Top 75 Firms trainees survey 2017: the trainee perspective

CCH Daily’s Amy Austin speaks to a selection of apprentices and graduates at leading accounting firms to find out how they juggle working life with time to study for their accounting qualifications

Tax associate: Lauren Sparks, PwC

‘I never had a burning desire to be an accountant but I was steered to accountancy by the fact that I did not want to go to university. I then started to do my research into areas where this was an option and discovered school leaver schemes.

‘I do have a background that is very numbers orientated with A levels in maths, further maths and economics, so have always had an analytical, problem solving brain which made me realise that accountancy suited the skills that I already had.

‘When I left school in 2014, I took the apprenticeship route and joined PwC’s school leaver programme. I applied to all of the Big Four and received two offers but for me it was always going to be PwC, it is a young firm with lots of graduates and other apprentices.

‘I have already finished my apprenticeship and am ATT certified, so have now started working towards my ACA which I should finish by November 2018.

‘As part of the tax reporting and strategy team, my work tends to be more consultancy based rather than that of a traditional tax technical team. At the moment I am working on global compliance services projects, which involves working with PwC’s network firms to help coordinate engagements.

‘I also help companies write their tax strategies, which I find really interesting. I review their internal policies and ethical statements, it varies day to day but I mainly work with the FTSE 100 and inbound market with big clients.

‘I find tax interesting because the rate of change is moving so quickly and there is so much happening at the moment, clients are having many more problems now which they never had before. I really like tax and have heard some horror stories about auditing so there is nothing at the moment that is pulling me to audit and assurance, but in the future who knows.’

Assistant tax adviser: Amber Westmoreland, EY

‘I applied to EY’s school leaver programme in 2014 after applying to a range of different firms. When I went to the other firms’ assessment centres I found that they were not about getting to know me and what I can offer but were more focused on how I should be proving myself to them. At EY it was more geared towards how I would fit in at the firm and they genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say rather than just ticking off the questions that I was expected to answer.

‘As an assistant tax adviser in the transaction tax team, I do quite a lot of project work. On an average day I will have a briefing meeting in the morning to know where everyone on the team is up to and what projects they are working on.

‘To help on these projects I run background information about companies that are wanting to acquire other companies or on a company that is being acquired. There is also quite a lot of technical work to do, if we are doing a tax structuring report I will do the background research to see if things are feasible to work.

‘At the end of my five-year programme I will be ACA qualified. So far I have passed my certificate qualification as part of the ACA and now I am continuing to work towards becoming chartered.

‘The exams are difficult and they get harder as you progress through each stage. The next set of exams are written so for me it is a big jump from not doing any written exams in two years to doing a time pressured written exam as part of my ACA.

'They are difficult but they are worth it, although it is hard to balance working with studying.

‘I would recommend a school leaver programme for people that do not want to go to university, but I would not say that it is an easier option as I know sometimes it can be branded that way.’

Associate: Deniz Gunes, Deloitte

‘I never really knew about the different professional apprenticeships that existed as my school only provided information on going to university. After carrying out my own research I discovered that Deloitte offered an apprenticeship on restructuring and insolvency which is the area I was interested in as my family own several businesses themselves, so have been involved in business structure from a young age. 

‘At the moment, I am working on a project where I am assisting the project manager and partners to liaise with the client to provide a daily update on how the project is going and how we are rationalising their group structure. My role includes preparing: reports on the progress, powerpoint presentations, excel documents, legal documents, job plans but mainly liaising with the client.

‘I absolutely love what I am doing right now and I still have a lot to learn about restructuring so I have no plans to change departments but I am open minded to see what other parts of the firm do.

‘For those nearing the end of their A levels and still do not know what to do when they leave school I would recommend an apprentice scheme. I advise them to try and get as much work experience as possible as this makes people realise what sector they want to enter and helps them hone into what issues they are interested in, whether it be tax, audit or restructuring like me.’

Audit associate: Charlotte Ruffles, Grant Thornton

‘Since joining the audit team in Ipswich in September 2014, I have been given the opportunity to work on a variety of different clients from truck dealerships to housing societies and facilities management. I have been challenged and rewarded, pushed, guided and supported through each stage of my development. Now, two years in, I am exam qualified with ICAEW, which was topped off by receiving the Whinney prize for scoring the highest mark in my final exam, the Case Study. I am leading audits on site, providing the support I received to more junior members of the team, and building relationships with clients.

‘I have lived in Suffolk all of my life, studied locally and furthered my education at the University of Birmingham. I chose to return to Suffolk after graduating and applied to the Ipswich office of Grant Thornton. Albeit a small office, the buzz of the office atmosphere and the camaraderie felt among peers is something I look forward to everyday.

‘Grant Thornton was my first application for a graduate position after university. I attended various career fairs and seminars, but no firm grabbed my attention as much as Grant Thornton. I have never wanted to be a little fish in a big pond, I wanted to work in an environment where everyone was noticed for their success and development, and Grant Thornton was able to demonstrate these key values early on.

‘I always knew that I was going to be in a profession that involved numbers, whether it be in academia, industry or professional services. I chose to study accounting and finance at university after scoring well in maths and business at school, and enjoying the content of both. I saw accounting as a “fusion” of both topics, yet it involved much more than I had expected; law, marketing and theory for example.’

Additional interview reporting with Charlotte Ruffles by Philip Smith

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