THERE ARE PROBABLY very few of us who can remember the moment when we decided to follow a career as a professional accountant. In fact, I'm willing to bet that most didn't even have such a moment - let's face it, how many people come in as graduates without really knowing what the job is all about apart from what they've read on a website? Weirdly, I remember my epiphany very well.
I worked as an English teacher in Japan several years ago (you wouldn't know it from my grammar) and decided to round off my stay with a two month road trip with an Australian colleague. We were joined by a mate of his who happened to be a chartered accountant.
In between visits to various temples, volcanoes and bars (mostly bars, if I'm honest) she told me how she had spent the past six years working her way around the world, using her CA qualification to take advantage of opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have been available to her.
It was during one of these conversations, possibly in a bar, that I realised a professional qualification could by my ticket to this world of opportunities - a particularly attractive thought given my newly unemployed status at the time.
Indeed ‘opportunity' is the main reason why I'm an accountant. The range of opportunities offered by the profession is vast even, or perhaps especially, in these tough times. The money helps too, I am honest enough to admit that. While I'm not solely in it for the cash, the security offered in terms of a reasonable salary does have a certain appeal. And although there's no guarantee of a job these days, a professional qualification certainly helps sway the odds in your favour.
If you're a prospective, student or newly qualified CA, the qualification opens the door to a multitude of opportunities.
Travel is a big one, as I learned from my Aussie friend. Most large practices - and an increasing number of their smaller rivals - are part of international networks that allow staff to be posted at member firms overseas for a three, six or even 12 month period.
In my own office, we have recently been joined by a number of secondees from South Africa, Hungary and Australia, and some of my London-based colleagues have recently secured placements at PKF International member firms in the US, Australia and India. And it's not just temporary moves that are possible: a good friend of mine who recently qualified is now living the dream in Beverley Hills, another is in Barbados and a current colleague has joined our London office from Latvia.
The chance to work with other service lines can be equally appealing, although admittedly it doesn't have quite the same glamour as a placement in the Caribbean, it can still be immensely rewarding. I'm currently working part time in PKF's management consultancy services department within the modelling team, something that I'm finding hugely enjoyable and educational.
Aside from being able to tell people that I work in ‘modelling' - and with a top group of people (just in case they're reading this!) - the experience I'm getting in project finance is enough to satisfy anyone's inner finance geek. The list of potential service lines one could join is vast: corporate finance, forensics, business support, assurance (internal and external), recovery and restructuring, tax, technical, training...the list goes on.
Not that you have to stay in practice, of course. A quick Google search (other search engines are available) will tell you that accountants are in charge of 60% of the FTSE 100 these days - we really are starting to rule the world. Just about every sector needs accountants, from fashion to engineering, retail to not for profit.
Working for an organisation in-house provides an entirely different set of challenges and rewards to working in practice, but it also allows you to pursue your interests. In my own blogs, I've often mentioned how good it would be to marry my affection for Manchester Utd to my career.
David Gill (chartered accountant), if you're listening...The opportunity to work in football finance is massively appealing and one that I hope to pursue in future - and it's something that would be a lot harder to crack without my professional qualification.
For those who don't mind a bit of bad press at the moment, there's the lure of banking and the financial rewards it can provide. I've a number of friends, none of them particularly evil or demon-like, who are very happy working in the banking sector; a sector that is a major contributor to our economy and one that can still offer us accountants a valuable career, even post crisis.
I don't deny that times are tough, but I also recognise that things would be much more difficult without those letters after my name. And how else could I get access to such an incredible mix of opportunities?
Mat Allen qualified as a CA with PKF in 2011
Image credit: Shutterstock
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