By completing a year in industry with a global corporation during university and having discussions with friends I knew that I wasn't interested in working for a 'Big Four' firm. I felt I'd be too narrowly focused, not necessarily have the security or the feeling that I was an important member of the team that a medium sized firm provides. Furthermore, I felt that the work-life balance within a medium sized firm would be more conducive to help tackle the demands of studying for the ACA qualification.
I was introduced to Mercia incorporating SWAT through a friend and after researching who they were and what they do I quickly discovered that their scheme was a perfect match to what I was looking for. You gain tuition by one of the leading tutor firms in London, attend a range of practical training courses, a generous work-life balance in order to enable success throughout your studies and it is great to have a group of others from other firms to study alongside.
It is a well-known fact that an accountancy training contract is very demanding but with effective time management I can honestly say it is well worth the effort. I am only six months in and the feeling of passing your first exams and the ability to transfer the classroom knowledge into your job is very satisfying.
In regard to my job role, I was given responsibility from the moment I joined, being involved in a job out at a client’s within the first week of joining. The work I have been performing has varied from week to week, with experience of preparing sets of accounts for a variety of clients, preparing tax computations and at clients assisting in audits.
I was apprehensive about starting a career in accountancy as I had little experience of it before, however I was put at ease right away in joining Rayner Essex. Yes it is a steep learning curve but everyone at the firm has been so supportive and willing to help no matter how small or silly you feel the problem may be. The support doesn’t just come from those graduates around you, but comes from all levels and service lines of the firm. This includes the partners who are more-than-willing to help or provide advice, ensuring that you know their door is always open.
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ - depicts what a training contract is about perfectly as it takes time to learn the various aspects and nobody expects you to know everything from day one. It is all about asking questions and gaining as much knowledge from as many people as possible in order to help you build your career as an accountant.
After some initial research I was sure that a mid-tier firm was my route into accountancy. Mercia incorporating SWAT emerged as the dominant entity, tailored specifically to graduate schemes in medium-sized firms. The application process was simple and the team was quick to reply with an invitation to an assessment day involving tests and a follow-up interview. The whole process was enjoyable and the interviewer really made you feel comfortable.
The team at Mercia incorporating SWAT help prepare you for the practical work when you are at the office and also aid with entering exams and preparing for the Kaplan tuition. This is a real time-saver when it comes to studying and working at the same time and once you’ve started your ACA training contract, Mercia incorporating SWAT helps you to hit the ground running.
The practical workshops work in tandem with the Kaplan tuition which and helps consolidate the new knowledge and enhances the work I am carrying out directly for clients when back in the office. The lecturers are very knowledgeable and it was particularly helpful for me when drawing from their own practical experiences and applying them to the in-class scenarios. By working closely with Kaplan, they are also able to relate the more ‘abstract’ tuition to real-life situations.
What also impressed me was that Mercia incorporating SWAT goes beyond the training contracts and, after qualifying, will continue to provide courses to enable professional competence through professional development and lectures on new legislation, keeping you abreast the ever-changing accounting environment.
The ACA is challenging. Dedication and a good work ethic are vital for success but moreover learning to manage your time efficiently will allow you to work hard but play hard too. At times it may feel tough when your free time on weekends dwindle but discipline to study after a hard day’s work and pushing through your studying in the morning will allow you to free up your afternoons and evenings.
Office work has involved a large range of jobs, from accounts preparation to specific parts of an audit, as well as basic tax computations here and there, whilst gaining exposure to a variety of clients – from dentists, to multimillion pound foreign exchange companies. Working for a mid-tier practice provides me with the right balance of experience both in terms of clients as well as the types of audits I work on. In short, better experience, better development, better auditor.
The biggest challenge for me so far has been trying to strike that balance between work, study and my own personal down-time. Both Mercia incorporating SWAT and my firm are very supportive and help or advice is easily available from people who have been in your shoes, slogging away for their qualification, working late and studying late not so long before you. Everyone knows what you are working towards and the current trainees who are only a year or two ahead are a particularly good resource to tap into, I have found.
Since starting my training contract I have gotten to know many others through events organised by the social committee at my firm and I have made some good friends.
My advice to anyone looking at accountancy as a possible career choice would be to work out what you want from a firm since the firm already knows what they want from you. The Big Four is not everyone’s cup of tea, so broaden your horizons and look into areas that are not the ‘obvious’ choice. Good luck!
Nearing the end of my University studies I contemplated what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and there was no obvious answer. I had studied chemistry and whilst loving it I did not find the thought of spending any more time in the lab appealing.
However there were some clear pointers that lead me to accountancy; I loved the process of learning at University and the prospect of working towards a new qualification really attracted me. Also with my scientific background I knew I enjoyed working with data and as I had no past experience in business I thought training for the ACA would be a perfect introduction.
Initially I was a little unsure whether I would be able to adapt to accountancy but the ACA training does not assume any knowledge so it’s an ideal way of developing new skills and gaining knowledge. Initially losing free time to studying is a bit of a shock but the sacrifice is minimal in relation to the benefit and sense of achievement in passing each exam and progressing.
Mercia incorporating SWAT provides a fantastic resource of technical and soft skills to guide students through to qualification and beyond. Courses are engaging and relevant and forming links with other people from a variety of firms is a real benefit. During the interview process Mercia incorporating SWAT paired me up with one of the firms they recruit for. Working in a firm the size of Alliotts has allowed me to gain a wide range of experience, from dealing with small to medium size corporate entities to charity and Academy clients. Working with such a variety of clients makes my work really interesting and rewarding.
When I started three years ago I thought I could leave the profession with a qualification at the end of my training if nothing else but now I have discovered a career that I want to pursue.
I chose to study for an ACA qualification as it is a fantastically regarded and varied qualification which really gives you an edge in today’s competitive job market. I was attracted to Mercia incorporating SWAT’s graduate scheme to achieve this qualification, as working in a medium sized firm would mean a larger variety of day-to-day tasks and more responsibility from an earlier stage.
It was initially a daunting prospect for me as I had not done a degree in a finance or even maths orientated subject, but in all aspects of your training, whether work experience, tuition or technical training, everyone is treated as having no prior knowledge and is taught up from the very basics. You are given so much help and support from your firm, Mercia incorporating SWAT’ and your college, there is never a lack of people to ask for guidance!
It can be difficult juggling a job as well as studying and the tuition does go at a fast pace. However as long as you keep on top of things from the beginning, you are still very much able to have a good work/life balance. No one is a fan of exams but in this profession the benefits of doing exams when it comes to your job confidence are fantastic.
When not at college or training at Mercia incorporating SWAT, the day-to-day tasks at work usually include preparing accounts for small businesses or sole traders, preparing tax computations and visiting a variety of clients to help seniors with audit fieldwork.
There is huge variety in the clients I have worked for and I have been to audit charities, investment brokers and barristers chambers just to mention a few. At a medium sized firm you really get to see a huge variety of clients in different sectors.
As long as you are prepared for hard work and are ready to be challenged, the graduate programme offered through Mercia incorporating SWAT is a fantastic place to begin your career in accountancy. My advice would be never be afraid to ask as many questions as possible along the way, no matter how silly you may feel they are.
Everyone always has time to help and wants to see you succeed!
I started at the Brebners London Office in September 2013, having spent five years in academic research following completion of my degree in chemistry. I decided to look into a career in accountancy because I have always wanted my own business. Studying for an ACA qualification whilst having daily exposure to a variety of organisations and industries seemed like the best way of learning about business and finance.
Furthermore, I wanted to work towards a stable career that would give me opportunities for progression and potential opportunities to specialise in the future.
Working for a medium-sized firm like Brebners was always the right decision for me because you have the opportunity to start forming a working relationship with the clients from the beginning of your training contract. As a very sociable person, it was important for me to work for a firm that allows trainees to be client-facing early on.
Further, for smaller clients, you will work on the whole file individually with the support of a manager or senior, so you can see the wider picture of their business and develop a solid business acumen. From the outset, you will get used to communicating with partners and managers on a daily basis, this is not always the case in larger firms.
You will gain good experience in both audit and accountancy, as well as some tax and company secretarial experience as opposed to being in a specialised field from the beginning. This will help you steer your own career based on your preferences and strengths.
As accountancy is a second career for me, I was understandably nervous about taking the plunge into the unknown. Plus, I was aware that I would be older than most of the other candidates and I worried about this too.
I need not have been worried because from the moment I walked into the reception area at Brebners on interview day, I knew I wanted to work here. It just felt right and I have been very happy here.
Brebners is a friendly, approachable firm and the people here work hard and achieve a great deal but also have lives and interests outside of work. This was key for me.
Brebners is always keen to employ people from all walks of life and your university degree subject is not important. We have students who read music, languages, life sciences and physical sciences so please don’t feel put off if you don’t have an economics or mathematics degree (though these subjects are more than welcome too!). Some trainees have started at Brebners having only just finished their university degrees and others have had time out to go travelling or have worked in other industries before moving to accountancy.
The office is open plan which helps to create an accessible and friendly environment to work in. It enhances communication between departments and experience levels and means you can easily approach staff for help and advice.
Outside of work, there are many Brebners social events such as the Christmas party, the annual karaoke and the highly anticipated, much loved quiz night. Further, when students pass exams, we organise drinks to celebrate their hard work and success!
As a junior you will start your Brebners career in the audit department where you will be booked onto various assignments working for a wide range of clients. You will be exposed to a mixture of both audit work out at the clients’ offices and statutory accounts preparation, in-house. In your first eighteen months you may also be seconded to the tax and media departments to assist them during their busiest periods, which provides a great opportunity for increasing your breadth of experience.
Brebners operates a ‘hot-desking’ system in the audit department meaning that, in theory, juniors will regularly move desks so that they can be positioned next to the senior or manager who will be supervising their assignment. This ensures that juniors receive the help and advice they need in order to perform to the best possible standards.
Study and Exams
This is the element of the ACA that potential candidates usually have the most questions about and I know I did when I was interviewing. The thought of sitting 15 exams in a little over two years is daunting and the exams themselves are not easy but they aren’t impossible and as long as you are prepared to work hard and remain dedicated and focussed during difficult times then you will get the results you need.
The marks are not graded so you cannot attain a merit or distinction, it is simply a pass or fail. The pass mark is 55 for most of the exams.
The exam papers consist of six computer-based e-assessments which are multiple choice. These make up the certificate level of the qualification and will involve learning a lot of information on a broad range of topics. These papers have a quick turnaround time because you will learn the material in college and sit the exam all within two to three weeks.
At professional level you will study for six written papers which are specifically looking to build on and develop the subject matter that you learnt at the certificate level. These papers are testing how you apply your knowledge and for this reason are a lot harder. You will spend a couple of months preparing for these exams.
Finally, at advanced level you will sit the case study paper and two technical papers which will bring together all of your knowledge and experience. These papers are open book in order to more closely mimic a real life situation and will be your biggest challenge yet. You will work towards these papers over the preceding six or seven months.
As an ACA student you will study at Kaplan Financial in Angel and you will be provided with all the relevant books and materials required for each paper.
You will be given leave from your work at Brebners in order to attend taught college courses and revision.
Even though college can be challenging, one of the best things about it is the social aspect of meeting other students from other Mercia incorporating SWAT accountancy firms. Some of the people you meet at college on your first day will go all the way through to finals with you and so there is a great sense of camaraderie and those are the people who keep you going on the tough days.
In addition to the experience you gain by working in the office and the knowledge you learn as part of your studies, you will also engage in professional development, at Mercia incorporating SWAT, in small groups of around 15 students.
These sessions occur once every couple of months and focus on developing ‘soft skills’ such as good presenting and public speaking skills, how to deal with challenging clients and how to effectively put your opinion across whilst appreciating the opinions of others.
The sessions will involve working in groups and carrying out debates, organisational tasks, team working, group and individual presentations. The subject matter is usually based around the accountancy profession and relevant current issues.
A requirement of the ACA is that students maintain an online training file which stores the number of days worked, short case studies of specific experiences and also involves developing ethical skills and awareness.
After your first six months at Brebners, you will have a review with the training partner in which to discuss your progress so far. As you move through your training contract you will clock up experience and you will write up your experiences which the training partner will review with you and authorise.
Despite the inevitable house-keeping element, the review acts as a support and is a really good opportunity for a one-to-one chat, to get any worries off your chest and to discuss aims for the future.
You will have further reviews with the training partner every six months for the duration of your training contract.
The Interview Process
Mercia incorporating SWAT handle the recruitment process for many Central London small/medium accountancy firms so they will be your first point of contact for applications. This is great for applicants because it means you have a chance to gain employment across several firms without having to apply to them all individually. If your initial application is successful you will be invited for an interview day which consists of a mathematical test (GCSE level) and a written test in the morning. You can’t really prepare for these tests as they are checking your general aptitude but my advice is to work quickly through each question without dwelling too much on one particular question. If you are stuck, move on because you have the pressure of time. If you achieve the required pass mark for both assessments, you will have an interview with a team member from Mercia incorporating SWAT in the afternoon.
Everyone at Mercia incorporating SWAT is friendly and approachable so there is no need to feel daunted. These interviews are fairly relaxed and you won’t be asked anything technical about accounting. Take the opportunity to ask questions not only about the firms you have chosen to apply to but also about the ACA program itself. It is important not only for Mercia incorporating SWAT to find the right candidates for the ACA but for you to find out if this career is for you.
Brebners Interview Day
If you are invited to attend an interview day at Brebners, you will take part in a couple of tasks and be asked to complete a verbal and mathematical test.
Following this, you will have lunch with current Brebners ACA students who are at various stages in their training. This is a great chance for you to ask questions about the firm and the ACA studies so that you can be sure it is right for you.
In the afternoon, you will have an interview with one of the partners and a tour of the office.
Just be yourself.
Trainee to Partner
When I started my training at Brebners I had no idea I would still be here 20 years later, as a senior partner in the firm.
My initial reasons when applying for accountancy jobs were that I wanted to gain as wide an experience as possible, not only in the work that I carried out (audit, accounts preparation, tax) but also in the variety of clients I would be dealing with on a regular basis. It was clear to me at the time that a medium sized practice was far better able to offer this variety than a larger firm, whilst at the same time having high standards of training and professionalism yet still retaining a supporting environment in which to learn and accumulate experience.
My role within the firm has changed dramatically since that first day. From training through the audit department I began to work directly as the right hand man to a senior partner, effectively managing the work carried out on all of those clients. This gave me exposure to client meetings and to be at the sharp end of the business decision making and tax planning process. This route enabled me to further develop my skill set to the extent that partnership was offered to me. We at Brebners still feel that this mentoring approach is an effective way of developing those trainees with partnership potential.
My initial thoughts when choosing Brebners remain to this day. We continue to offer great training and experience, and as training partner (amongst other roles), I know that the training we offer gives our trainees excellent skill sets, whether they stay in practice or move into other sectors. Indeed many of those have been in touch post Brebners to comment on how well our training has equipped them in the financial world.
Sunil joined Gerald Edelman in September 2017, after graduating with an Economics Degree from Queen Mary University of London.
Training with GE
Gerald Edelman stood out to me as the ideal firm for me to undertake my ACA with for many reasons. The firm itself is medium sized and thus gives its trainees the opportunities to work with a wide-range of clientele across many different industries.
So far I’ve gained a real insight into how businesses operate whilst working with multi-million-pound real estate companies, charities and investment funds, amongst others. At GE, you are given plenty of opportunities to take on responsibility and grow, a year in I’ve already been able to work on several different audit areas which has helped me grow my understanding substantially, instead of just focusing on one niche aspect. The staff at GE are supportive and understanding, providing guidance whenever you need it - helping you reach your potential. Moreover, you’ll regularly work alongside partners at the firm and have contact with key management personnel at our clients, such as Financial Directors, which will also greatly improve your soft skills and professionalism.
Support during the ACA exams
Balancing the ACA exams alongside working full time is tough and requires more flexibility and planning from you compared to university. However, GE makes the exams much more achievable, by providing you with world-class tuition via Kaplan, alongside suitable study time before exams, and by giving you a support network which you can utilise to help guide you during the exams. This includes those with whom you work, who have provided me with invaluable advice about how to prepare for each exam. The support which you'll get from Kaplan as our training provider also helps, from the tutoring you’ll get whilst at Kaplan, to the round-the-clock support team that is just a call or email away.
Social life at GE has proved to be incredible. The staff are outgoing and friendly, and helped me settle into GE very quickly. Everyone understands how tough the ACA can be, and so during social events, we all let our hair down and just have a good time. The social events occur very often at GE and are well planned by a Social Committee, the events I've attended so far vary from an evening at Sky Gardens, treasure hunts, dinners etc.
Overall, I believe GE is an excellent firm to train with. Providing you with the opportunities and support you'll need to grow, whilst being a fun place to work with plenty of exciting experiences along the way. As it's a midsized firm, you'll get experience working on a plethora of different tasks, across a wide array of industries, this couples together to make you a well-rounded and knowledgeable chartered accountant.