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Student Insights

What’s it like to… qualify later in life

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Sep 2023

Kate Kennerson CFAB to ACA student accountant ICAEW Students

Due to unexpected circumstances, Kate Kennerson spread her ICAEW CFAB and ACA studies over a decade – but that has only made the achievement all the sweeter.

Kate Kennerson has a vision of herself as a fully qualified ICAEW Chartered Accountant. She’s sitting in the Business Centre at Chartered Accountants’ Hall in London “disrupting the norm”, as she puts it. 

Kate has had a different student journey in the accountancy sector than many. After leaving school at 16, Kate worked in various administrative roles before completing a degree in media as a mature student. Accountancy wasn’t something she’d considered until she was looking for part-time work after starting a family. “I put a note in the parish newsletter asking if anybody needed any ad hoc secretarial help, and someone asked if I did bookkeeping,” she remembers. “I said, ‘No, but I can learn.’ That was my first foray into accountancy, and I liked it. I liked the absoluteness of whether something is right or wrong.”

Over the next few years, Kate built up a small bookkeeping business – but it wasn’t long before she wanted to learn more. “I’d got to grips with the software and the fundamentals of debits and credits, but I felt like I didn’t really know what happened after the bookkeeping bit – the next level up the accounts,” she explains. “It made me realise that I was quite vulnerable in my position; that I wouldn’t necessarily know if I was being complicit in something. I decided I needed to know more to better protect myself, so I started looking into qualifications.”

Kate Kennerson CFAB to ACA student accountant ICAEW Students

With the credibility of a historic institution behind it, the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB) was a natural choice. Kate joined a small practice in Surrey, where she lived at the time, and began her studies. She remembers going into the office after sitting – and failing – her first exam, and her boss asking about her exam technique. “What exam technique? I didn’t have one,” she says. “I hadn’t sat an exam since my GCSEs, so I didn’t really know what that meant. She showed me how to tackle multiple-choice questions, and how to handle an exam under pressure.”

Kate completed four of the six ICAEW CFAB exams while working at the practice, but family bereavements meant that juggling work, studying and young children suddenly became even more challenging. “I failed the fifth exam, and I was finding it incredibly difficult anyway,” she admits. “It was a far cry from bookkeeping where everything was right or wrong. I felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew, so I dropped out and went to work for my husband’s boiler company. Because I was finding it so hard, it was easy to walk away from it – and I didn’t return to it until 10 years later.”

It may have been the ‘easy’ option at the time, but Kate threw herself into her husband’s business with her customary enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge, becoming a Gas Safe Registered Engineer herself, as well as looking after the office admin and company accounts. When the business was sold in 2019, she joined another small accountancy practice part-time – but with no intention of restarting the ICAEW CFAB. “I felt like that Management Information exam was my nemesis, and I couldn’t beat it,” she says. But a conversation with a colleague at the same stage in the qualification, as well as a further family bereavement, caused her to reconsider.

“I didn’t want to look back and regret that I hadn’t completed it,” she says. “I didn’t finish my A levels, I’ve chopped and changed around so many jobs and dropped in and out of things, and I hated that propensity in myself. I felt like the ICAEW CFAB was unfinished business. I wanted to tackle my imposter syndrome – that voice that tells me I can’t do it, or I’m not clever enough – and finish something that I’d started.”

Kate Kennerson CFAB to ACA student accountant ICAEW Students

She started looking for a permanent role to complete the ICAEW CFAB and joined Multiply Accountancy in 2021, which has also enabled her to progress towards the ACA qualification. After years of “chopping and changing”, Kate has finally found somewhere she feels at home. “I love doing what I’m doing, and I love the company I work for,” she says. “The directors treat me as an equal rather than a trainee, and that’s lovely. I feel really lucky to have found Multiply and have these opportunities.”

She admits that, when she first joined, reaching qualification seemed like a mountain to climb. “It was quite overwhelming looking ahead and knowing that I had 11 more exams to go, when it had taken me 10 or 11 years to get four done!” she says. Now, though, there is just the Advanced Level Case Study left to tackle, which she plans to sit in November.

With the finish line now in sight, Kate feels immensely proud of what she has achieved. “Sometimes I think I should have done this in my 20s, but I’m happy where I am now,” she says. “I think it’s been good for my children to see that you can learn at any age, and that it doesn’t matter if you don’t figure out what you want to do right away. So for that reason, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had the experience of being resourceful enough to know that if I want something, I can learn it.”

What advice does she have for others just starting out on their ACA journey? “It’s all about the journey,” she says. “It’s all about your self-development: whether you do get back up when you fail, whether you find the resilience to continue in the face of the obstacle. Those are the things that will help you in anything you want to do in other areas of your life as well as your accountancy career. Nothing good comes easily – if it’s difficult, the reward is so much sweeter. Don’t give up – who knows where it could lead? ”

Support is available throughout your journey with ICAEW. Take a look at the ICAEW CFAB exam resources, ACA exam resources, and don’t forget you can contact the student support team.

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