The global body for professional accountants

United Kingdom

Senior internal auditor

Shell. London

Sarah Pumfrett

Sarah Pumfrett

Studies: Joined ACCA in 1998, completed her final exams in February 2003 and achieved membership a month later.

Career at a glance: 12 years' experience working across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, including assignments in Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Tehran, Iran; Damascus, Syria; and Anchorage, the US.

Hobbies: Caring for four horses and two dogs, gardening, reading and listening to music.

'It's a career where both your earning and travel potential are limited only by the opportunities you choose,' says Sarah Pumfrett FCCA. Having left school at 16 to work in a shop, she started her ACCA studies aged 27. Sarah has now seen the world, and has never looked back. 'I left school at 16 and started work the following day in an ironmonger's shop,' says Sarah. 'I sold everything from fine china to maggots! From there, I held a variety of jobs in a number of sectors including engineering, local authority, education, agriculture, and also in a charity. At the same time I went to night school to gain some qualifications. I was 27 when I made my big decision. I had two job options - driving an ambulance and training to be a paramedic or taking a role as an internal audit clerk. And the rest, as they say, is history.'

Just over a decade later, Sarah is now a senior internal auditor at Shell, a global group of energy and petrochemicals companies with around 101,000 employees in more than 90 countries. 'Internal audit is more common sense than rocket science,' explains Sarah. 'Essentially, what I do is find out what management wants to achieve, identify what can get in the way, and assess whether or not there are controls in place to allow them to manage, monitor and evaluate their progress towards their goals.'

Sarah started her ACCA studies in 1998. Back then she was employed full-time, simultaneously ran a business part-time, and had six horses to look after. During her studies she attained a couple of promotions and also changed employer, moving from the public to private sector. 'I won't lie, it was tough,' admits Sarah. 'It wasn't possible for me to attend regular tuition or intensive study sessions. So I simply bought the approved textbooks and studied as best I could during evenings and weekends.

"ACCA isn't an easy option. It will take hours of study, experience and hard work. But the dedication will pay dividends as employers recognise the value qualified accountants bring to business. It's a profession with great flexibility, which truly can be fitted in around 'life' in terms of work/life balance."

Sarah attempted four exams each exam session every six months. But towards the end of her studies she focused on one paper at a time. 'There were some papers I found easy and passed first time and there were some that I struggled with,' admits Sarah. 'There was always a dilemma between studying fewer papers and attempting to get a good pass first time or studying as many as I could and then retaking any that I failed. I decided that, for me, there was more value in qualifying than being a prize-winning student.' Sarah completed her final exams in 2003. "Attaining ACCA after all the hard work finally gave my mother the opportunity to 'wear a hat' at my graduation. I remember the first time I wrote 'ACCA' after my name. I'd been asked to write a reference for somebody and it was a fantastic feeling to add the authority of my designation."'