Laura Perrin FCCA challenges the traditional definitions of what it means to be an accountant and explains how she sees ACCA as a 'way of life'.
Tell us about yourself.
People stereotype all the time. By definition, an accountant is seen as someone rather quiet, more introverted than extroverted, analytical, has good numerical skills, will work hard and give support in the back office. Not that exciting altogether.
I am the exact opposite of the typical cliché view of an accountant. My career to date has been exciting, diverse and rewarding. I love to share my passion for the finance profession and inspire the young to at least understand how privileged we are in this profession and not dismiss the idea of becoming an accountant before understanding the full picture.
Is there anything you would say to students concerned about the time and money they have to invest?
I believe that 'to whom much is given, much is expected'. ACCA is much more than a qualification - it's a way of life. It has a strong identity that motivates people and gives them a common spirit. You cannot expect to gain something of real substance and value without any effort. Employers around the world recognise the time, money and effort you invest in qualifying, and this raises your profile, hence your employability, and, later on, increases your access to strategic roles.
Why did you decide to become a finance professional?
I grew up in Romania, a country where communism was deeply rooted for many years. When I had to choose the university degree, I went for economic studies and foreign languages. It surprised everyone, as I had a real passion for literature, languages and art. My family and friends imagined I would become a famous actress, a journalist or a lawyer.
No-one understood where I had found the courage to sit a math and economics exam in a university with 40 places available and over 3,500 candidates. But I did do it and succeeded to get in! My conviction at the time was that, with a finance degree, I would always be able to find a job and stand on my own feet, and, with a bit of luck, I could even have a successful career. And all that future was only depending on me, not on my parents' wealth or on 'recommendations', which were vital in other professions at the time. Today, I know I was right to think so!
So I admit that becoming a finance professional was not a natural choice for me. I am passionate about literature, reading and writing, and numbers were not my preference. However, when making 'the choice', I weighted my options patiently and decided on accountancy because I thought I could build a career independently - based on who I was and not whom I knew - and I also thought it is a very flexible profession. You can do so much with it - no need to fit in a pre-designed mould.
Many people think accountants are analytical introverts with a passion for detail and an inclination to numbers. I am very much the opposite and feel that accountancy is a perfect fit for me.
What would you say to someone considering accountancy as a career?
If you are looking for a career that is flexible (in the sense that there are so many options within it that you can have completely asymmetrical paths to someone with the same background), that is fully portable (you can then work in any country with minimum additional re-qualification), generally financially rewarding (studies show that most women CEOs come from a financial background), and increasingly more relevant and in demand, then go for accountancy!
For example, you can be an exceptionally good financial professional if you have a passion for computers and IT in general. So much of the challenges ahead of us are related to technology, to handling and being able to give meaning to vast amount of data, to understanding the processes that happen inside the computer, dealing with the safety of information etc, that you will have a lot to add in this profession!
You have the capacity to become a 'star CFO' - a true business partner to the CEO - if you have the potential to acquire leadership skills, and if you have excellent presentation and communication skills that will help you present information in a structured, concise and clear way, so that you built bridges with investors and the public to help grow the business and participate positively to economic progress.
I know it took me a while to understand how my management skills - and all those attributes I would have used as a journalist or an actress - are essential in promoting in a finance career.
It took me many years to realise that I see numbers from a strategic point of view and do not get lost in detail. I am able to communicate clearly and openly, and my public-speaking abilities are essential skills in business and finance. If you feel I am referring to you when reading this, then accountancy should be top of your list!
What are the challenges you've experienced in your career to date and what are the opportunities?
When it comes to your career, I firmly believe that the challenges become the opportunities.
ACCA has been the organisation that has shaped my success and given me opportunities. It's made me see the world as one of opportunity where we can succeed if we work hard and we have the drive to go on improbable journeys to reach our God-given potential.
In the long term, I feel that I have received more than I have contributed to ACCA, despite the fact that I have been supporting and actively promoting ACCA my entire professional life.
It has clearly been worthwhile for me, and I have seen ACCA change people's lives. Gaining a prestigious professional qualification can only be a positive change to anyone's career in the long term.
ACCA is a recommendation in itself when you start your professional career.
In my current role, I use the skills I gained with the qualification: in the obvious way when I deliver technical finance and accountancy courses or provide financial advice but also in managing my small firm; through access to contacts in the local ACCA 'community', adding credibility to my background; and having the skills required to manage a business.
I also find a lot of joy in guiding younger people towards a rewarding career, sharing with them the benefits that ACCA has brought me and helping them consolidate the foundation for their careers. Keeping close to ACCA allows me to do this in a more meaningful and concrete way.
And what challenges did you face whilst studying and how did you overcome them?
I was working and studying at the same time, faced with a demanding role in BPP and then KPMG. It was challenging to juggle work, study and have a personal life. I have always been a very motivated, hard-working and positive person, and this kept me healthy and happy with my own life. I managed to sit all papers and qualify in only two years, and this has given a good boost to my career.
I never felt the challenges were insurmountable, but you do need the right attitude and motivation.
Why do you continue to be an ACCA member?
I am very proud to be an ACCA member. I feel that people know the value of the qualification and also understand that, through work experience, this value is further enhanced. The greatest benefits to me are the recognition that comes with the ACCA name, the access to a wide network of peers, and access to continuous professional development options.