Five members with very different roles and experiences share their thoughts on ICAEW membership, and how the ACA has been central to their success.
“From an international perspective, the sky’s the limit”
Ali Abdul Aziz is Director of Audit and Assurance at Deloitte ME, based in Dubai.
“I grew up in Hong Kong and Pakistan, and moved to the UK to study for a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics. I had always had a passion for accounting, and decided to pursue my ACA in London with Deloitte. I joined in 2008 within banking and capital markets, which was an interesting time for the industry – it was a steep learning curve! In 2017 I was given the opportunity to come out to the UAE, initially on secondment, to build strategic relationships with some of our global banking clients in the region.
“One of the things that became clear when I moved here is the quality of the training that ICAEW gives you. It’s simple things like writing a report and having the ability to discern how much information to put in. Once you’re on the ground, you realise the qualification has equipped you with so many skills that you maybe take for granted when you’re studying. It’s about having a level of confidence or finesse, and that’s hard to teach – it’s something that only comes from those three years of driving it out, and the mix of work experience with exams. It’s holistic, and I think it makes such a difference in terms of broadening your thinking when you look at the context – those are the kind of multi-dimensional conversations that clients want to have.
“I remember one of the first things I was told when I started the ACA was, ‘Once you’ve done your qualification, the world is your oyster’ – and I think that’s true. The base you’ve got is so strong that you can be adaptable and mould yourself very quickly. Agility is such a buzzword in today’s world, and the qualification lends itself to that. It definitely opens a lot of doors, and from an international perspective, the sky’s the limit.
“I found it quite difficult to adjust when I first moved to Dubai: I had only ever worked in London, so it took a while to get used to a new country and a different market – but, as I said, you adapt and you flex. Something that has been really helpful with that has been the support of the alumni network; the first thing I did was reach out to the ICAEW team here, who were so kind and supportive and put me in touch with other members to help me build my network. It wasn’t special treatment – it was just me as a normal member reaching out and them putting in place certain touchpoints that would help me feel more comfortable. Sometimes when you move to a new market, that’s just what you need.”
“District societies are a great way to meet like-minded people”
Natalie Binstead runs her own practice, BW Business Accountants & Advisers, in Bristol. She is the ICAEW West of England President for 2021-22.
“When I moved to Bristol for my training agreement, I didn’t know anybody, so I joined BADCASS (Bristol and District Chartered Accountants’ Student Society) as a way to meet people. In my final year of training I became Chair, and was co-opted onto the ICAEW West of England committee. Once I’d qualified it was a natural step to stay involved with the main district society, and a few of us decided to put together a young members’ section to help look after their interests.
“I think sometimes there’s this idea that the district societies are all about CPD, or networking with very senior people, which doesn’t necessarily feel relevant to those who have just qualified. So with the more younger member focused events, we’re giving people the opportunity to network with others around the same age or stage in their careers. It’s a great way for those who have moved into the area, or who work in small firms or in industry where they are the only ICAEW member, to meet like-minded accountants in the region.
“Historically the district societies have been known for hosting the local CPD events, but I see their purpose more as representing members in the region and making sure their voices are heard – giving them the opportunity to get involved in those kinds of discussions and to have a seat at the table – as well as providing a safe space for them to network and socialise. For me, being involved has opened so many doors. I’ve got to know some really influential people, and I don’t think I would have been able to start my own business without that exposure, and the soft skills I’ve learned. There are so many transferable skills that can help you in your day job. Most of all I just really like hanging out with them all! It doesn’t feel like hard work.”
“As a member of ICAEW, you are never alone”
Giannis Zavros is an Accounting Supervisor at Crowe Cyprus. He qualified in 2020.
“My father worked in financial services, so I was always interested in it as a career. Cyprus has a comparatively large number of chartered accountants for its population, so in the back of my mind I always wanted to qualify with ICAEW. I moved to the UK to study at the University of Portsmouth, then went on to do a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics. While I was a student, I did a summer internship at KPMG, and they offered me a training position when I finished. I’m now a supervisor at Crowe Cyprus – it offered the opportunity to be in a smaller team working on a bigger variety of projects.
“I found studying for the ACA a shock at first. Although I studied a lot, I didn’t perform very well because I couldn’t handle the pressure. It’s a completely different approach from academic exams – you have to have the technical knowledge but also be able to handle the pressure, and judge what’s important and what’s not. In my opinion, though, ICAEW makes the exams in a very smart way to reflect the working environment, and to create a well-rounded professional. Once you qualify you definitely feel relief, and respect for the organisation – as well as a belief in yourself and your ability to represent it.
“As a student or a member of ICAEW, you are never alone. You have a strong connection with a professional body, and you can always find someone to help you. As a student I was on the board of the Cyprus Student Society, and had the chance to talk directly with the Head of Cyprus and Greece – I saw first-hand the passion of the people working for ICAEW and their true purpose to help members and solve their problems. The large number of chartered accountants in Cyprus work in every industry, and support each other on personal as well as technical issues – there is a bond between you, and I don’t believe this is something other professional bodies have. CABA, too, is unique, giving members somewhere they can always reach out to for help.”
“The ACA gave me a desire to learn, and a willingness to push myself”
Doug Field OBE is Joint CEO of East of England Co-operative Society. He was awarded an OBE in the 2021 New Year’s Honours List for his work supporting businesses in the region.
“When I started my career, my aspiration was to become a partner or a finance director – I certainly never anticipated becoming a joint chief executive. Accountancy suited my skillset, and I thought it would be a good way to get involved in business in a trusted profession. I trained with a firm in Cheltenham, then moved to PwC, before joining Christie Group, a professional services group, as a financial controller. In 2008 I relocated to East Anglia, and that’s when I joined East of England Co-operative, again as a financial controller. Quite soon afterwards I was promoted to CFO, then they decided to adopt a collegiate leadership model, and that’s how I ended up becoming joint CEO in quite rapid succession.
“One of the things I liked about working in practice was the variety, and it’s the same here: because we’re a co-operative, we’ve got lots of different businesses to factor in – the finances for a funeral business are very different to those of a food retail business. All the roles I’ve had have given me the opportunity to grow and develop, and that’s important to me: I’m still developing now, and still learning. It’s not always about financial knowledge either: I have also volunteered at the local enterprise partnership, and that was a real eye opener, being involved with a diverse board and public sector services such as education, infrastructure and housing.
“My two personal values are growth and integrity – the personal growth I’ve already mentioned, and that sense of purpose and doing the right thing. And that can be challenging: you can strive for the greater good and try to put people before profit, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions – to close stores, for example – that might mean people losing their jobs. So it’s not an easy line. My responsibilities now include technology and HR, and without being curious, without having that desire to learn and that willingness to push myself, I wouldn’t be where I am. The ACA was a good grounding for that: the exams are not easy, but they push you out of your comfort zone and push you to try new things, and that certainly helped me.”
“There’s a sense of pride that comes with knowing you belong to a prestigious professional network”
Andy Tjia is an M&A Advisory Manager, currently based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He qualified in 2020.
“I chose accountancy as a profession because it offered the opportunity for a global career. I’m originally from Indonesia, and had the chance to study in the UK – I did a degree in business management at Queen Mary University, and a Master’s in economics and business strategy at Imperial College London. While I was a student, I had a mentor who was an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, and it was he who inspired me to study for the ACA. As well as giving me a part-time job, he invited me to visit Chartered Accountants’ Hall, and that was the initial spark for me – I thought, ‘If these are the sort of professionals who join ICAEW, I definitely want to be part of that network, and work with people like him.’ So I joined PwC in London in 2017, and qualified in 2020.
“There was a real sense of pride when I completed the ACA, especially as I had struggled with some of the exams – and a massive sense of relief! Even my parents, who didn’t really know what the qualification was, knew how much work I had put into it. There’s also a sense of pride that comes with knowing that you belong to a prestigious professional network, and I definitely felt that. I try to be a source of information for other international students who may be interested in completing the ACA but might not know much about it.
“I lived in London for eight years, but with the pandemic it seemed like a good time to be closer to my family and explore other opportunities. I’m currently working in Jakarta, but I’ll be starting a new role in Singapore soon. Initially the job will be fully remote, so it requires a lot of independence, and someone who can be responsible and accountable. In my interview, I was asked how I could demonstrate that – and I said, ‘I passed all my ACA exams while working full-time. I definitely have that sense of responsibility.’ The interviewer knew of ICAEW, and I’ve been approached by headhunters in this part of the world who recognise the value of the qualification. So it feels like those three years of hard work are already starting to pay off.”
Find out more about the range of benefits available to ICAEW members.