Student in 60 seconds – Debbie Smith

ACCA student Debbie Smith explains how her studies have helped her to develop an exciting career with the Institute of Child Health, University College London

This article was first published in October 2005 in Student Accountant.

Like many accountants, Debbie Smith entered the profession from a completely different background. A graduate in electronic engineering and computing science, Debbie realised before she graduated that she wanted a different type of career. While considering her next move she took a job as a cashier at the Hilton Hotel: ‘I progressed quickly and was soon helping the night auditor with nightly reports and reconciliations. I then moved to another hotel as a credit controller, and helped update their finance systems. However, I craved contact with people, so my next move was back to my old school, Christ’s Hospital, where I worked as an events manager. I finally realised I had a flair for numbers and decided I should formalise the knowledge I’d gained so far – so I registered with ACCA.

‘I chose ACCA because of its international profile – my husband works for a global law firm and I wanted transferable skills so I could continue my career if he was posted abroad. ACCA’s broad syllabus meant I didn’t have to restrict my options too soon, and the range of learning methods was also very appealing, as was ACCA’s association with Oxford Brookes University. I’m a distance learner with FTC, and the flexibility this offers allows me to continue my other interests, such as mountaineering, youth leadership and fencing.

‘Perhaps most important of all is ACCA’s very public support of ethics in accountancy. This is very important to me as I believe that our profession can make a real difference to the world – from the use of international accounting standards to the promotion of trade justice.’

Debbie joined her current employer, the Institute of Child Health (ICH) in 2003. ‘I enjoy working here tremendously. ICH has an excellent research reputation and is known as a world-class centre for the study and treatment of childhood diseases. I joined as an accounts/charitable trusts assistant, as maternity cover, but after three months I was offered a permanent post as one of three assistant research grants officers. We ensured the appropriate accounting treatment of the £22m generated every year by the institute’s 400 research projects. At the end of 2004 I was promoted again, and I am now ICH’s management accountant.

‘My work is very wide-ranging. For example, I prepare and manage the Institute’s £40m budget and capital projects (we’re currently building two more floors of laboratories), cost and approve staff appointments, meet auditors and trustees, and help write business cases when we apply for funding. Capital projects are the most interesting, although I won’t be so keen when building work starts outside my office window! I also act as PA for the director of financial services, helping draft reports for University College London (our parent body).

‘My ACCA studies definitely helped me get my current job. In fact, being a student accountant was an essential requirement. But my studies have also helped me see the bigger picture – how to work with people, understand the law and develop a strategic approach.’

And for the future?: ‘As I’ve only been in my current role for seven months I’m not yet looking to move on. In the longer term, I’d like to get more commercial experience, ideally as an auditor in practice. Having said that, higher education offers a wealth of opportunities – far more than I realised when I first joined ICH. For example, I now have experience in overseas projects, in working with the EU and the government, and in patents and intellectual property. Above all, I know my accounting skills and ACCA studies are highly-transferable, whether I remain in this sector or move to another.’


"ACCA’s very public support of ethics in accountancy is very important to me as I believe that our profession can make a real difference to the world – from the use of international accounting standards to the promotion of trade justice"