2018. Tobias offers a unique insight into securing a graduate job at KPMG and what you can expect from one of the "Big 4" in 2021.
At first glance, many of Andrea's education and career choices appear spontaneous. Although initially unsure what the study of Maths with European Studies at Sussex University would be like, she began her route working with numbers. She found the course very theoretical and demanding but is proud of her maths degree, as it demonstrates discipline and intellectual capacity. From there, she knew she wanted job security, structure, and a job to set in motion straight away and, so like for many others, accountancy appealed.
On the flip side, David studied Economics at the London School of Economics and always knew he wanted to work in business, trialling a year in sales in the City. Realising, he missed studying and examinations, he returned to education to train as an accountant at PWC. All three interviewees report that the accountancy training process is extremely rigorous in volume, but not intellectually difficult and it feels almost like a three-year extension of university, with a fun culture, especially with one of the "Big 4".
Neither Andrea nor David's career path is linear. From qualifying, Andrea immediately exited accountancy practice and moved to work in a large mining company in central London, dealing with global business stakeholders. Since then, she has switched jobs, adapting to family life, location, and working part-time. Now working on accounting for SMEs in her local area of rural Derbyshire, she finds that the variety of experience that she has accrued makes her a valuable asset in the workplace. As CFO of a listed company, she deals with shares and staffing, controlling, recruiting, and other management functions that help the businesses develop in the right direction. She says that she wouldn't have been equipped to do without her wealth of experience. As such, her advice for graduates looking to train in accounting is to do so either through auditing with a large firm, working for a smaller firm, or within a training contract at a large company. However, she would advise students that training in finance departments of smaller, commercial companies may give them more narrow accountancy experience and limit future prospects.
Since training with a large firm, David has always been fascinated with systems and technology and occasionally wonders if it's laziness that drives him to find ways of automating financial processes. This meant he had veered away from traditional accounts jobs that were the grounding for his practice. In spending ten years as an accountant in the industry for software companies, ten years launching his own reseller consultancy business, and the last ten years as a consultant in ERP, he has become living proof that a career in finance can be moulded to your interests. His advice for graduates starting in the current work-from-home climate is to take every opportunity to share those 'off the cuff' conversations that you'd have had around the office and to build relationships over one-on-one phone calls, Microsoft Teams, and the other communicative technologies in place, with those people that may have inspired you to jump higher in meetings.
Tobias shared how he secured his graduate role at KPMG, which he stated is "numerical at heart". The application process is the first part. A good level of numerical reasoning alongside verbal and logical skills is required to pass the aptitude test, as "they want to see how you spot patterns in numbers". The next stage is the situational judgement test, where he says the values of the company you're applying to should drive your response, to ensure you'll fit in. When approaching the assessment centre, he admits "I was a lot louder than I am usually" so aim to get your point across in group exercises to be noticed. Finally, the interview stage is a test of why you think certain things, so be prepared to explain your logic with a robust thought process. He stressed the importance of feeding company values throughout the process. Added to this, at the interview phase, Andrea urges students to have the confidence to interview back as well and find out if the person you're talking to, is someone you could communicate with daily.
Tobias' current role at KPMG takes an IT focus, with the ultimate goal of supporting external auditing and reducing the sample size needed in substantive testing, for the overall benefit to the client. In comparing the benefits and drawbacks of working in a large firm, Tobias says that there is a layer of expected pressure, as you're working for the biggest clients and on the biggest deals. But his specialist role would not exist in a smaller firm, where there would likely involve a broader spectrum of work.
As a strong believer in working for a social purpose, his career highlights, so far, include completing a digital maturity review for the NHS and an assurance report for Vocalink. Tobias' year in industry as a Research Scientist at Astex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge taught him that he enjoyed logic and problem solving, but desired a faster-paced line of work. It was this that led him to a career in finance.
What is clear from speaking to these three financial experts, is that as a chartered accountant you'll give advice, audit accounts, and provide trustworthy information about financial records, that will enable you to direct business holistically. Finding your niche in finance takes time and undergoing the Chartered Accountancy training at the start of your career will provide a unique skill set and a globally respected accreditation that can be taken into industry roles and beyond.