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Professional partnerships: Arnab Datta & Chris Xia

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 03 Sep 2021

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When Chris Xia joined EY as an audit trainee two years ago, manager and mentor Arnab Datta helped make her first few months in a daunting new world survivable

“Passing on my knowledge and helping people is one of the things I enjoy most”

Arnab Datta, Audit Manager, EY

I have worked in audit and forensic accounting during my career to date, and I think coaching is a really important part of working in professional services. EY is a global organisation and the benefit is that you have the opportunity to meet so many different types of people and work collaboratively. You can work in teams that vary in size from four or five to even 20 or more people. I enjoy passing on my knowledge to junior team members and helping them to gain the right types of skills. I think that’s really important in our career.

I trained to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant with another Big Four firm and joined EY about five years ago. As an Audit Manager, I’m responsible for coaching the team and I’m also a Counsellor, so I have a few ACA trainees and qualified Chartered Accountants whom I advise and help as part of the firm’s appraisal process. When I was completing my ICAEW training, I had a Counselling Manager who had gone through the process a few years before me and that was really valuable in terms of sharing their experience, as well as hints and tips about how to balance work and studying. That really helped me and I hope that I also provide useful advice and career guidance to ACA trainees such as Chris.

I first met Chris about two years ago when she joined EY. When trainees start the ACA scheme, it’s usually their first job and it’s quite challenging in terms of getting used to working in a professional services organisation alongside studying. There is a significant volume of material to understand, but Chris has picked things up really quickly. 

Working in audit has its own challenges too. It’s important to demonstrate professional scepticism when reviewing information provided by clients so that any material errors can be detected. However, it’s also essential to develop a good working relationship with clients and these soft skills become increasingly important as you progress through your career. Some of the conversations with clients can be quite difficult, especially when you’re new, so it’s those kinds of tips that I’ve passed on from my own experience. 

Another area that Chris picked up quickly is data analytics, which creates a lot of useful insights for clients. She had considerable experience and transferable skills in statistics and data analysis from her academic career and that really helped to add value during our audit process.

The great thing about the ACA is that you can apply a lot of the knowledge that you have learnt while working on client engagements. The support at EY is really good too as there is a professional qualifications team and structured training programme in place. Passing on my knowledge and helping people is one of the things that I enjoy most about my job. Things have changed a lot during the last few years. Diversity is really celebrated now and EY encourages a lot of conversations around inclusion in the firm and how it benefits the profession as a whole. It definitely helps all of our teams to work better together.

“I thought I would never be able to survive, but I made it in the end!”

Chris Xia, Audit Trainee, EY

My background is in linguistics, and I went through a series of training as a teacher and researcher for a number of years before a proper office life. Linguistics is a niche area and it can be difficult to find a job, so I started to look at opportunities within industry. I am older than my cohort, having a lot more academic training and experience, and I felt EY valued that – to me, it demonstrated their approach to diversity and interest in taking on people from different backgrounds.

Because of my previous training experience, I haven’t found the knowledge and learning aspect of the ACA too difficult. I have completed the Professional Level and my first two Advanced Level exams, although I still have two Certificate Level modules to complete before I can sit the Case Study exam, which were delayed due to Covid-19. With professional qualifications like the ACA, you do a lot of your learning outside the classroom, and I find that really fascinating – I can put something I’ve read in a textbook directly into use the next day in my job.

I joined Arnab’s team on my first long-term project, which was an audit of a large US listed company. I was quite nervous – I had never been part of a team in a formal work setting before, and it was based at the client’s office. As well as being the newest member of the team, I was the most junior, but there was a shortage of team members so we were all allocated a lot of work, regardless of our level. Arnab helped me so much, talking me through everything, showing me the previous year’s workbooks, how to operate the software and how to deal with all the different pieces of information. 

I used to work on my own when I was at university and teamwork was a relatively new thing for me, so I felt that I really needed to adapt myself. I’m also more on the introvert side, so dealing with clients was quite a daunting prospect, especially as I’m not a native English speaker. But Arnab was always there, keeping everything functioning, checking we were OK with the more complicated tasks, guiding us through and providing moral support. I thought I would never be able to survive, but I made it in the end! 

I’m hoping to complete my ACA exams this year, and then qualify as a Chartered Accountant next year once I’ve completed the rest of my training. I plan to stay in audit, but perhaps one day I might move into training – I already have my teaching certificate, though the content would certainly be different! In the meantime I hope Arnab and I will be working together again soon.