As a student, you're probably already aware that graduates at all of the leading accountancy firms have to complete the ACA in order to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant. But that's not the only route into a career in accountancy, finance, and business.
It's not all about numbers
ICAEW, the body that provides and awards the ACA qualification, has over 2,850 employers authorised to offer training to their employees - from multinationals to governments and charities to startups. That's because the ACA doesn't simply focus on accountancy. It also takes into account the business and financial knowledge students will need in order to pursue what can be a diverse career path. Chartered accountants work in a variety of roles, across varying levels and disciplines, including business analysts, practice partners, finance directors, and chief executives. It's completely down to the individual where they want to work and the level they want to climb to.
"I think the ACA enabled me to get a really broad understanding of how businesses work and the knowledge that you need to work in business. It has quite a lot of business and tax focus in terms of teaching and knowledge - it wasn't just about accounting," says Tiziana Robinson, Head of Pharmacy Finance at Boots.
She adds that the ACA's combined business, finance, and accountancy focus has enabled her to spend most of her career in financial reporting or commercial finance-type roles. Right now, she works closely with the managing director of Boots and regularly uses her accountancy and business skills, learnt while studying for the ACA, to make strategic decisions that help to grow the business.
"The ACA has helped me become more of a business leader," says Ian Robinson, who works for BUPA in the company's internal audit team. "The ACA helps you talk sensibly about business and understand the mechanics of business, which is essential in a role like mine because you're constantly speaking to directors or people in charge of a business unit. In my role there are a lot of wider considerations beyond the financial ones - improving efficiency and conducting business reviews, for example."
Studying and working
The ACA qualification is very flexible because it allows you to work and study towards a qualification at the same time. "Typically, you spend some time off work at college, and get some study leave when exams are coming up, and you're expected to do extra study after work too," says Ian. "But it's up to you and your employer when you do the exams - there are four sittings each year. So you can decide whether you want to do two exams in the same sitting or just one, according to what suits you and your employer."
The ACA is very rigorous and, as it's three years long, requires a lot of self-motivation. "The people I worked with when studying for the ACA were very important for motivation," says Tiziana. "I was really fortunate in that all of us studying for it got on really well and we all encouraged each other. I also had senior colleagues who were very motivating and encouraging because they'd done the ACA too so could really relate to what I was going through."
As a well-known and internationally respected qualification, the ACA opens up numerous opportunities within business and across the globe. "During my career I've had a really good mixture of experience. I did a project working on a forensic accounting investigation and some due diligence and corporate recovery work," says Tiziana. "My ACA qualification has also taken me abroad to Australia - something I'd never really considered before."
Both Tiziana and Ian have been fortunate enough to have worked in roles at accountancy firms, as well as within a business. While these external roles provide great exposure to a number of industries and companies, internal accounting can be just as rewarding.
"Working for the company that you're auditing allows you to get into the detail of the business and understand how it operates," says Ian. "You also get to see your actions develop and take the business forward." Tiziana adds: "I'm very results driven, so I wanted to be in an organisation where I could add value and see it grow."
Read part 2 of this article to find out what it's like to study for the ACA qualification.