Changing careers and studying ACCA at any age

We spoke to two ACCA members who changed careers and studied the ACCA qualification later in life to find out their motivations, experiences, progress post-qualification and some all-important tips.

Emma Kelsen FCCA, commercial partner – group and support divisions, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sydney, Australia

I was a trained nurse in Russia, but at 25 I migrated to Australia, where my qualification wasn’t recognised. I didn't have the financial backing or good enough English to do a university conversion course, so my husband suggested I study accounting as he was establishing his own IT company in Australia and needed accounting support.

I did a part-time TAFE college accounting course for five years, then joined Australian professional accounting body IPA, where I did its professional programme for another three years. During that time I mainly worked as a finance/office manager in the legal and health industries. While doing my masters I secured the job of finance manager in a not-for-profit mental health organisation with $6m turnover. As mental health started to attract more government attention, my organisation began to grow rapidly.

As head of finance at that point, I quickly realised I needed to gain further professional knowledge. I came across an ACCA promotional booklet that promoted a high-quality qualification with global exposure/acceptance in many countries. It sounded good as I wanted my qualification to be recognised in Russia, in case I had to return for family reasons. No Australian qualification could offer this. However, in 2011 ACCA was only just establishing itself in Australia and only a few people knew of its existence, so I was running the risk of getting a qualification that would not be recognised in Australia. After doing further research and meeting the ACCA team in Sydney, I made the decision to do ACCA.

It took me six years to complete, doing one subject per semester. All that time I was working as head of finance in a rapidly growing organisation that reached $50m turnover by the time I finished my ACCA course. One of my major strengths is the self-discipline that helped me enormously to organise myself and set a daily study routine that ensured consistency of learning. Even before ACCA, I did a lot of research about the best ways to do self-learning, based on how your brain acquires knowledge (we are all different at this). And, of course, it was not easy. I was frustrated so many times, thinking that my learning was slow, a waste of time, etc. Now, I believe, it was absolutely the right decision – the ACCA course has helped me to excel at my work and given me a professional advantage.

Changing career has given me a broader perspective when I make management decisions. For example, working in the health industry, I understand inside out the needs of the frontline workers and can put myself in their shoes (I was there before) when talking to them about service provision or making organisation-wide decisions.

I’ve found myself more employable with such a competitive advantage. Many employers are looking for candidates with broader knowledge and experience, as it allows you to look at the business strategy from different angles and to make more holistic decisions.

Emma’s top tips

  • Consistency – I studied daily without overloading myself. Recent research confirms that it is better to study half-hour daily than five hours once a week.
  • Understand your capacity – do not do two or more subjects simultaneously if your family life and other responsibilities do not accommodate this commitment.
  • Celebrate the passing of each exam and give yourself a break after it.
  • Work out the time in the day when your brain is at its best – try not to study when you are not absorbing the information. It’s a difficult balance but, by finding it, you are not wasting your time.

Uma Chandrasekar FCCA, audit manager, The Consultant For Auditing & Accounting Services, Muscat, Oman

I did my master’s in 1981 and wanted to become a chartered accountant, but my parents preferred that I got married and settled down. After 22 years as a busy housewife, I started studying in my free time. My desire to do a professional degree was very real. When I went to a university and education fair in Oman to check UK universities for my daughter, I came across the ACCA stall. I got all the details from them and applied immediately. In my first exam I struggled to write fast enough and was nervous after almost 23 years since sitting an exam. I also struggled to study, but had good support from my husband, who is a chartered accountant. I was granted exemption for five papers. I completed ACCA at the age of 50 and got a job. I then moved to another city where I joined a local audit firm and have been there ever since.

ACCA has changed my life. I have met so many people. I have audited different companies. I have staff who joined our firm when they were doing the professional level and are now all ACCA members. I motivate, encourage, guide and persuade students not to give up. I enjoy teaching. And I finally made FCCA at the age of 60 – thanks ACCA!

Being professionally qualified was my dream. I did my master’s in commerce. I had the choice of doing a chartered accountancy qualification from India or elsewhere, but I met ACCA representatives who explained the full course structure and its global approach. I was very impressed and motivated. Today as a fellow I definitely agree that its syllabus covers all the latest developments and it has global reach. It has made me think of my career options in various roles.

Once you complete your ACCA, your employability increases as the qualification is so diverse – it means you can fit into many roles across accounting, finance, teaching, auditing and so on. You can specialise further according to your interests.

I would certainly recommend ACCA to anyone who wants to get ahead by transitioning their career. I am proud of belonging to one of the fastest growing accounting bodies. ACCA has changed my life..

Person roller skating in tunnel

Uma’s top tips

  • Doing ACCA requires lot of determination and focus – you have to plan your studies well.
  • I used to record into a tape recorder while reading the text and listen to it while going for a drive or whenever I was relaxing – back in those days lectures weren’t available online or on YouTube.
  • Choose your option paper carefully according to your interests – don’t just decide on an option that has the highest pass rate.
  • Study smart – note down important points, understand the basic principles.
  • Study with the aim of attaining knowledge and not merely passing exams.
  • Solve all past papers without referring to the solutions – I found it best to separate the solution sections from the revision kit. Once a question is solved, check against the solutions, note any mistakes and correct them.

Read more career changer stories 

Get started

Plan your own journey

Begin your own ACCA journey. Learn in your own way, at your own pace, and take your exams at a time that suits you.

By All Accounts...

‘Is accountancy boring?’

Join us for our brand new podcast series to explore this and other topics.

By All Accounts logo

Ready to begin your career journey?

Direct to your inbox

Stay up to date with our industry newsletter