At Bupa, Level 7 apprentices Henry Michaelson and Changel Biju are enjoying a varied introduction to business finance within a supportive environment.
With 43 million customers and 82,000 employees worldwide, it makes sense for international healthcare specialist Bupa to home-grow its own finance talent. Four or five Level 7 apprentices join the Finance & Governance graduate programme each September, moving through three 12-month rotations on their path to the ACA qualification. Since 2020, all the apprentices have come via Bupa’s student placement scheme – including Henry Michaelson, who joined in 2022, and Changel Biju, who joined in 2023.
“The student placement year really set me up for my career going forward,” Henry says. “Before that, I had assumed this was what I wanted to do – my degree was in international business, finance and economics – but until you actually do the job, you don’t really know.” Having taken part in an ICAEW competition whilst at school, the fact that Bupa’s apprenticeship programme offered the ACA qualification was key to Henry’s decision to join. “I knew the ACA was something I wanted to do. The qualification is really well recognised, so you’ve always got that to fall back on.”
The qualification is really well recognised, so you’ve always got that to fall back on
Changel describes her student placement year, which she completed as part of a degree in economics, as “an amazing experience”. “I was able to grow a lot, which had a huge impact on my decision to continue working in finance,” she says. For her, it was the rotational nature of Bupa’s graduate programme that most appealed. “I knew it would give me a well-rounded introduction to finance, and enable me to figure out my likes and dislikes and where my strengths and weaknesses lie,” she explains.
The programme is designed to give apprentices a broad and varied introduction to the business. Graduates rotate on an annual basis, often spending a year in internal audit or risk, or outside head office in the wider UK business, to give them a different experience from the pure finance teams. To meet the requirements of the Level 7 apprenticeship alongside the ACA, students spend a minimum of six hours a week on off-the-job training. They have regular progress reviews with a skills coach at their tuition provider, and complete an end-point assessment at the end of the three-year programme.
Changel is spending her first year with the Group Financial Reporting team. “Every day is different, but my role mainly involves running reports, posting journals, different variations of analysis of the data received, and communicating with various teams to ensure we have accurate data,” she explains. She has completed two ACA exams so far, and admits that balancing work, studying and exams has been “a huge learning curve”. The skills she is gaining from the apprenticeship are undoubtedly helping in her role, though. “My time management skills and ability to work under pressure have greatly improved,” she says. Another key skill she has learned is the importance of professional scepticism. “Although I was always quite inquisitive, the concept of having a questioning mind has encouraged me to ask more to better understand what I’m doing, and I believe that has helped me to spot errors in my work.”
I know completing the ACA will provide me with the knowledge and skills that will open many doors
Henry also spent his first year in Group Financial Reporting and is now with Group Treasury. He, too, has found the skills he is gaining from the apprenticeship relevant and applicable in his day-to-day role – “more than I actually ever anticipated,” he says. As well as honing his teamwork skills through liaising with diverse people across the business, the challenges of balancing a full-time role with study and exams have helped him become more resilient. “Another skill I’ve learned is problem-solving,” he adds. “Not everything in real life is as simple as it is often in exams and textbooks. So, it’s about applying my experiences throughout the apprenticeship and trying to fix problems as I come to them.”
Now almost halfway through the three-year programme, Henry has successfully completed 10 of the 15 ACA exams. “From my point of view, none of it’s been too complicated so far,” he says. “It’s just about dedicating the time towards it.” Partly that’s down to the supportive culture at Bupa, he adds. “I find the support we receive through the apprenticeship really helpful. We’re able to plan our time and our studying around work. So, crucially, my evenings have always been free to focus on revision.”
As well as line managers who support them with their day-to-day work, apprentices are assigned an ICAEW skills counsellor at Bupa. They can also call on the Early Careers team for help with any personal or study-related issues and, being a healthcare company, there is plenty of wellbeing support available. “The free massages on a Wednesday are definitely my favourite benefit!” says Henry. “But there are lots of other helpful things, like the ‘lunch and learns’ where we can benefit from other people’s experiences.”
A few months into her apprenticeship journey, Changel already feels at home. “My managers and mentors have been incredibly supportive and understanding of the fact I am new to the team and new to accounting and studying,” she says. “I don’t know yet what my future holds and where I’d like to base my career, but I know completing the ACA will provide me with the knowledge and skills that will open many doors.”