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Dare to be different

aksaroya —  21 January 2013 — 2 Comments

Errol Oh is executive editor of the The Star

There’s something about the unique mindset of accountants that sets them apart from other professionals – and a slew of recent studies from the profession bear this out.

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Are accountants a breed apart? Do you need to possess certain characteristics to have a successful career in accountancy? What really goes on in the head of an accountant?

The first two questions are academic; change the profession and you can ask the same about engineers, doctors, salespeople, lawyers, architects, teachers or, yes, even journalists. But there’s a simple way to address the third question, thanks to a number of studies and surveys that pick the brains of CFOs.

Trawl through the findings and you will discover nuggets of insight and uniqueness that suggest that the mindset of accountants indeed different in some aspects. Because CFOs generally understand economics and finance well, they are more sensitive to signs of trouble. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2012 CFO Outlook fall update reports that never before has so much weighted on the minds of corporate finance chiefs.

In past installments of this survey of financial executives from large US companies, when respondents are asked to rate their economic and financial concerns, usually only two or three issues have stood out. This time, a majority of CFOs express concern about seven factors – a fact the report puts down to ‘the complexity and frailty of the US economy, as well as uncertainty about the upcoming US elections’ (interviews took place in July 2012).

When the BDO ambition survey 2012 asked more than 1000 CFOs of mid-sized companies planning foreign expansion to name countries that were considered risky to invest in, Greece landed in the top three; Iran heads the list, with 21% identifying it as the most risky for inward investment. The surprise is that the same proportion of respondents – 18% – mentioned Greece and Iraq. Syria and Libya come next, with 17% and 12% respectively.

Meanwhile, in a benchmark analysis of the finance effectiveness of more than 200 companies, PwC highlights some numbers that illustrate accountants’ high expectations. According to the firm’s report, Putting your business on the front foot, 80% of participants say the accuracy of their forecasts is critical to the running of the business, but only 45% believe the outputs are reliable. Over 90% of participants believe they have established governance frameworks to manage risk, but less than a quarter are truly confident that key controls are operating effectively. It is also worth noting that in the PwC-ACCA finance effectiveness survey 2012, which covers companies in Singapore, the majority of participants indicated that there was room for improvement in their risk management and control frameworks.

Is there a difference between government accountants and those in the private sector? To figure this out, a good place to start is Grant Thornton’s report, Charting a course through stormy seas: state financial executives in 2012. When respondents were asked to assess the level of trust and teamwork in their agency, almost half of executives and over a quarter of online respondents selected ‘neutral’. The report describes that as ‘that middle choice that avoided an opinion’. It adds: ‘It is unpleasantly surprising that so many executives could not or would not assess the level of trust and teamwork in their states’.

This post first appeared in Accounting and Business China, January 2013

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Changing careers is a big decision to make, especially if you have no qualifications to fall back on, but that shouldn’t put you off. Lauren Lockwood ACCA member and former Gold Medal winning student explains how she moved from a career in retail to accountancy

I decided I wanted a change of career after working for 7 years in retail. My role was very sales focused but I had started to become involved in payroll and other financial matters with running a retail unit. I really enjoyed this part of my job however, it was only a small part of the role.

I went to see an adult career adviser and explained that I enjoyed working with numbers and managing budgets and he suggested that I should aim for a career in accounting. He helped me to update my CV. He pulled forward the areas that were key to a career in accounting such as organisation, time management and accuracy. He also explained that I would need to gain a qualification if I wanted to progress in this industry and he suggested ACCA as I had no previous experience in this area, no academic qualifications past my GCSEs and at the time I was not working in accounting.

I was really excited at the prospect of going back to college and at first I was really positive and I couldn’t wait to embark on my new career. However, it was not quite the fairytale I had imagined.

I applied to every accountancy firm in my home-town and neighbouring cities, explaining that I was really keen to become an accountant and that I was looking for a role with them to start my accountancy career. Although some of the companies did respond to let me know there were no vacancies, most didn’t even reply.

I was also applying for jobs online during this period, most through agencies, but the majority wouldn’t even consider me as I had no experience in the field.

I was recalled for a second interview which was looking for a school leaver at GCSE level to embark on an apprenticeship scheme, but in the end the role went to someone else. I was feeling quite deflated and I was desperate for an organisation to recognise my accountancy potential.

Fortunately a recruitment agency called Sewell Moorhouse replied to one of my applications and they thought they would be able to help me find a role. Very quickly they had an interview lined up for me; I didn’t get the first one but I received some very good feedback and I was ready to try again.

The second one which I applied for was to cover the maternity leave of a Purchase Ledger Junior with a company called Bramall Construction where I got the job. I was a little worried at first at being a junior when I was 23, but I shouldn’t have been as the company was fantastic. I worked very hard and I really loved the role. It was completely different to what I had imagined and involved a lot of administration but it turned out I was a natural at it and I just couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to get into accountancy.

This was only a temporary assignment so I was still looking for a permanent position while I studied. Sewell Moorhouse found me a role as a Sales Ledger Administrator at ABP UK, I am certain that one of the things that helped me to get the role was that I was about to start to study for my ACCA and it demonstrated that I was committed to improving myself and that with time I would be able to offer a lot more to the organisation.

That was five years ago and I am still with ABP UK. I have been exposed to many areas of accounting during my time with the company, gaining experience in Sales Ledger, Purchase Ledger, Management Accounts and I am currently supporting the Financial Accountant in her role.

I am delighted that I was able to change careers when I did and I have enjoyed every second that I have worked in accountancy. During the last five years I have finished my exams and I have also achieved a First Class Honours Degree with Oxford Brooks University, through ACCA.

It has been very hard as I have had to study as well as work full time but I wouldn’t change a second of it. I would recommend accountancy to anyone who enjoys working with numbers, keeping organised and being busy.