• Ed

How to become a ... Chartered Accountant

With term now starting and many students considering their UCAS options, we are pleased to present our second interview in the current "How to become..." series. We are delighted that Mark, a Chartered Accountant working in the City of London, could speak with us.

Hello Mark, thank you for your time today. You are a Chartered Accountant (CA) but your job title is "Associate Director in Financial Services Tax". Can you tell us a litte about that that involves?

Tax consultancy is a very broad field, but in short it involves helping clients meet the challenges and understand opportunities presented to them by tax. In practice that means that the work is very diverse, including strategy, technology, compliance, and advice. Personally, I specialise in helping Financial Services clients comply with tax transparency requirements.

How long did it take you to become a qualified Chartered Accountant and what did the process involve?

The qualification takes three years and involves some classroom learning and a number of exams. If you are on a training contract your firm will sponsor you through it and you will be working and earning throughout

What would you say is the best part of your job?

There’s a lot to choose from, but I would say that working with enthusiastic and talented people to find the right answer to complex issues is the most rewarding part of my job.

What are the most challenging aspects of your profession?

The pace of change is rapid and accelerating. This change – be it driven by governments or new technology – can pose challenges to clients and to advisors. However, it also presents opportunities. For instance, we now use robotics to assist our clients – that is something that no one had thought of when I started work.

That sounds very sci-fi. Presumably the job still requires a human touch and you don’t anticipate clearing your desk for R2-D2?

Absolutely. It’s still early days for robotics in tax consultancy, but the intention is that it can take the strain of repetitive work, leaving us humans to concentrate on the interesting stuff. I just hope they don’t do a Blade Runner on us.

Do you have any tips based upon your experience of your interview?

I am quite often on the ‘other side of the desk’ nowadays! However, I would stress the importance of thinking of why you are applying for the role in question. Is it because you are excited by the technical challenge? Because you want the opportunity to work with colleagues around the world?

Interviewees who are able to explain ‘why’ are always impressive.

What was your experience of school like?

I enjoyed school (although it seems like a long time ago now). I was lucky to have good teachers for my main subjects (thank you Mme Entwistle for getting me through French!).

What A levels did you study?

English, History, and French.

Which subject was your favourite?

English. I think studying literature allows us to better understand the world around us. It is also a great subject to develop your reasoning and critical thinking skills, which are important in my work.

Those skills are often (unfairly) labelled ‘soft’ skills and you’re right to highlight their importance. Which literary work would you say has had the biggest impact on you?

I would probably have to say Nineteen Eighty-Four. It opened my eyes to the importance of language in shaping how we see the world.

Which university did you attend and did you enjoy your time there?

I studied English at Oxford. I had a good time there. The course was excellent – from Beowulf to the present day, with some of the best resources and teaching in the world. However, it is the extracurricular activities which I remember most fondly. I got involved with the student newspaper, played some sports, and made friends I still have today.

Did you plan to enter this profession when studying for your A levels?

I didn’t. I wasn’t sure what work I wanted to go into and I chose my A levels to give me a good grounding for whatever I chose to do. I am glad I did – most professional services firms will sponsor graduates through professional qualifications and so you are not expected to have done A levels or a degree which is directly tied to the job.

That’s really interesting. So you don’t need an Accountancy degree to be an accountant?

Not at all. I work with people who have degrees in history, physics, law, languages, and many more. The important thing to think about when you choose your degree is what skills it will help you develop.

If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice, what would it be?

Work hard, but remember to enjoy your time in education along the way. There are a great number of opportunities open to you at Sixth Form and at university. Also remember that the world of work is very broad – stand back and think about what you might like to do when you leave full-time education.

Tax and financial services have often been perceived to be male dominated environments. Do you feel things are moving forward in the right direction and is there still work to be done?

Things are certainly moving in the right direction. My team is very diverse and has a good gender balance. It is true, however, that there are fewer women in the top grades. I know that financial services firms have put in place initiatives to redress this imbalance – however, there is certainly still work to be done.

Thanks for your time Mark. If our students were interested in starting a career in financial services, where would be the best place to start?

The big firms are always present at careers events. These are good opportunities to talk to recent graduates and get a feel for the opportunities. Additionally, their websites will detail the career paths open to you, such as graduate entry, scholarships, and school-leaver programs.

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