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My career with ACA: Beth Staff, finance executive at cyber-security start up Tessian

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Published: 12 May 2020

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Beth Staff took a big leap from the Ministry of Justice to cyber-security start-up Tessian. Here’s how she’s made it work

There is a fairly common perception that becoming a chartered accountant means working for an accountancy firm, but there are various opportunities in other types of business across every sector, from the smallest family-run firm to the largest of corporations.

And by taking up a role at fast-moving cyber security start-up Tessian, finance executive Beth Staff has chosen a very different path – but one she’s loving.

“In a fast-growing tech start-up like Tessian, the learning curve is enormously steep, in the best way,” she explains. “It’s growing so incredibly fast that things you learn today might need to be unlearned tomorrow.” 

In fact, Staff says, it was this that led her to first try her hand at working in a start-up, rather than opting for a larger organisation, where change usually takes more time. 

Until recently, Staff was a senior management accountant at the Ministry of Justice. While all of her previous experiences in the public sector were positive, and it’s something she will always champion, Staff says she wanted to test herself in the start-up environment. 

One of the obvious differences between the public and private sector is that, generally speaking, the former is not profit-driven. This was a major change for Staff when she switched across to her new role. Then there was the difference in size and scope of the two finance departments to consider. 

Working in the public sector lends itself to specialism, explains Staff, whereas working in a start-up requires more flexibility. “The culture around what a finance team does is somewhat different, in that you need to be that bit more versatile and become potentially less of an expert in a specific field of accounting. You’ll be expected to be a more dynamic and flexible accounting professional,” she explains, which is largely to do with working in a smaller team rather than the large mechanisms required in government. 

Fortunately, the grounding gained through the ACA has enabled Staff to function at all levels. As well as providing the technical knowledge across accounting disciplines, Staff says, the qualification helps teach students how to make solid business decisions. “The ACA doesn’t train people to remain at a transactional level, it’s training people to add value in organisations and offer strategic advice,” she says. A useful skill for any business. 

<This article is an adapted version of It’s a Start Up Life, originally published in Vital, Oct 2019>