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Student Insights

Take your first step in finance with ICAEW CFAB

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 06 Mar 2024

Long Exposure over the Lagan River over to the Custom House in Belfast, Northern Ireland city skyline

Looking to secure a job in the financial sector? Two professionals working in Belfast explain how completing the ICAEW Certificate of Finance and Business helped them build fulfilling careers.

Kylie Donnelly, Corporate Finance Manager at financial advisory firm HNH in Belfast, didn’t initially have ambitions of becoming an accountant. But after spending a summer working in her family’s shoe retail business, she decided to make the leap. Kylie applied to PwC to undertake the ICAEW Certificate of Finance and Business and work in the valuations team. “I decided to complete the qualification at PwC to get work experience,” she explains. “Doing a qualification at the same time as working put me in a better position in the job market.”

Matthew Ward, Manager in PwC’s venture capital fundraising team, also joined the firm to gain experience and study ICAEW CFAB. Having finished his A Level exams, he was weighing up university offers to study economics or business when he first learned about the qualification. “I was generally interested in business, but after hearing more about the opportunities available to me through this pathway, I was keen to pursue it and get straight into employment,” he says. 

Going straight from A Levels to studying and working at the same time was a “learning curve,” Matthew says, but PwC provided a learning pathway with tutoring across the different ICAEW CFAB subjects. The firm booked exam sittings, timetabled in tutor time each week, and allocated study days. “We got to experience both independent study and learning on the job,” he explains. “You might learn something in class on Monday, and then get to apply it just a few days later.”

Kylie was completely new to accountancy and found studying for ICAEW CFAB useful in both personal and professional respects. “Very basic aspects of accounting like debits and credits were completely new to me,” she recalls. “I found the tax element of the course useful for everyday life, too, and the legal aspect was interesting. I’d never had the chance to delve into law so it was great to gain that knowledge.”

ICAEW CFAB uncovered my interest in the entrepreneurial and strategic side of business. For a lot of people, it’s the ultimate opportunity to dip their toe into the industry

Matthew Ward, Manager, PwC

Six modules make up ICAEW CFAB: Business, Technology and Finance; Management Information; Accounting; Law; Assurance; and Principles of Taxation. The modules provide students with a solid grounding in business and are designed to develop and strengthen skills valuable in the workplace. “It provided me with a lot of foundational knowledge and a broad overview of business,” says Matthew. “Not only could I apply what I was learning and better interpret tasks I was doing for work, I also got a feel for what I liked and didn’t like as much.”

Matthew chose to complete the ACA qualification after ICAEW CFAB and now works with start-ups in venture capital. “ICAEW CFAB uncovered my interest in the entrepreneurial and strategic side of business,” he says. “For a lot of people, it’s the ultimate opportunity to dip their toe into the industry.”

Kylie also qualified as a chartered accountant and now works in mergers and acquisitions. She agrees with Matthew that it was completing ICAEW CFAB that set her up for a career in accountancy and finance: “It helped me decide what I wanted to do. It gives a really good business grounding. And it gives you good time management skills, too. You have to be disciplined with your time to make sure you’re doing quality study so you can pass the exams.”

ICAEW CFAB helped me decide what I wanted to do. It gives a really good business grounding. And it gives you good time management skills, too

Kylie Donnelly, Corporate Finance Manager, HNH

Matthew and Kylie went on to study for the ACA, but ICAEW CFAB opens up many different career opportunities. “If you’re a school leaver, and you’ve spent a year completing ICAEW CFAB, it’s tangible, and it’s helpful for you to use as a stepping stone,” Matthew says. “It gives you exposure to the different parts of the industry and opens up your eyes to the fact that accountancy is not just about bookkeeping.”

Kylie agrees that ICAEW CFAB allows people to find out very quickly what aspects of business are important to them. “I know people who started degrees after ICAEW CFAB: one is doing a law degree because she enjoyed the law module and one is studying international business,” she says. “ICAEW CFAB helps you to make better decisions about what you want to pursue. Coming out of school, you don’t necessarily have that insight.”

Crucially, it’s about giving people the knowledge and skills to take that next step, whatever it might be. “Mine and Kylie’s pathways are both different and similar,” says Matthew. “We both joined PwC with different backgrounds, both completed ICAEW CFAB, and both went on to study for the ACA. But now I work with scaling up early stage businesses and Kylie has worked across valuations, consulting and corporate finance. It’s ICAEW CFAB that gave us the ability to begin pursuing careers in those different fields.”

The ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB) is an internationally recognised qualification that teaches essential knowledge in business, finance and accounting. If you are looking to increase your financial skills, considering a career in business, or even thinking about starting your own company, then ICAEW CFAB is ideal for you. Learn more about the certificate.

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