Melanie Proffitt FCCA describes how accountancy took her into roles she would never have imagined for herself.
Why did you decide to become an accountant?
Maths was my strongest subject at school - I just loved solving problems and puzzles, and still do. A significant influence in my life was my uncle and it was he who suggested I should think about being an accountant because of my maths skills. I was only 15 at the time, but, after giving it some thought, that was it - my career path was determined.
What are the challenges you've experienced in your career to date?
To date, the biggest challenge I have faced was when I was asked to run the London Fertility Centre in Harley Street, as general manager. This was both a new acquisition for Spire Healthcare and a service they were looking to develop.
Alongside the daunting task of having to integrate a stand-alone business into a big national company, I also had to get to grips with and learn about a new area of medicine that comes with its own complex unique regulations. In the UK, fertility treatment is the only area of medicine regulated by an Act of Parliament, and I needed to understand what this meant for the business and to me, personally.
This was a role that I would never have envisaged for myself when I embarked on a career in accountancy. It just shows what doors an ACCA qualification can open for you.
What are the opportunities you've experienced in your career to date?
As an accountant, I have been able to move between industry sectors. While the nuances and challenges are different for each sector, the fundamental accounting principles remain the same. Learning how different sectors work and being able to transfer learning between sectors has been very rewarding.
Who has had the greatest impact on your career development and why?
First, my fantastic maths teacher who inspired and encouraged me to perform to the best of my ability. Second, my uncle who was a great role model for me and planted the seed of ambition to be an accountant. Third, my former managing director who helped progress my career and gave me the opportunity of becoming a finance director for a multi-site printing and packaging company before I was 30 years old.
Tell us about a career-defining moment.
Submitting my experience record and gaining membership of the ACCA was exceptional. Being able to use those letters after my name and calling myself a qualified accountant gave me new confidence, drive and motivation to reach for the 'big' jobs.
What are the biggest issues facing the profession now, in five and in 10 years' time?
The impact of technology will continue to be the biggest issue that accountants face.
As a result of the availability of analytical tools, cloud-based accounting software, even certain websites, non-accountants can already complete tasks that in the past only an accountant would have done. The rapid development of artificial intelligence and the ever-increasing sophistication of cloud-based software will only amplify this trend.
To continue to be relevant, accountants need to be able to tell, or sell, 'the story' behind the numbers. They need to make better use of new technology so they can reduce the time they spend producing numbers, and focus more on understanding the business and on communicating what the numbers actually mean to the business.
This will put more emphasis on learning new skills such as communication, influencing and information technology.
What does being a Council member mean to you?
I am passionate about ensuring that my professional body continues to lead the way, think ahead, and continue to evolve and produce accountants the world needs, while also being the first choice for students and businesses alike.
I view my role on Council as playing a significant part in influencing and delivering the organisation's strategy. I provide a valuable link between the members and the organisation, while also acting as an ambassador and advocate for the ACCA.
I see Council members as safeguarding ACCA's reputation, image and brand.
What does public value mean to you?
Trust and transparency. Since ACCA is a member organisation, public value cannot be delivered without ongoing member engagement and dialogue. A fundamental part of my role as a council member is to spread the word and create trust.
What's the biggest misconception about the work that you do?
The old stereotypes that accountants are boring or merely bean counters. Accountants are much more than that. We need to be agile and have the ability to influence. We need to be able to safeguard the business while at the same time being an agent of change.
Increasingly, accountants are a key part of shaping the strategy of the business and helping it move towards where it wants to be in the future and not just focused on analysing the past.
What would you say to someone considering accountancy as a career?
Accountants work in many different sectors. My experience has been wide ranging. I have worked in the automotive industry for a company producing high-performance race engines, for a print and packaging company that, among other things, designed and produced Easter egg boxes, and more recently, I've been involved in the healthcare sector.
Being an accountant gives you the opportunity to build an interesting and varied career, to add value in a number of different ways, and make a big difference.