For ACA student Verity Murray, achieving the BFP designation helped demonstrate her hard work and resilience.
Growing up on her parents’ stud farm in Warwickshire, horses were always going to be part of Verity Murray’s future. After leaving school, she started a degree in rural enterprise and land management, but soon realised university wasn’t for her. “I came home for Christmas after my first term and had lots of opportunities to ride horses for other people,” she explains. “It seemed far more exciting to be earning money than clocking up debt, so I dropped out.”
A few years later, having decided there was “more to life than playing with horses”, it was time to start a career. “I thought about my other strengths, and I’ve always been good with numbers – I did maths, economics and business studies at A level – so I started looking for an apprenticeship to begin my accountancy journey,” Verity says. She wishes she’d known more about the apprenticeship route at school, she adds. “The expectation was that you’d go to university – there wasn’t really any emphasis on other options. In hindsight, had I known about the apprenticeship I would have done it straight away – and I’d probably be qualified by now!”
Instead, she began her ACA training four years after leaving school, as a Level 4 apprentice at a healthcare company based in her local town. “I jumped at the opportunity,” Verity explains. The first exam went smoothly – probably, she says, because the content was familiar from subjects she’d studied at A level. “But then I failed a couple of exams, and I started getting really frustrated,” she remembers. A new manager suggested she try classroom-based tuition, rather than the online sessions she had been doing up until then. “I found it so much more engaging – and the support network was there, too,” she says. “I already knew someone on my course, so that was really nice. Once I got that support, I flew through my exams.”
After completing all six Certificate Level modules and her Level 4 end-point assessment, Verity decided to apply for the ICAEW Business Finance Professional (BFP) designation. “The ACA was always my ultimate goal, but as I was progressing through I read more about the ICAEW qualifications and spotted the BFP,” she explains. “It seemed like a great opportunity to get some letters after my name. I’m not brilliant at exams, so it meant that if I did struggle and decided not to proceed with the ACA at any point, I’d still have something to show for my hard work.”
Applying for the BFP status was a straightforward process. Having fulfilled all the requirements – completing the ICAEW CFAB and the Ethics Learning Programme, plus a minimum 12 months’ work experience – it was a case of filling in an online application form and having it signed off by her training manager. By this stage, Verity had moved on from her first training position, joining a small practice in Buckingham as a trainee accountant. The move meant a brief hiatus in her ACA training while she completed a six-month probation period.
Then she spotted what looked like her dream job, working for a firm called Ellacotts in Banbury. “From the job description it sounded like exactly where I wanted to be,” she says. “They had agricultural and equine clients, and the training sounded fantastic – I already knew someone who’d trained here, and she said it was a really great, supportive firm. So I applied, got the job, and moved here in 2020.”
Working with equine and farming clients has proved to be the perfect fit. “I don’t need to learn what my clients do, because I already have that understanding,” Verity explains. “So then I can focus on learning the technical side of my job. When I go out and meet clients, we have some common ground, so I’ve already got that in to build a working relationship with them. And I find they trust me a bit more, because they can see I know what I’m talking about – I’m not just an accountant, I have that industry-specific knowledge. That’s what appeals to me – knowing your client and helping people personally.”
Verity started out preparing accounts and drafting VAT returns, but has progressively taken on more complex tasks, becoming lead contact for a few clients she has worked with for the past three years. “We’re quite detailed in our approach. We don’t just prepare accounts, we think about the wider tax picture and succession planning as part of our annual compliance, and I think our clients really appreciate that extra work,” she explains. “In recent weeks I’ve started taking on more managerial tasks like reviewing accounts prepared by junior trainees. I’m hoping that when I qualify I’ll be promoted and will have my own portfolio to manage.”
Qualification is now not far off – Verity is due to take her Advanced Level exams in November. She wasn't originally planning on sitting more than one Advanced Level exam at once, but a failure in her final Professional Level exam meant that things were pushed back. Not passing everything first time is something she’s gotten used to over the years, she says. “I just struggle with exams. My manager is always telling me that I'm really good at my job, so it's not clear why I feel this way when it comes to my exams. I used to have problems jumping one of my horses – I would just completely freeze – and I wondered if maybe it was a similar thing with exams. I saw a sports psychologist who gave me some coping mechanisms to try when I get tense or stressed, and I think that’s also helped with the exams, just being able to stay a bit calmer under pressure.”
The supportive culture at Ellacotts has undoubtedly benefited her, too. “They’re very supportive and encouraging,” she says. “On the occasions I have failed, they’ve always said, ‘We’re here to help. What can we do to help you with your resit?’ They want me to qualify.” Verity has also found the structure of the ACA and apprenticeship training invaluable. “Having the six-monthly reviews and the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours discussions make you more aware of your areas for improvement – and give you the tools to get better. Being able to talk through everything with my manager and learning coach is so worthwhile, and there are lots of different resources to help you improve, too.”
Once those final exams are out of the way, Verity is planning a big trip to Australia and New Zealand, as well as spending more time with the horses. Her passion means that life outside work is always busy – she regularly competes in working hunter competitions, as well as trying to qualify for the annual Royal International and Horse of the Year shows – but it offers the perfect release, too. “It’s just a nice escape,” she says. “Last month when it was warm and sunny, I’d get out and ride early. I was on the horse at 7am just as the sun was coming up and it was so peaceful. It’s really calming and grounding. I thought, ‘Yep, this is what we live for!’”
Learn more about the ICAEW Business and Finance Professional designation.