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Student Insights

My ACA journey

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Sep 2021

ACA journey

A few weeks into her new job as an audit trainee, ACA student Ashwini Poopalasingham tells us about her decision to go into accountancy, and her story so far

I originally planned to go into dentistry, but when I started my A levels, I just didn’t get on with biology. Maths had always been a strong subject, but I wanted to make sure I chose the right university course; I didn’t want to go through that whole journey and then not use my degree. Luckily most of my family are accountants, so I could get some guidance from them, as well as a bit of work experience – and it just clicked with me.

I studied Mathematics with Finance and Accounting at Queen Mary’s in London. It offered the best of both worlds: I was quite strong in maths, and accounting was something I wanted to go into. I lived at home while I was at university and wanted a bit of financial independence, so I worked as a maths, English and 11 Plus tutor at a local tutoring centre, and helped out with a maths catch-up club at a nearby school too. I found it really rewarding, particularly helping the more disadvantaged children at the school. By the time I was in my final year, we were in lockdown, so I found a volunteering opportunity with a reading charity, working with a young boy at a primary school. That was a great escape from my coursework overload into a fantasy world!

In my final year at university, I started to think about my next move. I read up about the ACA and spoke to a couple of friends who had graduated the year before and were working at Big Four firms about how they were finding it. It sounded like a really rewarding opportunity: I did an accounting work placement in my third year but found some of the tasks a bit repetitive, whereas my friends said that in audit every day was different – and that’s what I was looking for. I applied to various firms, and chose my employer because it has a large financial services team, as well as an international presence – I speak French and Tamil along with English, so it would be great to be able to use my languages at some point.

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I started work at the end of August. There were a lot of emotions swirling around on the first day! I was excited to see the offices in Canary Wharf, London, but I was nervous as well. It’s a good feeling though. Two other people from my assessment day were also successful, so we connected on LinkedIn and chatted beforehand. One of them started the same day as me – it was nice to see a friendly face, and meet him in real life! I feel lucky to be able to go into the office and see people in person, especially while I’m learning. We can work from home three days a week if we want to, and I appreciate having that flexibility too, especially as it will cut down on my commuting time and expense.

Around 30 of us have joined the firm in this intake, with eight in the financial services team. For the first couple of weeks we had external training, learning about the basics of debits and credits and how to use audit software, then we had some online training on compliance, anti-money laundering and bribery, and data analytics software. Having completed that, I’ve now started client work – my first official work experience for my ICAEW training file!

In a few weeks’ time I’ll have my first two weeks of college tuition, and then I’ll be sitting my Accounting and Assurance exams in late October. I’m hoping that the Certificate Level won’t feel too daunting – or not as intense as the Professional and Advanced Levels at least! Before I joined I was a bit worried about how I’ll fit in studying around work, but I’ve been getting some great advice from my buddy – every trainee has a buddy in the previous year’s intake, and she’s been such a help. She told me that it was something that worried her too at first, but it’s all about willpower, and motivating yourself to do the work. I’m planning to make myself a study timetable, and I’ll make sure I complete the homework set by my college tutor too.

It’s been so helpful to have my buddy, and to be able to speak to my fellow trainees – we’ve already created an intake group chat, and we’ve just had our first divisional social. As long as we’ve got each other we’ll be fine, because we’re all in the same boat at the end of the day. We’re already planning some Zoom study sessions for the Law module, as that’s a self-study exam for us – I think it will be so much better to have that interaction rather than just doing the reading by yourself. I’m going to look into joining a Student Society too, so that I can meet other ACA trainees and get insights from different firms.

I’m hoping to qualify within three years, and then after that I plan to stay in audit. At some point in the future I’d quite like to teach again, or maybe even lecture. The great thing about accountancy is that you can go into almost any field – you’ll never run out of opportunities.

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