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Student Insights

A world of opportunities

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 02 Feb 2023

ICAEW Students international travel young lady airport trolley

With an internationally recognised qualification behind you, the world really is your oyster. Two members tell us where the ACA qualification has taken them.

Eimear Gunn, Assistant Audit Manager, Grant Thornton Singapore

I grew up in Belfast and studied accountancy and finance at Liverpool University. I spent a few years working as a finance contractor, but I realised it wasn’t the career for me – it was very much day-to-day, and I wanted to get stuck into more long-term, project-based work. So, I decided to go travelling and look for a graduate trainee position when I got back. I only applied to ICAEW authorised training employers – with the combination of exams and on-the-job experience, I felt the ACA was the best fit for me – and joined a small firm called Booth Ainsworth in Stockport.

Working abroad was something I’d always wanted to do. When I was travelling, I’d visited my sister, who was living in Singapore at the time, and loved everything about her lifestyle. So, once I was approaching qualifying, I started looking at different opportunities. I knew I wanted to continue my career in audit, which was lucky because it’s such a good job to travel with. I’d applied for some jobs in Singapore, but it can be difficult when you don’t have a network there and no one really knows you. Then I discovered that a friend I’d met through the Manchester Chartered Accountants Students’ Society (MCASS) was working at Grant Thornton, and he put a word in for me. It shows that the contacts you can make through ICAEW and the networks you can build really last.

I moved to Singapore in March 2020, and had one day in my new job before the country went into lockdown due to the pandemic. Obviously, it wasn’t what I expected when I signed my contract, but I don’t look back on it negatively. Luckily, my partner was already here, and I spent a lot more time exploring Singapore in the first six months than I would have done if I’d been able to travel abroad. It took a bit longer to get to know my new colleagues and build those bonds, but everyone was as supportive as they could be. When you move to a new place, no matter which city or country, you should make use of any contacts you’ve got, because everyone’s been in the same boat.

Singapore is a great place to work. It’s a hub for businesses from all over the world, and there’s such a range of business types here, so I’m getting to see a lot of different clients and get that strong experience. It’s very diverse, and very fast-paced, especially compared to the UK. Because it’s so fast-paced, you need to take advantage of your time off and make sure you have a good work-life balance, and it offers a lot in that respect, too. You’ve got the beaches, great parks, an amazing food scene and lots of different activities and pop-up events. And it’s a great travel hub. There’s an abundance of stuff to do. I’m enjoying life here, and I don’t have any intention of leaving anytime soon!

Daniel Wilde, Regional Finance Manager, The Halo Trust, Dumfries, Scotland

I took a slightly unusual route to the ACA – I don’t have a university degree, nor did I follow the AAT pathway. After leaving school, I worked for a small family business where I did a bit of everything, including finance. I soon discovered I was interested in it and good at it, so I started to explore it more formally, and studied accountancy at college as a mature student. Towards the end of my time there, an opportunity came up to join a firm in Carlisle as an ACA trainee. The ACA really appealed because it’s so highly regarded. It felt like a good investment of time and effort, especially training with an ICAEW member firm with all the skills, resources and support mechanisms in place.

Working in practice, I had the good fortune to be involved with a wide range of clients, from farms to big companies and everything in between. I found I enjoyed working with our non-profit clients the most – charity accounting is a bit more complex, so there’s more to get your teeth into. Also, charity clients, especially small to medium ones, don’t always have access to the same level of professional financial expertise, so your advice is more valuable to them. Working directly in the non-profit sector was something I was interested in doing at some point, but when the role at The HALO Trust came up, I’d only just qualified. I didn’t feel quite ready for it, but it was too good an opportunity not to take seriously. 

The HALO Trust is a global humanitarian NGO with landmine clearance programmes in 28 countries and territories. As a regional finance manager, I am based in the UK headquarters but support our programmes in South Asia. We have finance people embedded in those programmes locally, and my job is to support them remotely with finance advice and expertise, helping to manage our funding, grants and contracts. It’s the best of both worlds – my family and I are settled in Scotland, but I get the opportunity to travel out to these programmes, whether it be for an internal audit-type engagement, or to sort of parachute in and provide focused support on any issues they may be having.

Being able to see what we’re doing in those countries and the impact we’re having in the communities is excellent. Last year, I travelled around the whole patch – it’s an incredible part of the world, especially visiting the more rural, authentic areas that tourists don’t normally see. I also really enjoy being part of something that is more about people. And when I do go out to visit the programmes and communities that we’re working in, it really brings that home. I come back to the UK feeling really motivated and renewed.

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