Practice careers guide: freedom to explore

Neil Gray, Deloitte

In 2002 Neil Gray joined Deloitte as a graduate trainee accountant in the
financial services audit practice. Almost four years on and he’s still with the
Big Four firm, despite his original intention to obtain his qualification and
move directly into industry. ‘I certainly didn’t see myself staying in practice
post-qualification,’ he says.

Gray left university with a degree unrelated to finance or business but
approached the ICAEW with the idea of taking the ACA course because he felt it
was a broad-based qualification. ‘Like many people at university I had
aspirations to run my own business. To achieve that I needed to get business
experience,’ he says.

He decided to stay because ‘the firm offers me the broadest scope for working
across industry. Forensic, where I work now, covers all industries and that’s
something I wouldn’t be able to get if I went to work for a company.’

The variety of people, projects and companies he has access to has convinced
him to stay put. ‘I’m able to work with different managers and partners, and
there’s unpredictability, which I like. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next
week necessarily.’

The flexibility Deloitte offers is another advantage. Once out of a training
contract, it’s easy to switch between departments, says Gray, as long as you
show enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and the ability to take responsibility.
‘Everyone’s keen for you to switch. They are willing to accommodate that and be
flexible,’ he says.

The opportunities for secondments at the firm also persuaded him to stay on.
‘I’m in forensic services in London now but I’m looking to arrange an 18-month
secondment to a forensic department in Hong Kong or the US,’ he explains.
Gray’s decision to train with a Big Four firm was a conscious one. One of the
key factors was Deloitte’s ability to give him study time as well as project
work. It also offered ‘exposure to FTSE and international clients’.

‘After two or three years you are regularly having meetings with CFOs and
CEOs at large companies if that’s what you want,’ he says.

Work has matched his aspirations but the firm has also surpassed many of his
expectations. ‘I was surprised at the level of responsibility that you get early
on. Within 18 months you are running your own audit, which shows a lot of
trust,’ says Gray.

Ryan Ferguson, BDO Stoy Hayward

Life in practice has proved abundantly fruitful for Ryan Ferguson, who
completed his accountancy qualification nine months ago at mid-tier firm BDO
Stoy Hayward.
He chose the firm, sixth largest in the UK by revenue, because it was ‘more
relaxed and smaller, so you had the exposure to large clients but small enough
that people had time for you’.

Ferguson says he spoke to and met the Big Four accountancy firms but, based
on the assessment days, they didn’t seem to be what he was looking for.
Ferguson never had a definite plan to leave the firm to work for a company.
‘Nothing was set in stone. Most of my peers knew definitely that they would go
but I was unsure.’

On completing his accountancy exams, he decided to stay. ‘It all worked out
well for me because I was given a whole variety of work and working with
different people was interesting.’
The prospect of working in general business discouraged him for several reasons.
‘The rigid structure in industry put me off and the way the line management
worked there,’ he says.

But he is keen to acquire commercial awareness and will obtain it through
BDO’s policy of offering newly qualifieds the chance to work in rotation within
different service lines for two years.

At the moment Ferguson is coming to the end of a six-month stint in the
forensic department. Next, he will work in restructuring and recovery, and
afterwards corporate finance, where he wants to get involved in due diligence
and deal making. Finally he gets to spend six months at BDO’s Johannesburg
office, reaping the benefits of a foreign secondment as well as working in a
different service line.

It is this variety of work that persuaded Ferguson to stay at the firm,
backed up by the opportunity to work with partners of all ages, as well as
alongside his peers.

‘Personally, I can’t imagine many jobs that would let me move around so much.
Secondments are very common across most of the larger firms. I’ve yet to talk to
someone in industry who has that built into their role,’ he says.
Ferguson’s recommendation for other trainees is:‘Be enthusiastic and put in the
effort for your own development. People respond to that and you will be

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