From education to employment

Not your average accountant: Why a career in finance is open to all, whatever your exam results

#GCSEResults2020 – With coronavirus (Covid-19), predicted grades and #AI #Algorithms having led to chaos for some A-level students, the Association of Accounting Technicians (@YourAAT) is calling on school leavers to consider a career in finance – whatever their results.

As GCSE results are published today (Thursday 20 August), AAT is urging anyone receiving results and thinking about their post-school options to consider taking vocational qualifications, such as through an apprenticeship scheme, as an alternative to university. In a year when the Covid-19 pandemic has been problematic both for how university places are offered and how the ‘university experience’ can operate, apprenticeships offer a debt-free route to employment, and the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’.

Accountancy – a profession open for all

Accountancy has arguably been one of the most stereotyped professions. In order to be successful as a professional accountant or bookkeeper, you are often perceived to be a “white, middle-class man in [a] sensible suit, sitting in stuffy offices poring over ledgers”.

In reality, among the eclectic mix of celebrities who have studied accountancy are rock legend Mick Jagger, comedian Eddie Izzard, pop singer Janet Jackson and acclaimed American author John Grisham.

In addition, suggestions that accountancy has a male bias appear to be unfounded. Approximately two-thirds of AAT’s 130,000 worldwide members are female, while a significant number of students and members are from BAME backgrounds.

The perception of sitting in a ‘stuffy office’ as an accountant is also something of a misnomer. With technology taking away much of the number-crunching, accountants are increasingly acting in a consultancy role, using real-time data to advise clients of their current financial position and producing more accurate future forecasts.

Rob Alder, Head of Business Development at AAT, said:

With AAT celebrating its 40th birthday in 2020, we have long since recognised that accounting firms, accountants and bookkeepers do not fit this, or indeed any other, mould. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and accountants bring with them a wide range of additional interests which often complement their finance career.

“AAT’s accounting qualifications are open to all regardless of exam results, background or age. Many of the courses can be studied at home either through a variety of online teaching resources, increasingly combined with a blended delivery with classrooms that are being re-opened with social distancing in place.

“And a finance qualification can help you reach the top of almost any profession. Over half of CEOs at the leading FTSE 100 companies have a financial background, while the CEO of the Financial Reporting Council, Sir Jon Thompson, began his career by taking AAT qualifications.

“We are going to need really good accountants in a post Covid-19 world. People who have invested in themselves and developed better technology skills will be more marketable – meaning that employers are going to be looking for the sort of expertise that AAT qualifications offer.”

“I study accountancy in dressing rooms around the world”

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Before the Covid-19 pandemic set in, you’d most likely see Sally Frith, 27, from Sheffield, in theatres around the world.

Sally originally trained to be a professional musical theatre actress, and has spent the last seven years appearing in a variety of musicals both in the UK and around the world. Among other shows, she appeared in Legally Blonde’s UK tour and in the international tour of Mamma Mia!

Most recently, Sally joined the international touring cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning musical CATS playing Bombalurina, a cat perhaps most known for her duet with Demeter in ‘Macavity’, and a role filled by Taylor Swift in last year’s film version of the musical.

But when she’s not on stage, Sally has been working through her AAT accounting qualifications.

“A few years ago, I realised that not all of the other performers who I work with enjoy filing their self-assessment returns quite as much as me,” Sally explains, “and that perhaps therefore I should get qualified in order to help them.”

“I study in dressing rooms around the world, which is only possible due to the flexibility of AAT’s qualifications, and the ability to study through distance learning.”

“I love performing and travelling, but equally I love studying, which uses my brain in a different way,” Sally adds. “The only downside is that sometimes it is hard to motivate myself when I’m tired after performing in eight shows a week!”

Despite juggling her studies with a professional career, Sally has made rapid progress. She became an AAT Qualified Bookkeeper (AATQB) in 2019, and is on the cusp of completing her Advanced Diploma (Level 3) with the intention of continuing onto the Professional Diploma.

“The pandemic is, of course, having a devastating effect on all theatres and live performance,” Sally adds. “All performers know that they have to seek work in between contracts, and this ‘can do’ attitude has stood me in good stead during this difficult time.

“I’m currently working as a picker in a large retail warehouse; three 12 hour shifts each week. However, I am also pursuing an opportunity in film and tv production accountancy and I am excited by that possibility.

“Who knows where combining the arts sector and finance will take me?”

“I spent almost five years as an ambulance technician”

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You don’t come across too many accountants who are also lifesavers. That’s exactly what Guy Dakin spent five years of his career doing.

Guy, 51, from Reading, began his career in finance over 30 years ago. He took his AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualifications in the late 1980s, having already had experience working in a bank and gaining a BTEC National Certificate in Business and Finance.

“At the time, I intended it to be a stepping stone towards chartered accountant status,” Guy explains. “I liked that it was a stand-alone qualification as well, and that I had exemptions towards AAT having already gained my BTEC.”

But while gaining professional AAT membership helped Guy progress from accounts payable teams through to management accountancy, he then took the decision to step into a whole new career.

“A friend of mine joined the ambulance service and inspired me to do the same,” Guy explains.

“I spent almost five years working as an ambulance technician, and then as a paramedic on NHS emergency ambulances, responding to 999 calls in and around the Reading area. Being numerate is handy in the service, from calculating drug dosages to working out how much overtime to claim when your last call overruns your finish time.”  

After ending his stint as a paramedic due to a wish to work more regular hours having become smitten with his now-wife, Guy quickly found his way back into accountancy – and did a spell as management accountant at the same NHS Trust.

“I’ve been happily working in finance ever since. I’ve now served fifteen continuous years at the NHS, the past eight of which have been at the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, a provider of community health and mental health services.”

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