Newly qualified member Chris Chung tells us about his training experience and what being a chartered accountant means to him.
Like many people, I didn’t have a career plan in mind when I was at school and university. I’ve always liked technical subjects – I studied physics, chemistry, maths and geography at A level, then went on to study geography at the University of Cambridge. It was while there that I really became aware of accountancy – my firm, PwC, came to the university to talk about the opportunities they have, and that got me thinking about career pathways. I felt the firm, and the sector, offered really good prospects.
I had heard about the ACA and that appealed to me too, having a specific professional qualification – I knew it would open a lot of doors. I enjoy studying and have always had a curiosity to learn new things, particularly technical ideas and concepts, so a job that allowed me to do that as well seemed like a very good thing.
I completed a summer internship before joining PwC’s graduate scheme in September 2018. At first, I did find it challenging. Up until that point, I’d only ever studied, so having my first proper full-time job alongside studying and the pressure of exams was difficult. Initially I think I overcompensated by spending my entire week either working or studying! It definitely helped that I had a big support network of peers in my cohort, though. You know you’re not the only one going through this process, and you share knowledge and support each other. That really helps in terms of balancing the two.
Before joining PwC I had no real concept of accounting, having studied geography at university, so it was quite a steep learning curve. I didn’t really know what to expect, and it was difficult to know how much I needed to prepare for the first exams – at university, you have all year to prepare, whereas this was all happening in quite a short space of time, and with new, very different concepts that I’d never really come across before. So I didn’t feel hugely confident going into the first exams. But towards the later ones, as I passed the first few and became more aware of the process, I became more comfortable.
In the end, I passed all my exams first time, and was even awarded prizes for first place in Financial Accounting and Reporting at Professional Level, and first place and the Peat prize at Advanced Level. That was quite a surprise! Just knowing how many people had sat those exams, and to have that sort of recognition from ICAEW, I felt really proud to have achieved that. It felt like all the hard work I had put in had been recognised.
I think the key to that success was just being prepared. It’s about staying calm, and making sure that in the months before the exam you focus on the balance between work and study – and don’t do too much of either. If you do too much studying you end up burning yourself out by the exams, but at the same time if you forget about studying and only do your work, you neglect your preparation for the exams. I am generally quite consistent – I’ve never done an all-nighter! I tried to have a consistent approach of setting aside a couple of hours each evening and an hour or two over the weekend to study. Exam technique is really important too. I stick to timings quite well I think – if I know it’s the end of a particular question I’ll move on to the next and come back to it if I’ve got time, rather than getting bogged down in it.
I passed my final three Advanced Level exams in July last year. It was a proud moment, and also a huge relief, knowing that you’ve got to the end of a very long journey! A few months later, after submitting my training file, I received confirmation of my membership from ICAEW. I felt really proud that I’d managed to achieve that and become fully qualified. When people see that you’re an ICAEW member, they know you’ve gone through that rigorous process, the studying, the training and the hours required to obtain that qualification – and that you know what you’re talking about!
I’m planning to attend a New Members’ Ceremony in November and, now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I want to explore what else is available in terms of networking and career support from ICAEW. I’ve also been enjoying having more time to travel and discover new places since I finished my exams – having an interest in geography, I’ve always enjoyed nature and the outside world. So far it’s only been within the UK recently, but hopefully that will change soon!
Becoming an ICAEW member has already opened up new opportunities for me: twice a year, PwC has an internal transfer window where different teams within the firm publicise roles available at senior associate level, but you have to be qualified to be able to apply. I am now working in the Treasury & Commodities team, and the technical knowledge and specialist skills I gained from the ACA is key to my role, advising clients on managing their hedge accounting and the different Treasury processes.
I’m finding it really interesting, focusing on the more complex accounting areas, and I’m looking forward to developing myself further in the team and in the field over the coming years. Because of the nature of our clients, there may be opportunities to travel in the future, and that’s something I’d really like to do too. With a globally recognised qualification like the ACA behind me, there is a world of opportunities out there.
Discover more about applying for ICAEW membership here.