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Using audit skills to help businesses in trouble

8 December: In these uncertain economic times many organisations will be looking for support in restructuring their business. Ryan Grant, partner at BDO, says accountants looking for a new challenge can use their skills to make a difference and develop their career.

If you like the idea of a dynamic, fast-paced working environment where you do not know what you might be working on in the next few days, let alone months, then a career in restructuring might be right for you, according to Ryan Grant, partner at BDO.

“I want to dispel the myth that restructuring is about insolvency, liquidations, making redundancies and closing things down,” he says. “A lot of our work is transactional and we work with businesses to navigate periods of distress. It is about problem solving and helping a business come out of the other side and survive in terms of jobs and value.”

Grant heads up BDO’s business restructuring team in the Midlands and has spent more than 20 years working in restructuring teams. He knew early on he wanted to be an accountant, inspired by a member of the family, and got work experience at KPMG before he had finished his degree.

This led to an offer of a placement year during his degree. “I got a four-year training contract to join audit in the owner-managed business team,” he remembers. “I took my first-year ACA exams and then went back to university to finish my degree.”

After graduating Grant returned to KPMG, but already suspected that a career in audit wasn’t right for him. “I struggled with a value of looking backwards,” he says. “I wanted to concentrate on going concern and to make a difference. This was driven in part in having seen my own family struggle with the personal impact of restructurings and insolvencies within the textile industry.”

Grant knew of the recovery team within KPMG and was able to make the move in the second year of his training contract. “I quickly realised that part of my skillset was in independent business reviews and reviewing forecast models. And the reason I was strong in that discipline, potentially more so than somebody that started off in advisory, is because I worked in owner-managed business and in audit,” he says.

Transferrable skills

A grounding in audit provides those working in business recovery with a greater understanding of how financial statements interlock and relate. Grant explains: “You can challenge assumptions within models and their integration really well. People with classic audit training can look at financial records and they can very quickly get to the bottom of them. That's why a basis and foundation in audit is important to work in restructuring.”

Grant also argues that the level of exposure that auditors get in speaking to board members and Financial Directors is also really useful in moving to recovery work. In working with organisations in financial difficulty it is crucial for practitioners to be able to grasp the situation quickly, to understand the drivers of a business and to build relationships.

“This can be even more difficult if you're put in on behalf of the lender,” he says. “We are put in some very difficult situations in our role. You need confidence balanced with a strong degree of empathy; you cannot hide behind a desk.”

This means that the ability to manage stakeholders is a fundamental skillset in any restructuring role. Grant confirms: “Being a strong accountant is one thing, but it is also a given that you have that ability to interact and communicate, to roll your sleeves up and get involved.”

New skills and knowledge

After working in KPMG’s recovery team for several years, Grant made the decision to complete the JIEB exams to help boost his insolvency knowledge. “I did it because I wanted to upskill myself quickly,” he remembers. “I had spent of the early part of my career not doing anything in insolvency and wanted to understand all aspects of restructuring.”

After qualifying in audit the first step many Chartered Accountants take is to go into industry, but Grant suggests time spent in a restructuring or advisory team could be a valuable alternative or interim step that offers the opportunity to gain new transferrable skills.

“It offers a wide range of advisory type scenarios which is something very different to just understanding how to do an audit,” he says.

For example, completing business reviews is a key part of the work and involves skills very similar to those in transaction services in terms of the reviewing financial forecasts. There are also corporate finance elements, such as completing accelerated disposal processes.

“Recently a newly audit-qualified member of staff joined our team from BDO audit stream because he could see the opportunity to gain skills in stakeholder management and negotiation, and in dealing with difficult, time-critical situations,” reveals Grant. “Ultimately he wants to become a CFO or CEO and believes his CV will be bolstered by having two or three years of restructuring under his belt.”

Job satisfaction

Alongside offering the opportunity to broaden skill sets, the key benefit to a career in business recovery is the ability to make a difference, confirms Grant.

“Restructuring is dynamic and fast paced, and it has to be because you're working on projects that directly impact people's livelihoods. You're ultimately working with a company and its stakeholders to help create a pathway back to being viable and cash generative business.” he says.

“The most satisfying part is all the companies that you help behind the scenes. Those projects where you can't necessarily talk about it, but you know that you've made a real difference and that your work helped a business to survive.”.

ICAEW’s Certificate in Insolvency

For anyone considering a change of direction or wanting to gain a broader skill set, ICAEW offers a Certificate in Insolvency. The ICAEW Certificate in Insolvency is the most flexible learning programme of the UK insolvency regime. The course, which can be completed remotely in less than 12 months, covers the legal framework behind insolvency and the core principles, encompassing corporate and personal insolvency. ICAEW members and students do not have to pay a registration fee. Find out more or email Alison Morgan.