Career change accountants

A career in accountancy is not often a choice made at school – it can take some experience of the wider world, and of different subjects or jobs, to know you have the aptitude to be an effective finance professional. That was certainly the case for three of our June 2022 prize winners. We find out more.

Jacob Hookem, Strategic Business Reporting prize winner

  • Location: York, UK
  • Studied: History and politics at the University of Leeds
  • First career ideas: Lawyer, journalist or editor
  • Now: Financial controller, The Fuel Trading Company Ltd – energy and risk management consultancy
  • ACCA status:  Aiming for ACCA membership in 2023
Jacob Hookem

What were your initial career plans? Why did you decide to study history and politics at university?

If I’m honest, I decided to study a subject I enjoyed and hoped to find a career later on! I was always keen on law at school but lost interest after taking a law A Level, so instead opted for a broader degree in a subject I wanted to study. For a long time I was also interested in journalism, particularly editing, and – as it turns out – oversight and double-checking is something I still enjoy and is very relevant to my current role.

When and why did you decide on finance as a possible profession?

I knew there weren’t many jobs directly linked to a history and politics degree, so I had always planned to join a graduate scheme after leaving university and try my hand at different business areas to see what worked for me. As a result, I became a graduate trainee with my current employer, The Fuel Trading Company, and realised that I was looking forward most to the finance placement, although never having worked in this field I still wasn’t sure if it was for me. I’m happy to say finance was indeed my favourite placement, and from then on I knew I wanted to pursue a finance career.

What happened next?

My finance director, and senior managers, were very supportive during my traineeship, and luckily an opportunity in the finance department came up just as I expressed an interest in moving into this area of the business. The graduate scheme was actually a three-year programme but I left early in order to join the finance team. A year later I was promoted to financial controller and have held this position for three years, commencing my training after starting the job!

Why did you then decide to study with ACCA?

As The Fuel Trading Company is a small firm, I gained significant hands-on experience while training for the role of financial controller, but I could see – from my own and from the company’s perspective – that I needed to know more. I was well versed in ‘what’ I was doing but wanted to understand ‘why’, so decided to study for a professional qualification. As I was my employer’s first trainee accountant, I was free to choose any qualification but my financial director advised me to enrol with ACCA, as it covered a broad range of topics. Of course, I went with his suggestion. Although I have no plans at the moment to work abroad, the fact that ACCA is internationally recognised is also reassuring.

Where do you hope your career path will take you?

I hope to stay in finance and I enjoy working in business, rather than in practice. Ideally, I would like to be a finance director one day, which I couldn’t do without a professional qualification like ACCA, and I would like to be involved in international business, a field where I hope ACCA’s international recognition will be relevant.

Are there any advantages of studying another subject before entering accountancy?

I definitely think that studying an essay-based subject made me a better writer than if I had gone straight into accountancy. Good writing skills certainly help when I’m preparing summaries for the board, writing management information packs and – of course – with my ACCA exams. I also feel these skills help me explain things more clearly, especially to people without a finance background.

Do you have any key advice for prospective accountants who haven’t studied the subject before?

You don’t need to like maths to do well at accountancy.

Oliver Redfern, Advanced Performance Manager prize winner (joint)

  • Location: Cardiff, UK
  • Studied: Chemistry at Cardiff University
  • First career ideas: Worked in data analysis
  • Now: Junior group accountant, Admiral Group plc – financial services
  • ACCA status: Aiming for ACCA membership in 2023
Oliver Redfern

What were your initial career plans? Why did you decide to study chemistry at university?

Coming out of school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that chemistry was a versatile degree that could open lots of doors further down the line. I’d always enjoyed the subject at school, which was largely down to having a great teacher.

When and why did you decide on finance as a possible profession?

Before deciding on a chemistry degree I’d actually considered accounting and finance as a career option, and a few friends ended up on finance graduate training schemes, which also piqued my interest. I’d always liked the idea of doing a further, exam-based qualification after university, so accountancy made sense in that regard.

How did your career evolve?

After graduating I got a three-month contract with Deloitte as a data analyst before moving to Admiral as a management information analyst. By this point I had decided to pursue accounting – I wanted to understand how companies operated across different business areas, while also starting a career that offered a variety of different roles. As a result, I started taking ACCA exams while working as a data analyst, and this helped me secure a job as a trainee group accountant with Admiral. In this role I mainly prepared monthly group flash reports and undertook basic data entry. Now that my traineeship is finished I am a junior group accountant, and running group consolidations, preparing monthly parent company accounts and being involved in a whole host of activities as part of half-year and year-end processes.

Why did you decide to study with ACCA?

I chose ACCA as it offers a very accessible route to a professional qualification, especially in terms of flexibility as I could start taking ACCA exams even though I was working in a non-accounting role. And while I have no plans to work outside the UK, it’s great to know that ACCA could open doors around the world.

Where do you hope your career path will take you?

For now, I just want to keep progressing in my current role and take on more responsibility where I can. I don’t have any particular plan for my next steps, so I am looking forward to seeing what doors will open once I become an ACCA member. More than anything, now that I have completed my exams I’m just excited to get my evenings back!

Are there any advantages of studying or working in another area before entering accountancy?

Studying chemistry at university was a bit like preparing for ACCA exams – both courses comprise an incredible range of topics, so for each exam you have to cover a lot of completely new content. This meant that I learnt how to understand new topics fairly quickly and, as both accountancy and chemistry are very broad subjects, I also knew not to leave any stone unturned when preparing for exams. My initial data analyst roles helped me develop a strong work ethic and gave me the ability to interpret data and understand trends, skills that have been very helpful when moving into accountancy. Ultimately, most people work in a similar field for most of their adult lives, so it’s nice to do something a little different for a few years.

Do you have any key advice for prospective accountants who haven’t studied the subject before?

Make sure you are making the right choice. I found it pretty challenging to move from chemistry, an intense degree course, to full-time work and ACCA study. It’s worth it in the long run, but it feels like I’ve been studying consistently for the last 15 years!

Emma Youngs, Strategic Business Leader prize winner

  • Location: London, UK
  • Studied: History at the University of York
  • First career ideas: A career using analysis and data interpretation skills
  • Now: Solvency II reporting accountant, Tokio Marine HCC
  • ACCA status: Aiming for ACCA membership in 2023
Emma Youngs

What were your initial career plans? Why did you decide to study history at university?

While at school I was excited to enter the professional world using the skills I found most engaging. History was a subject that allowed me to pursue my interests in careful analysis and interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data, while also developing my skills in critical reasoning.

When and why did you decide on finance as a possible profession?

At university, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by a university alumni who was an auditor at PwC. This gave me my first insight into accountancy as a possible future career path. After graduating, I decided to look for a career where I could use the analysis skills I had learned during my time at university, and accountancy proved very attractive as a career option. It would give me the opportunity to naturally develop these skills, and to examine and report on data in a way that could add real value to a business on a day-to-day basis.

What happened next in your career?

After leaving university, I first gained a summer internship with a local team of financial advisers before moving on to a role in the West End of London, and then to my current employer, Tokio Marine HCC (TMHCC), where I am currently a Solvency II reporting accountant. This role has exposed me to many different areas of an evolving and growing business, and I have also engaged with a number of exciting projects across the company. Together, these have given me additional opportunities to develop and maintain my technical and professional knowledge.

When and why did you decide to study with ACCA?

I began my ACCA studies in 2019, when I joined TMHCC. I was looking for a qualification that would allow me to develop a breadth of detailed technical knowledge in key areas of accountancy, would support me throughout my career, and would allow me to focus on strategic modules in which I had a keen interest. I also wanted to benefit from the flexibility of ACCA’s international recognition.

Where do you hope your career path will take you?

I hope to continue developing my career as a fully qualified chartered accountant, and to do this the technical knowledge I will gain through the ACCA exams will be invaluable.

Are there any advantages of studying another subject before entering accountancy?

Studying history gave me experience of analysing large amounts of information in order to extract key areas of importance, and to propose alternative solutions to ongoing professional discussions. These are skills that have been invaluable to me in my accountancy career.

Do you have any key advice for prospective accountants who haven’t studied the subject before?

While ACCA study and exams can be incredibly demanding, with time and personal dedication you can gain a vast array of knowledge. Commitment and enthusiasm are key foundations that allow you to strive for success no matter what your educational background may be. The rewards of an accountancy career are great – you have the freedom to explore different and exciting industries and to work with some truly incredible and likeminded people.