Winning ICAEW prizes led to an unexpected but rewarding career change for Kieran Doe: sharing the secrets of his success with other ACA students.
When Kieran Doe was considering the ACA qualification, he wasn’t put off by the prospect of 15 more exams – quite the opposite in fact. “I’d won several prizes at school and university for exam performance, so sitting more exams and obtaining a qualification appealed to me,” he explains.
Having always enjoyed working with numbers, he completed a Master’s degree in International Business Management at King’s College London. Then, he says, it was a choice between accountancy and investment banking. “After doing some research, I quickly became aware of how prestigious and highly regarded the ACA qualification was. I think it’s always good to have a qualification behind you. Experience is obviously important, but when you’ve got a qualification it’s a hallmark of your skills.”
After undertaking work experience in the industry and speaking with various connections, Kieran decided that he wanted to train with a Big Four firm, and joined EY’s graduate scheme in 2011. “EY’s focus on people was of particular appeal to me,” he says. “Even though they have a large headcount, I always felt as if I was treated as an individual. Right from the start, I was working with people who were at the top of their game, and it really pushed me to achieve my potential.”
Like many ACA students, he found balancing work with studying and exams difficult at first. “It was challenging, mainly because of the number of exams we had to sit in a short period. Whilst I’m organised and motivated, there simply wasn’t enough time to cover each exam in as much detail as I would have liked,” he says. “It really does take it to a whole new level in terms of the pressure you’re under.”
Those challenges didn’t stop Kieran fulfilling his potential, though: he passed all 15 ACA exams first time, and was awarded ICAEW prizes for Financial Accounting and Reporting, Audit, Tax, Financial Management, Business Strategy and Case Study. “That was a real sense of achievement,” he remembers. “It was nice just to have passed, but to have won prizes was the icing on the cake.”
He believes winning the ICAEW prizes has undoubtedly helped his career. “Each time I won, the partner at EY would send an email around the office congratulating me, and I was invited to ICAEW prizegiving ceremonies and dinners, some of which I attended with managers and directors from EY,” he says. “All of this helped raise my profile, as well as giving me a talking point in later interviews. It was perhaps an indicator of me being someone who can achieve at the highest levels.”
It was also the catalyst for a change in career direction. “After I won prizes, other students at EY would start asking if I could help them with their exams, and they were willing to pay me for my time,” he explains. “The same thing had happened when I was at university a few years earlier and had won prizes. So that’s really what set me on the path to becoming an ACA tutor.”
In 2015, he moved to Tesco to gain some experience in industry. “It was a very difficult decision to leave EY, but working at a big FTSE 100 company was a valuable experience,” he says. “After I’d been there for three years, I moved into a part-time role at PayPoint, which at the time was a FTSE 250 company. It was quite a shift from EY and Tesco, but I got to work with the Group Finance Director and other board members, which helped build my confidence.”
It was while at Tesco in 2016 that he set up his tutoring business, ACA Masters. “Doing exams is what I’m best at,” he says. “I’m quite an unusual person in that I love doing exams, and I love finding the most efficient way to approach them. So becoming an ACA tutor was a natural fit for me. I set up ACA Masters to teach the exam techniques and learning strategies behind my success to the next generation of ACA students. As an ICAEW Partner in Learning, we work with ICAEW to develop students to the high level that is required and expected of a chartered accountant.”
Most of ACA Masters’ tuition is video-based, though they also offer one-to-one sessions. “Video courses offer maximum flexibility because students can focus on the topics they need most help with and use the classes at a time that suits them,” Kieran explains. “Because they’re available 24/7, students can watch them at any given opportunity – while they’re eating breakfast, on the way to work, during lunch breaks… whenever and wherever.”
While he has offered video courses since 2017, Kieran is finding that increasing numbers of students are embracing online tuition since the pandemic. So what does he think makes his approach so successful? “There are two elements to my tuition: teaching the technical content, and demonstrating the exam technique to use,” he says. “Firstly, because I have a comprehensive understanding of the subjects, I can simplify the technical content and teach it in a way that students easily understand. Secondly, my approach focuses heavily on exam technique. During the classes, I work through exam questions so I can show students the exam technique I used when I sat my exams. I can demonstrate and teach them how to score as many marks as possible within the challenging time allocation.”
Now tutoring full-time, Kieran doesn’t miss his time in practice and industry. “I always really enjoyed the technical work, and I get plenty of that with the ACA. It’s a technically challenging qualification, so it keeps me really sharp,” he explains. “I find teaching incredibly rewarding. I’ve had students come to me on their final attempt, on the verge of losing their job, and I’ve got them through. The relief they experience on results day is quite something. Others have come after struggling in a traditional college setting, and feeling as though they’re falling behind their peers, and we’ve ended up getting them top marks. To be able to add that much value and have such a significant impact on someone’s life is very rewarding.”
The proof is in the results: several of Kieran’s students have gone on to win ICAEW prizes themselves. “In fact, one of my students won the prize for the highest Case Study score in the world – even though they had previously failed,” he says. “To me, the prizes my students have won are a greater achievement than the prizes I’ve won myself. It shows that I can transfer my technical understanding and exam technique skills to others. That’s more of an achievement than just being able to do something yourself. If you can teach someone else how to do it, that’s an even greater thing.”