By All Accounts...

Do you need a maths degree?

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EPISODE 3 · 23 MAY 2024 ·

This week, we sit down with ACCA members Kyle Simpson and Benjamin Kewin to get the real story on how much maths matters for a career in accountancy. From nearly failing maths class at school to finding the right support during exam season, we find out it’s like to become an accountant when maths wasn’t always your favourite subject. Plus, we explore the Ben and Kyle’s non-linear paths to ACCA membership – including dropping out of uni – and what they both find are the key skills required to make your career in accounting a success.

Maiki Lynch: Hey there, I'm Maiki Lynch and I'm an accountant. And in this series from ACCA, I'm sitting down with some other accountants, and people who work in finance, to lift the lid on some of the common myths you might have fallen for about this awesome career path. In this episode, we're looking at one of the core questions people tend to have about these jobs. Isn't accounting and finance basically just maths? Do you need to be a maths genius? And can you make a career in accounting without a maths degree? Let's find out. This is By All Accounts. Ah, maths. For some of us, just the words can send a shiver down the spine, conjuring memories of school and protractors, and calculators, and quadratic equations. But do you need to be one of those people to progress in careers that involve some numbers? So I found two people who currently work in accounting and finance to ask, do you need a maths degree to enjoy these jobs? First up, Kyle Simpson. Welcome.

Kyle Simpson: Thank you. Thank you for having me here.

Maiki Lynch: And Ben Kewin. Hello.

Ben Kewin: Hello. Thanks for having us.

Maiki Lynch: So, what do you think? Kyle, I'm going to come to you first. Do you need to be amazing at maths to work in accounting and finance?

Kyle Simpson: I don't think so because I'm just exactly opposite or amazing at maths. If I look back my school days, I never liked particularly maths. There were a few subjects I like, but I generally never got interested in maths and my school grades were reflective of that. And when I was studying accountancy, I didn't really feel that there was a overall huge area where you need very technical maths skills. Like it's plus, minus, multiply, divide. That's the basic principles I had, but that got me through all the exams I needed to pass to be qualified. So, I don't really think it's essential to have extensive maths knowledge to become an accountant.

Maiki Lynch: That's really encouraging to hear, particularly for those who perhaps maths isn't their favorite subject. Ben, can we come to you with the same question? Do you think you need to be amazing at maths to work in accounting and finance?

Ben Kewin: So, I'm quite the opposite to Kyle there. I was always into my maths in school. When I started doing my accounting exams, I always thought that there was quite a big maths implication on it. I was actually quite upset by the time I came to qualifying because there's not really that much complicated maths in there! So, I think that that is very much one of the things that all the way throughout, everyone's always like, "oh, you've got to do loads of maths. It's very maths based". You deal with a lot of numbers, but it's more about the trends and the patterns in the numbers than it is with actually messing around with them and doing complicated maths.

Maiki Lynch: So coming from a different viewpoint there, but you're landing in the same place, a similar conclusion, that there isn't too much maths. There is some maths and it is helpful, but there's not perhaps too much or as you may have expected going in from the outset. Kyle, lets to come back to you. Can we ask what your job is? What do you do?

Kyle Simpson: I'm currently working as a finance manager at an all- through school in Northumberland. So, I work with one finance officer, but basically responsible for everything to do with school finance, from financial reporting, all the way to petty cash expense claim, those more sort of administrative tasks. So, it just involves day- to- day school life, plus a bit of technical finance skills, as and when I need to do sort of reportings. But it also has a lot of managerial tasks to run the scope from business perspective, while principals are focused on education side of it.

Maiki Lynch: That's quite a lot of numbers for someone who admitted, from the outset, that numbers weren't really their bag, if you will! Do you have a maths degree?

Kyle Simpson: I don't have any degree.

Maiki Lynch: You don't have a degree, but you've gone through your accountancy training? Are you qualified?

Kyle Simpson: Yes. Yes, I am. Well actually, I dropped out of high school, which is like equivalent secondary school in the UK, and I took an exam to be equivalent of high school graduate. So, as a formal education, that's my final education. And in that, my maths score was... the pass mark was 50 for each subject and maximum score is a hundred, and on average, I got something like 88. 5 across all subjects, on average. But there was one subject that brought the score down, that was math. And I got 50 out of a hundred and that was just literally passing mark. So, that's-

Maiki Lynch: It's still a pass.

Kyle Simpson: ... Yeah, still a pass. But that's my latest formal education to do with math. But I managed to start accountancy training and managed to pass. Well, there were a few challenges, but eventually I managed to pass all of them and become qualified two years ago.

Maiki Lynch: Congratulations.

Kyle Simpson: Thank you.

Maiki Lynch: And we'll come back to a little bit of that journey with your accountancy training, but you were able to start that accountancy training without having a degree or without having another qualification to get you there?

Kyle Simpson: Yes. There was a slightly different pathway when I started. Effectively, it's exactly the same training as if you start the full ACCA qualification, but for those people who didn't have sort of entry qualification, so effectively, even though it was slightly different way around, I could start my ACCA journey without any more formal qualification.

Maiki Lynch: I love that and I'm aware of that as well, that we are one of the professions where you can come in without having a degree and you can still move through and get that chartered status, but you build that foundation without that being a degree or without that being A- levels. Ben, I want to come to you and just ask you a very similar question. Can you tell me about your job? What do you do? Where do you work? Just a little bit about what you're up to.

Ben Kewin: So, currently I work at Crowe Isle of Man. I'm a client accountant, so we get books in, do a lot of debits and credits, lots of bank corrects. When you obviously get your big clients, do their bookkeeping as well on the side. We deal with quite a lot of trusts, quite a lot of big companies as well. Most of the stuff that we do is normally Isle of Man based, which is normally a lot of investments, but then also there's quite a lot of stuff going on in the UK.

Maiki Lynch: Lovely. You talked about loving maths. Do you have a maths degree? What's your background, your relationship with maths?

Ben Kewin: So, I did maths, with maths and physics as my A- levels. And then when it came to going to uni, I went to university to do a degree in maths and physics. I lasted for three weeks and then dropped out of uni. Then I started as a trainee auditor. Did that for a bit, then for multiple reasons, mainly that I wasn't mature enough to be working, I left. I went to then go do a second degree. This one was in accountancy, but it was on the Isle of Man, where we don't have a specific university. We've got a college, which is then linked to the University of Chester. So with that, I was there for a year, then Covid hit. So from that, I then dropped out of that as well, and that's when I then started doing my ACCA training. So, I've not dropped out of one, but I've dropped out of two uni degrees and then I've still ended up becoming fully qualified.

Maiki Lynch: Okay. So, you're fully qualified? You are a chartered accountant as well?

Ben Kewin: Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: Congratulations. I think that really shows that career paths are not just linear. When you got that text message or that email that said you've finished the qualification, you've passed all of your exams, how did you feel after such a meandering journey?

Ben Kewin: It was brill. It was really nice to know that you've reached the end and there's a point whereby you never actually have to do anything again. If you did want to continue doing more qualifications and everything, you could do, but it would be entirely your call. However, having that ACCA stamp after your name just opened so many doors and it's one of those things that you have that, you're set for life, and you can at least always have a comfortable life, and you never have to really worry about getting a job. It was a really satisfying text to receive.

Maiki Lynch: And I want to come back over here please, from here, Kyle, and just ask you a similar question about, when you got to the end of your studies, when you completed your studies and you got that text message, that email that said you passed, how did you feel?

Kyle Simpson: I think it took a while for me to... I mean, I immediately realized I did pass and it was very exciting, but to actually fill it in my day- to- day life, it took a while because at that time I was juggling a lot of things. I was buying new house, my daughter was newly born, moved to Newcastle, while working for, at that time I was working as an IT auditor at one of the big four firms. So, the work was quite busy as well. And during the last professional stage papers while doing all of that, and it was really, probably the most difficult time of my life. And then I was so relieved, once side excited, one side relieved, but at the same time it's quite hard to believe I finally did it. But it took me a while, or a few weeks, and then I looked back and I realized, actually I did pass, everything's done and I've finished. And as Ben said, I can now do whatever I want to do. It was definitely good. The best moment of my life.

Maiki Lynch: Oh, that's so fantastic to hear. It really is. Just want to take you to that journey. So, you were saying you're working as an IT auditor, moving, got your baby, you've got a lot going on, maths also in the mix there. How did you find studying for maths, particularly as you're moving towards the latter stages of the qualification, as someone who didn't have an initial love for maths, how did you find the maths within your studies?

Kyle Simpson: I think if I use the example of our last stage exams, like the strategic level of papers, one was business study and the other was financial reporting. And I didn't feel like there was a lot of maths involved in those two. And I feel like the only paper that really required a bit more advanced maths knowledge was the advanced financial management. But even then, I could teach myself by searching on Google. It wasn't like a really advanced university level of math. It was probably somewhere around the secondary school level of math. I happened to not study as far as some other students might have done, because I dropped out of school. So for a lot of other students, it might be still within the limit of what they studied at school, but even if it's not, I think it was not that complex enough that you could just learn as you go.

Maiki Lynch: So, just touching on some of what you've said there, what skills do you feel have turned out to be most important to you working as an accountant?

Kyle Simpson: I think one, I've got two actually, so it's not really most important.

Maiki Lynch: It's okay.

Kyle Simpson: That just comes to my mind. One is professional scepticism. We, I think, hear about this a lot in audit paper, but I think as an accountant, in this time when the technology is changing really fast and the business process is changing every year by year, we see a lot of ways that we've done things that worked in the past, but maybe not quite the best way of going forward, and professional by exercising professional scepticism, like this, having mindset of always double checking, are constructively challenging, whether it's the best way or not, that provide opportunity for development, whether it's for the accountant, like personal development or whether it's for that workplace, the company. So that's, I think, one of the key skills. And in line with that, then if things are changing, if I've asked the question, is it the best way? If it's not, what's the way forward? And if we know what's the way forward, then the adaptability to be able to learn, and I think we have this requirement for continuing professional development.

Maiki Lynch: I love to hear an auditor talk about professional scepticism. That rings true, and I think auditors will be very happy to hear that too. And I just want to ask about your career. Do you feel your career has turned out as you expected?

Kyle Simpson: Yes, in terms of direction, it did. Obviously I didn't exactly thought about whether if I would end up being a chartered accountant or auditor, or a tech specialist, that specific area. But I did have the idea of turning accountancy and I decided that when I left Korean Navy, I did some navigation sort of things and that had nothing to do with getting a job on land. So, when I left that job, I just started from scratch and I met my wife back in South Korea. So when she wanted to come back here, I need to decide what am I going to do to make living. And then I looked at what sort of things can I do without a degree, without much saving to start with. And that's where I saw accounting as the way forward, because I looked at other professions and quite a few of them had barriers to entry, and accounting was one of the very few that didn't have barriers to entry. And I also felt that accounting is a core of any sort of organization, whether if they're profit making or not, or government, but without money, nothing really runs. So, to me, it gave me the idea that if I choose to go become an accountant, I can start as an accountant, and there are so many other pathways that's available, and whether if it's technical accounting, like audit or tax, or some other ways are more leaning towards management, if you are more interested in that side of business. So, I think I'm heading towards where I want it to be. I'm still exploring what's my next step of my career, but it's going toward the right direction. And I'm really happy that I can do that because passing ACCA qualification can open the door, as Ben said, to be able to make choices that I want to do.

Maiki Lynch: It's exciting to hear you talking about the next step. So coming back to you, Ben, has it turned out as you expected?

Ben Kewin: If you asked me when I was 18? No, it's very different to what I expected. I did expect to go do a degree in maths and physics, then probably go and do a master's, potentially a doctorate, go on that route. Even then when I came back, accountancy was always my plan B. Both my parents were accountants, so it's in my blood. So, it was always something that it was always on the table. So when I came back and I started that, but then I was in audit, I'm not an auditor, I did not enjoy that side of it. So, even then I still wanted to end up being an accountant, but I decided to start taking a different route towards it, that then didn't turn out. And then I started again doing accountancy. But where I was working, I was essentially training up to end up being a teacher, to then start training people to be accountants as well. And then didn't like the idea of standing up in front of a classroom and teaching. So after I qualified, that's when I then went more into the private sector, while doing people's accounts instead.

Maiki Lynch: Working with clients. Lovely. What's your favourite bit?

Ben Kewin: My favourite part about everything that I've done, is the helping people side of it. So, when I was working at the place where I qualified, going through MPES, all the students would always come to us and they'd ask us for help. And being able to sit down with someone and go, right, I see that you're stressing out about something, here's the way that you get around it, this is how we can help. And being able to put other people at ease and help people, that's always been my favourite bit. Throughout everything, I've always been quite a social person. So, that being able to comfort someone and be able to make someone feel better in themselves, that was always my favourite side of it.

Maiki Lynch: So, just to bring it back to the topic of maths, do you think you need a maths degree to work in accounting and finance?

Ben Kewin: Oh, not at all. No. Without a doubt, no.

Kyle Simpson: Not at all. I agree.

Maiki Lynch: And if you could give advice to someone who's considering working in accounting and finance, considering that as their career path, what would that advice be?

Ben Kewin: If it's someone who's in school, I'd say whilst you can, make sure that you get out there, try and get some work experience. Get a feel for what it's actually like to do the job, to see how it is, see if it is something that you like, and if it is something that you like, get started on it as soon as you can. The sooner you start it, the sooner you finish it. And then the sooner you finish it, the sooner that all those doors open up and you can crack on with the rest of your life, and well in such a brilliant way.

Maiki Lynch: Carl, any thoughts?

Kyle Simpson: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I think work experience, the most important thing to start with, and especially because there are different pathways available. Where possible, I would encourage younger students to look out for a lot of pathways that's available. Especially with the graduate scheme or apprenticeship, and that sort of thing. Depending on where you start, which area of accounting you start from, it might take some time to be able to switch to something else. It's always possible to switch between different roles in terms of accounting, but it's always better to know what you are walking into, and then know that you'll be reasonably happy with. Why? You can't a hundred percent tell until you actually start a job.

Maiki Lynch: I think that's such great advice from both of you. Getting that experience and just a bit of exposure to what the work might entail, I think is really key. So, that's it from this episode of Buy All Accounts. Thank you Kyle and Ben for joining me today. For a link to watch the video version of this podcast, check out the show notes. With skills in accountancy and finance, you can work in any business anywhere, and turn your passion into an exciting and rewarding career with an ACCA qualification. You can sign up to find out more by heading to That link is also in the show notes. See you next time. I'm Maiki Lynch and this has been By All Accounts.


Kyle Simpson



Kyle Simpson

Benjamin Kewin



Benjamin Kewin
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