Member stories – changing careers

There is no age limit for people wanting to study ACCA. In fact, ACCA is a popular and powerful facilitator for career change. What’s important when considering ACCA is understanding that it’s challenging, but then ultimately incredibly rewarding.

Many people of all ages from different backgrounds and situations have studied ACCA. There are flexible ways to study so you can fit it around work and family life. And if you are more senior and are considering ACCA, but are perhaps worried about your age, the experience you already have, whether it’s life or professional, will combine very well with the ACCA qualification. One of the most common employer requests is for experience.

Kevin Keen, interim, consultant, NED, Jersey, UK

It took me about 12 years to qualify, finally finishing in 1993 when I had three children, was 35 years’ old and already 19 years into my career. In 1974 when I was 16 I got lucky and secured a job with a local accounting firm, which was willing to give me a chance as an office junior. My problem was I did not have the entry qualifications to start studying, but eventually was accepted to do AAT (actually IAS back then) and moved on from there.

When I started ACCA in 1981 I was surrounded by people who were failing either ACCA or ICAEW, and I convinced myself I’d never pass. I carried on studying rather half-heartedly and made little progress. Eventually I completed Level 2 and it took me another five years to even attempt Level 3, which I passed first time.

What changed for me was family responsibility and seeing others qualify. Once qualified my career took off, all my experience was essentially bolstered by completing my studies. I moved from strict financial roles into more general management, but ACCA has always been the foundation of my knowledge.

In fact, ACCA has been the foundation of a long and varied career from finance director of a listed company to general management in some interesting and important Jersey organisations. It’s been great.

Kevin’s top tips

  • Don’t give up – careers are long and getting longer.
  • Assume you can pass and don’t let anyone or anything convince you that you. can’t qualify – put the work in and take your studies really, really seriously.
  • Carry on learning – completing ACCA was the beginning not the end for me.
  • Use your qualification as the foundation of your career – there is no such thing as a job for life.
  • Try to understand the real purpose of your work and take it seriously – if you make it more than just a job you will get more out of it and people will notice.
  • Work on your network of contacts – don’t only contact them when you need something.
  • Help people even if there is nothing in it for you – life has a way of paying back.
  • Know when it is time to move on – work needs to be stimulating and fun (most of the time) and if it isn’t you are wasting your time and probably your employer’s.

Andrew Howard FCCA, formerly international management accountant, DLA Piper, Sheffield, UK

I was originally a chemical engineer in charge of developing new heatproof linings for steelmaking  plants. I would often meet with customers who would ask me to make a lining that was easier to install or would last longer, but the query that stuck with me was to make it cheaper. Through this I started to understand a lot more about product costing and I began to see that the commercial side appealed to me more than the science.

The incident that really showed me I needed to change careers was when I had to spend 24 hours overseeing a lining trial at a steel plant in Redcar in North Yorkshire. I had to wear a spark suit so that if I was splashed with liquid metal it would hopefully run off. The problem, however, was that spark suits are very expensive so I had to use an old one that was too small. Also the plant floor was open to the North Sea so I was either too cold (the sea) or too hot (the furnaces). I remember thinking to myself ‘I need a job indoors’.

So, at the age of 27, I started going to accountancy evening classes and, fortunately, a generous redundancy gave me the impetus to make the jump to take an entry level purchase ledger/credit control job. I stuck with the classes and changed jobs to work as a production accountant for a specialty metals-making company here in Sheffield. It was a special moment to have ‘accountant’ in my job title.

Around this time my son was born, so I took a couple of years away from studying to concentrate on him and I'm very glad I did. When I returned I was so motivated to qualify as I really had the best possible reason to do it. I remember one Saturday I went to the park with my son and afterwards he was fast asleep in his pushchair. I had to get some printer ink so I went to a little shop that had just opened; when I went in the door – dressed as a weekend dad with a sleeping toddler – the man behind the counter looked straight at me and asked ‘are you an accountant?’. I don't know what vibe I was giving out, but it was evidently working. It turned out he was having some problems setting up his VAT, so I gave him some advice. He looked so much happier and it showed me that accountants do make a difference to people's businesses. He still charged me full price for the ink though.

Studying and working is not easy. It involved early mornings of study every day and most weekends for years. However, after nine years, I did qualify and for my last exam I won a prize for getting the highest mark in Sheffield. I later spent three years as a panel member and I would recommend it to all ACCA members. It's a great way to meet people and have a direct influence on what CPD events are put on – I had the opportunity to organise events on cybercrime and resilience.

In the 10 years after I qualified I worked as a corporate reporting accountant for Sheffield Hallam University and for DLA Piper, a global law firm, working with overseas finance teams on their accounts preparation.

Person in an office, face-on to camera talking to another person who is facing them

Accountancy is truly an international profession that has led me way beyond just looking at numbers, including experiences analysing business processes and how to make them better, presenting a case for spending huge sums on new equipment or new projects, working with academics on applying for research funding, and justifying my ideas to senior non-finance staff and to auditors. At the moment, I am reading up on new ideas to write better reports to communicate insights from financial figures.

Qualifying is a hard slog, but definitely worth it and age really doesn't matter.


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