By All Accounts...

Is there no work-life balance?

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EPISODE 2 · 16 MAY 2024 ·

This week, we sit down with ACCA members Clara Tooth and Shaun Fenwick to understand what the lifestyle of an accountant is really like. From preparing for busy times of year (hello, tax season!) to streamlined, time-saving work practices, we dig into the reality of balancing a career in finance with the rest of your life. Plus, we explore the benefits that finding the right workplace for you can bring - from flexible and hybrid working policies, to free beer Fridays. We also chat through Clara and Shaun’s unique journeys into accountancy.

Maiki Lynch: Hey there, I'm Maiki Lynch, and I'm an accountant. In this series from ACCA, I'm sitting down with some other accountants to lift the lid on some of the common myths you might have fallen for about this awesome career path. Is it really high stress? Do you have to work all hours? Is it impossible to have a good work- life balance? Let's find out. This is By All Accounts. Questions about work- life balance are all the rage these days and the finance sector is no different. But does a life in finance really have to involve such sacrifice? I found two people in the sector to ask can you have a good work- life balance working in finance? First up, Clara Tooth, welcome.

Clara Tooth: Hi.

Maiki Lynch: And Shaun Fenwick, welcome.

Shaun Fenwick: Hello.

Maiki Lynch: I'd like to start off by asking you... does having a good work life balance, is that important to you? Clara, can I come to you first?

Clara Tooth: Absolutely. Yes, having a good work- life balance is so important. I would say, myself and I imagine a lot of other accountants feel the same, is we work very hard and we put a lot into our jobs, so I think it's very important to have that balance of when you go home, it's home and it's your time, your enjoyment all for you. I think that helps get the best out of you as well. If you go in all the time and you never give yourself a break, you're not going to be that good at work, you're not going to be working to your best ability. I think having that balance gets the best out of you and makes you enjoy your job as well. It's good to do something you enjoy and that you love.

Maiki Lynch: Shaun, can I come to you?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, sure. Work- life balance for me is very important. As I've mentioned, I love traveling, going on holiday, seeing friends and family. We've all been in that position where we're overworked, but that's not sustainable for a long period of time. Yes, in accounting, there's times of the month where we are working longer hours. But you need to find a balance, that's the key there, where you are happy to sacrifice some of your time, but your employer is also happy to sacrifice some of their time and it's working both ways. I'm happy to work extra and take some time off, and so is my employer, and it's finding an employer that's able to give you that opportunity to have a comfortable work- life balance. I think I've found that and that's very important to me. I'm currently finance manager at Brixton Brewery, which is a craft beer company based in South London, in Brixton.

Maiki Lynch: Lovely.

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah. What does that entail? I guess, finance manager, I head up the finance team, and it's just a small team of us, just myself and a finance assistant. We are a subsidiary of Heineken, so we work very closely with the team at Heineken as well.

Maiki Lynch: That's so exciting. What made you choose that industry?

Shaun Fenwick: Well, originally I started as an accountant in practice, working for UHY Hacker Young, over in Cambridge. Just before lockdown, I was halfway through my ACCA journey, having sat six or seven exams at that time, as accountant working in accountant tax. I was on the pathway to becoming a manager, and then up to a partner level. That was my aspirations at the time. But then for me, practice was very ... It was compliance heavy. I was working on accounts and tax for clients, but I was quite limited in what extra or added value I could add to those clients. Whereas industry, on the other hand, I'm working in the finance team in- house and really getting involved in not just the compliance side of things, but the business management, looking at-

Maiki Lynch: You've had a bit more of a breadth of work, working in industry and in practice?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, exactly. Getting involved in projects and being able to see what I'm adding, if you like. Being able to get really involved in the day- to- day financial side of running this business, but then also the financial planning as well. Being able to help other departments within the business and watching business grow over time, and I really value that. I think it's great.

 Craft beer's a fun and exciting industry. It's an industry that I've always loved outside of work. Why not? Accountancy's a wonderful career path to take and it does open up a lot of opportunities.

Maiki Lynch: That's great. I'm going to go to Clara-

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, sure.

Maiki Lynch: And just hear a little bit about Clara. Where do you work and what do you do?

Clara Tooth: Hi. I'm Clara. I'm a manager at a firm called Accounts and Legal, and I'm based in the Manchester office. In terms of what does being a manager mean, there's two parts to my role. The first part is I hold a team of 12 people, so it's my job to basically make sure everything gets done, everything gets filed, we don't miss any deadlines. Support the team, develop the team, help with training, checking in with them, making sure they're okay. That's the first side of my role.

 Then the second side is offering that high level support and advice for business owners. The team do a lot of the groundwork. They get a lot of the numbers together and my job is to go in, help explain them to business owners, and what they mean, and how we can make differences that will impact and change their lives.

 But yeah, that's my role in short. Quite a lot going on.

Maiki Lynch: That is quite a lot going on. Managing 12 people, that's a large team. I would call that quite a large team.

Clara Tooth: Yes, definitely. I've got four assistant managers and I'm very lucky with all of them, they do a great job of looking after some of the junior members of staff as well.

Maiki Lynch: Goodness. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got there? I presume you've been there for a little while, or perhaps you're qualified?

Clara Tooth: Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got that role?

Clara Tooth: Absolutely. If we go all the way back to 2015, I'd just left high school, didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was pretty good at maths and I wanted something that was numbers focused, and just fell into an accountancy apprenticeship, really. It was luck and I told myself, " I give myself a month, and if I hate it, I'll go to college. If I like it, I'll stick it out." Six years down the line, I just qualified and that was about two- and- a- half years ago now, so eight- and- a- half years in total. I've basically just worked my way up, bit, by bit, by bit. Started off as a trainee, then a semi- senior, senior, assistant manager, portfolio holder, and now to manager, client and team responsibility.

Maiki Lynch: That's an incredibly quick journey.

Clara Tooth: Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: Congratulations. You came into that straight from school?

Clara Tooth: Yeah, 16, straight out of high school.

Maiki Lynch: Wow. Wow.

Clara Tooth: If I was to go back in time, I'd definitely do it again because it was a lot of fun.

Maiki Lynch: You talked about becoming qualified.

Clara Tooth: Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: You are a qualified accountant. How did your exams go? Was it all smooth sailing, all the way through?

Clara Tooth: Yeah. I started off with my AAT, that took around three- and- a- half years. It was okay. It was challenging, there was exams that were difficult but it was okay and I got through them all first time. I then moved onto my ACCA and it was hard work. I didn't have too much confidence in myself back then, I didn't think I'd pass many or if any. But I really got my head down, I worked really hard and I managed to pass them all first time. It was definitely worth it, but it was by no means easy. It was very rewarding at the end.

Maiki Lynch: Yeah, that's often the journey for a lot of people, that step up from a foundation qualification to your charter qualification can sometimes feel like a step- up. I presume you were working at the same time as studying?

Clara Tooth: Yeah. I would work four days a week, and then I'd get one day a week study leave as part of the apprenticeship. On that day, I'd go to college, and then you'd have to study in the evenings and weekends as well. It was a lot of hard work, especially the closer you get to exams. It's every evening and every weekend.

Maiki Lynch: Do you feel it was worth it?

Clara Tooth: Definitely. If I went back in time, I'd definitely do it all again.

Maiki Lynch: Do you remember how you celebrated when you did qualify? When you got that chartered status, the letters after your name, do you remember what you did? Or if you celebrated?

Clara Tooth: We got our results at midnight, so I think the day that I qualified, I didn't particularly sleep at all that night. I just think I was so over the moon. Yeah, I didn't anything big or crazy. But yeah, I was just really happy. Lot of celebration with family and friends.

Maiki Lynch: Yeah.

Clara Tooth: Long time coming, it felt like, by the time I got there. It was a really good feeling in the moment.

Maiki Lynch: Shaun, can I come back to you? Because I didn't actually touch upon where you are in your studies or if you're qualified.

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, sure.

Maiki Lynch: Where are you in journey at the moment?

Shaun Fenwick: My journey started very similarly to Clara's. Although I stayed at school and did my A levels, so studied maths in the first year of my A- levels. Maths was always a strong point of mine so naturally, let's start a career in accountancy. Started as an apprentice, working for a company called Bidwells at the time. They had a client accounting team and that was in their agriculture division. I worked with lots of land owners, farmers, and as you can imagine, back to what Clara mentioned earlier, it was a box full of receipts.

Maiki Lynch: Are they all there?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, exactly. My first role in accounting was very junior as well. Did the AAT apprenticeship, which was also two or three years, level two, three of four. Finished my AAT qualification and then decided, " Okay, I want to become a chartered accountant." I was weighing up my options and decided, " What do I want to have in this accountancy qualification?" I wanted to be an all- rounded accountant, which is why I chose ACCA. Start my journey with ACCA also under an apprenticeship scheme. I was working four days a week, one day out at college. I was sitting exams once every quarter at that time. Was getting first time passes, the first year or two, whilst I was under the apprenticeship program. Then, I decided to move away from being an accountant, let's go and work in an industry such as craft beer, which is where I am now. At that point, I no longer got the study support, so I was studying myself on the weekends. That was difficult, that was really tough. I did fail a couple of exams. But re- sat them, got through them eventually. Recently, in December, I sat my last exam so I'm waiting on the results. Well, I could be fully qualified, I might not be, we'll wait and see!

Maiki Lynch: That's really exciting. So you're waiting on the message to come through. Will you be staying up on Sunday night?

Shaun Fenwick: Absolutely, yeah. It's always a difficult one. It's like, " Do I stay up and hope for the best, or do I go to sleep and just check it in the morning?" But if you do that, you're going to have a sleepless night. But if I stay awake, I might have a sleepless night, who knows? Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: Will you let us know how you get on?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, definitely. For sure. It's been a long wait. It's a six- week wait for results.

Maiki Lynch: Yes. If you pass, what are you going to do? What's the celebration that's been planned?

Shaun Fenwick: I haven't got any plans yet!

Maiki Lynch: Are you going to work on Monday?

Shaun Fenwick: I will be working on Monday. I think it'll be the weekend after where celebrations will begin. We'll see friends and family, probably go out for a meal and some drinks. Yeah. We'll be in full celebration mode for sure, hopefully!

Maiki Lynch: Clara, I'm going to come back to you. I want to ask a little bit about work- life balance. In your current role, how do you feel your work- life balance? Can you tell us just a little bit about your work- life balance that you have?

Clara Tooth: Yeah, absolutely. In terms of work- life balance in my role, there definitely is a balance. My job is nine to five, although it isn't always nine to five. There are definitely times where sometimes, I have to stay late and things to do, and that's that. But on the flip side, there is a lot of rewards to that kind of job. For example, where I work at the moment, we've implemented something called Friyays. That's where you get to do a four- day week and take Friday off. We do longer four hour days, and then a full Friday off. Every Saturday and Sunday is off, so the weekends are mine. I do not work on weekends or bank holidays, that is my time. Things like Christmas, I get completely off. Finished on the 2nd, went backed on the 2nd January. For me, I think that's quite a good work- life balance. When I take time off, that time is mine. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I do have to work a little bit late and get something done, but there's quite a lot of flexibility. We also have things like flexy time. I'm not very good at starting work at 8: 00 in the morning, so I will start at half- nine and work until a little bit later. But other members of the team , they like to be in early and home early. That's quite nice, you can just fit it around whatever suits you and your lifestyle.

Maiki Lynch: Friyay sounds great!

Clara Tooth: Friyays are good.

Maiki Lynch: And a little bit of flexy sounds incredible. Shaun, how's your workplace in terms of work- life balance?

Shaun Fenwick: For me, it's great. I think everyone has their own work- life meaning. For me, it's just being able to have the time available to see friends and family, go on holiday, et cetera, and not being overworked. In the world of accounting now, there's so many systems that you can implement to streamline your work. For me, it's all about working smarter not harder. How can I do that to make sure that I've got the most free time? We do work nine 'til five, but there's no commitment to working any extra hours in the evenings or the weekends. That's my own time. We have a good annual leave allowance, so I can get those holiday trips in. Accountancy, we can also work wherever, whenever. We can work remotely, whether that's at home or if you want to book a long weekend to somewhere and you want to work-

Maiki Lynch: As well?

Shaun Fenwick: In a different country, you can. You just need a laptop and that's great.

Maiki Lynch: I think accounting and finance, it does have that reputation, particularly at the beginning, but also when you are qualified and you are more senior, of being quite hours heavy. Have you found that to be the case?

Shaun Fenwick: I did. In a previous role, there was quite a big focus on billable hours, chargeable hours.

Maiki Lynch: Yeah.

Shaun Fenwick: Especially in the role that I was in at the time, it was very much where I just needed to sit and work. Throughout my time in that role, the company shifted its mentality from billable, chargeable hours to valuable hours, if you like. It was about getting the work done to a high standard and it was up to you to decide how many hours you were working. If you were excelling and you were putting in the effort, you would be rewarded for that, which I think was great. That mindset has changed definitely, I feel.

Maiki Lynch: Do you think that happened during the pandemic, or do you think the pandemic gave any changes to the way we work?

Shaun Fenwick: For me, it happened before the pandemic.

Maiki Lynch: Before?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah. The pandemic helped. The pandemic has introduced this idea of a four- day working week. There's a lot of research to suggest that actually, you can do the same amount of work in fewer hours and I think that's great. I think accountancy is one of those roles where that's evident. You can really demonstrate that. Yeah.

Clara Tooth: I think from my perspective, I do think there probably was once a time where people were working late and you had to work a lot of hours. But in practice, I think there's been a very big change in the last say five years or so, where technology's come in and we've shifted from everything being, " Oh my gosh, the client's given me something a day before deadline," to it being a lot more electronic. I feel like you can get ahead things a lot more, and plan better and prepare better. I found that that's reduced that need almost, for excessive working, because it's not like you've got 10 people who all need everything due in tomorrow. You're able to do things easier, and earlier and quicker. You'll hear a lot of accountants talk about this time of year, the 31st January, tax return season, and then everyone's working crazy. Well actually, the way things are going now, I found each year it's eased off a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more. We do just seem to be getting into a better system almost, and I think that is allowing also that work- life balance, and taking quite a lot of stress off. Compared to when I think back to when I first started, the amount of things you'd have to get done in a short period of time due to things that were outside of your control aren't exactly the same now. You do have a lot more control and a lot more ability to reduce that stress.

Maiki Lynch: Do you think you can achieve a good work- life balance working in accounting and finance?

Clara Tooth: I think you definitely can achieve it. The way that my view on it is, like I said earlier, sometimes you do still have to work late, but you do get that back. That's where the balance comes is there is a little bit of give, but you do get to take it back for yourself, and you do get to enjoy your life and your lifestyle. I feel very lucky, blessed, grateful, all of it, with the lifestyle that I'm able to have. I'm 24, I qualified at 22 and that's pretty young for an accountant. In the summer, just in August '23, I managed to buy my first home on my own. That was an absolutely amazing achievement for me and I feel very grateful that I was, firstly, given the opportunity as a 16- year- old to be allowed to become an accountant, and work my way up and have all this. House definitely isn't a mansion, by any means, but I've got my own-

Maiki Lynch: Give it time, the second one.

Clara Tooth: Yeah. I've got some bricks and mortar, it's great. I feel so blessed that when I book time off, I can go on holiday. It's very lucky to be able to have a longterm career, and know that you're always safe and you're always going to have a nice, steady income. That will then give you the opportunities to do what you want to do with your life outside of work and enjoy yourself, because we all get off every day. We come to work. When we go home, we should be able to do what we want to and what makes us happy. It's opened a lot of things personally as well. I'm able to do what I want and it's great. I feel very blessed.

Shaun Fenwick: Also for me, I work in craft beer, which is a really fun, exciting industry. We have a taproom, so that means going out to the taproom and drinking loads for free beer, which is brilliant. That's Friday evening sorted. It's introduced me to a lot of interesting people, opened up a lot of opportunities. I'm very fortunate enough to be in a position where I can go on a number of holidays every year, explore the world. Live in an amazing city, I live in London, which is brilliant. Likewise, I'm very excited for what the future holds. There's so many different routes you can take, which I can still take. There's so many skills that I can learn and I haven't learned. Accountancy is this never ending cycle, which you can just keep getting the next opportunity or fighting for the next opportunity.

Maiki Lynch: Do you think, Shaun, that you have achieved a good work- life balance?

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah, definitely. In my role, I'm responsible for managing my workload as well. For me, I've been in other roles prior to being an accountant where I'm customer facing, for example. I need to be present and I need to be there from this hour to that hour. In accountancy, it is up to me to pick up the work when I can and to get it done when I need to get it done. That will enable me to juggle my own workload and to achieve a healthy work life balance. The flexibility is key.

Maiki Lynch: So, so key. What advice would you give someone, perhaps who is considering a career in accounting and finance?

Shaun Fenwick: Speak to another accountant, or more than one other accountant. Accountancy is such a big, big industry, there's so many different pathways you could take. Try to speak to as many people as you can in the industry to decide what route you want to take. With accountancy, there's so many transferable skills that you pick up so if you do start your career in accounting and change your mind, that's not a bad thing. You'll definitely use what you've learned with ACCA in any career. Definitely do your research first and then just go for it, I think.

Maiki Lynch: I love that, " Just go for it."

Shaun Fenwick: Yeah.

Maiki Lynch: Clara, same to you?

Clara Tooth: My advice would be just do it, literally go for it. If you don't like, that's fine, at least you tried. I would say it's hard at the beginning, so there might be times where you feel like giving up, but just persevere through because by the time you come out the other side, the lifestyle you can have and the opportunities you can have are amazing. As much as it feels hard in the moment, just remember it will all be worthwhile.

Maiki Lynch: That's it from this episode of By All Accounts. Thank you, Shaun and Clara, for chatting with me today. With skills in accountancy and finance, you can work in any business, anywhere, and turn your passion into an exciting 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.


Clara Tooth



Clara Tooth

Shaun Fenwick



Shaun Fenwick
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