Top 75 Firms trainee survey 2019: the trainee perspective

Securing a training contract at one of the Top 75 Firms is a catalyst for aspiring accountants to launch a career in tax, audit and accounting but does the profession still have the draw it used to have. Philip Smith talks to a selection of trainees about their career aspirations, expectations and training experiences

Monsur Ali, associate
Deloitte

Monsur Ali, 19, first came into contact with Deloitte through his school, Morpeth in Tower Hamlets, London, where staff from the firm acted as mentors to the pupils. Following a more formal introduction to the firm through its ‘Aspire’ work experience programme, Ali then found himself weighing up whether to take up offers from university to read economics, or dive straight into the world of accountancy through Deloitte’s BrightStart higher apprenticeship programme.

‘The Deloitte apprenticeship was much more tailored to what I wanted to do,’ Ali says. ‘I knew I wanted to be a chartered accountant and had to weigh up the different pathways. So, I decided to go straight into work and aim to get the ACA qualification in four to five years.’

Ali does not feel he has missed out, quite the opposite in fact. ‘To have five years’ experience by the time I’m 24 will be absolutely invaluable, and to be paid a competitive salary is amazing,’ he says, to say nothing of working on FTSE 100 clients, meeting finance directors and working with the most senior people in the firm.

However, he believes more can be done to promote programmes such as BrightStart. ‘I’m a positive example of what can be achieved,’ he says, ‘but we need to invest in these programmes and to advertise their availability.’

Looking to the future, Ali believes the ACA qualification will open many doors for him, and that the open door atmosphere at Deloitte means that he has the confidence to ask for further opportunities. As he says: ‘I could move from audit to consultancy, or I could move the UK to Dubai.’

 

Rozalie Boyle, analyst
EY

Rozalie Boyle is in her third year of EY’s school leaver apprenticeship programme, training towards an ACA qualification within the firm’s transaction advisory services department. But her career could so easily have taken a different direction had not a quirk of democracy steered her towards EY.

A couple for whom Boyle was babysitting decided to put her options, which also included studying at university, to the vote among friends living in her small village in Devon, a number of whom were familiar with the opportunities available at the Big Four firms. A comfortable majority voted in favour of the school leaver programme, so she signed up and moved to London.

‘It was daunting at first, many of my peers still lived at home, but I got a lot of support at work from my department,’ she says. Accommodation was a big issue, and this is something she has raised directly with the government, suggesting that university halls of residence should be opened up to those on apprenticeship schemes.

Now in her third year at the firm, she has no regrets, and relishes the opportunities she has been given at such an early stage in her career. ‘I came in on a par with the graduates, but effectively started three years earlier,’ she says.

 

Marie Kubo and Harry Kendall, trainee chartered accountants
Saffery Champness

Although both Marie Kubo and Harry Kendall are trainee chartered accountants at Saffery Champness in London, they have approached the profession from two different directions. While Kendall joined the firm straight from university, having studied economics at Heriot-Watt University, Kubo joined after spending three and a half years in the medical profession.

‘I previously worked as a doctor and made the difficult decision to leave the medical profession due to health reasons,’ Kubo explains. ‘I was drawn to a career in accountancy due to the range of opportunities that the ACA qualification would offer. As a doctor I enjoyed meeting different people, the need for logical thinking and continual development opportunities and I felt that this was mirrored in the accountancy profession.’

Kendall’s motivation to join the profession was based on researching business leaders. ‘While applying for internships mid-way through university, one thing in particular became clear to me, that most of the individuals in senior positions within the companies had a background in finance,’ he says. ‘After more detailed research, and after looking at the statistics for ACA qualified CEOs in the FTS100, it was clear that this would be a route that would have a clear path.’

Both recognise that the path to qualification is not easy and requires good discipline, organisation and hard work. ‘I believe that studying towards an ACA qualification while working requires discipline as the exams are not something that you can cram for,’ Kubo says. ‘It can take a bit of a hit on your social life, particularly in the run up to exams. However, the firm is very understanding and will always ensure that we prioritise our exam preparation.’

But both agree the effort is worth it. As Kendall says: ‘The ACA qualification opens up a world of opportunities, within practice, industry or something completely different. The great thing about training contracts is the variety of work you are exposed to allows you to clearly see which sectors might interest you.’

 

Liam Stretton, senior tax associate
BDO

Liam Stretton, a recently-qualified senior tax associate based in BDO’s Birmingham office, can trace his interest in accountancy back to when he enjoyed a work experience placement in supermarket group Aldi’s finance department. He followed this up with a six-week intern programme at BDO, when he was offered a full-time job at the firm after he had completed his degree in accounting and finance at Coventry University.

His path to qualification followed the ATT/CTA route, but why did he settle on studying for a tax qualification in the first place? ‘I took tax as a module at university in my second year, and found I really liked it,’ he explains. ‘It is an area that will keep changing, and certainly has done so over the last couple of years. It will never be boring.’

Although he says his technical training never stops, he says it can be intense at the beginning, but can be managed if you are ‘switched on and want to learn’. The pay-off, however, is that he gained early client experience and ownership of client projects.

But it was the internship that persuaded him that BDO was the right place to learn. ‘Through the freedom and support that I saw at the firm, I knew it was a place I wanted to be. My final interview was more about what I wanted my career to be.’

He warns that studying towards a CTA should not be underestimated. ‘The CTA exams are tough, you need to invest time in studying. The organisational aspect of work/life/study balance can be huge.’

Looking to the future, he sees many opportunities. ‘The tax adviser of the future will be very different, where it seems the world of tax is leaning much more towards advisory work rather than compliance.’

About the author

Philip Smith is contributing editor at Accountancy Daily

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