Liana Charalambous found that getting through exams took hard work and commitment, so she helped resurrect her student society to support other students
During her year studying abroad in California, economics student Liana Charalambous sent her parents in Cyprus a text message telling them that she was about to jump out of a plane at 13,000ft.
“I honestly don’t know what I was thinking! I was far away from home, the time-zone is 10 hours behind, so when I was waking up everyone was going to sleep. My family has a group WhatsApp so I just sent them a message. ‘Hi. So I’m going skydiving, bye!’”
She says that there are some people who are risk-averse and afraid of challenging themselves, “but I’m definitely not like that!”
Deloitte picked up on Liana’s daredevil antics immediately during her interview to join the firm as an ACA trainee in 2017.
“They could see my CV was varied, and that I liked adventure and to try new things. They asked about the skydiving. Then they asked me if I was ready to pause my life for three years while I studied the ACA.”
Liana now works in the financial advisory services team at Deloitte Cyprus, and is involved in “pretty much everything” including mergers and acquisitions, transaction services, modelling for companies, and valuations.
“It’s a very varied role. In some countries the same department is more specialised, so I’d be under valuations only, or mergers and acquisitions only. In Cyprus, because the departments are smaller you tend to do more. It’s something different every day. It’s fun, challenging, and I’m always learning new things. It’s pretty exciting.”
For Liana, life is about excitement and new challenges, and after discussing it with her father, she decided to forgo further academic university study and train as a chartered accountant. She completed her Bachelor's degree at Queen Mary University of London, with an exchange year at the University of California, Santa Barbara (complete with leaping out of planes), then returned to Cyprus and was snapped up by Deloitte immediately.
Her journey through the rigorous three-year accounting qualification may not have had so many death-defying adrenaline rushes, but was no less intense.
“The only thing I can say with total certainty is I couldn’t have done it without my friends. Not because I wasn’t capable, or had difficulties, but because the ACA is not just about studying the books and learning the materials. It’s about having the patience and trusting the process.”
With 15 exams, three years of studying, professional development, practical work experience and ethics, Liana says the key is believing in yourself, taking the exams on individually, and committing to the task ahead of you.
“Even if you fail an exam you have to stand up again, move on and finish the other exams. Then, when you have time, study again and pass it. It was very hard and took a lot of commitment.”
Deloitte Cyprus helps its students by partnering with the European University Cyprus, which has dedicated study rooms and a library for the ACA hopefuls. Liana said it was here that bonds were made for life.
“Through the tuition phase we went to class, then all stayed at the library to study. We had each other's backs, we asked each other questions. Mentally it was tough. You would walk in the hallway and see people worried they wouldn’t pass. But looking back now, we all have funny stories of our time.”
With backgrounds in so many different areas of expertise, Liana and her friends could help each other through the different parts of the ACA. She had insight into business and strategy, and economics exams, while others had knowledge of the more practical, numbers-based studies which helped with the accounting and financial reporting exams.
“I would suggest anyone who is thinking of starting the ACA should sit in a group, have study breaks, and have a room to study with other people,” she says. Her group took regular breaks and would sit together to talk about anything except the ACA for a couple of hours.
Determined to help those who came after her, Liana and four colleagues also helped resurrect the Cyprus Student Society, which had been dormant for a number of years following the 2008 financial crisis. She took on the role of director of social media. Using her contacts within Deloitte, the group gained sponsorship and started to hold events that would help students just beginning their career.
“The number of chartered accountants in Cyprus has increased significantly in recent years, and every year we had people asking about it. So we started networking events. It was an opportunity for new students to meet older students and talk about the ACA, give them some tips about the journey, the exams, and how tough it is.”
The Society now holds educational events for students to exchange notes and ideas. Just two years on, the membership has grown threefold, and Liana has left the group in a healthy shape.
Although no longer a part of the student board, she remains one of the most supportive and enthusiastic voices, encouraging anyone to become a chartered accountant.
“There is a summer internship at Deloitte, and I often get asked ‘Why the ACA?’. Well, why not the ACA? You have everything there. If you want to start a new business, the ACA is perfect. If you want to learn about law and aspects of new business, you can. If you want to learn about the IFRS standards, bookkeeping and accounting, it’s all there. The ACA is so broad; it has law, business strategy, accounting, financial reporting … You can do anything and it opens so many doors.”