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My ACA experience: Catherine

After completing a civil engineering degree Catherine decided to become a Chartered Accountant. She secured an ACA training agreement with Smith and Williamson and completed the ACA. She now leads audit teams and has travelled the UK, was seconded to Dublin for three months and got to meet the first man to ever sail round the world single-handed non-stop. She says the stuffy stereotypes of accountants could not be more wrong.

Catherine Alton, qualified senior at Smith and Williamson

Catherine Alton Qualified Senior Accountant, Smith and Williamson

ICAEW route: Graduate - non-finance degree

Industry: Audit and assurance

Location: UK, Southampton

Catherine's story...

I finished school with four A levels and went on to study Civil Engineering at the University of Nottingham.

I did some work experience, but I couldn’t see myself continuing down that career path so began investigating professions that would suit my skills, becoming an ICAEW Chartered Accountant seemed like a good fit.

Once I set my sights on becoming an ICAEW Chartered Accountant I secured a training agreement with Smith & Williamson, an accountancy and investment management group.

From almost day one I was dealing with clients and over my three-year training agreement I gradually developed my experience by taking new areas of the clients’ accounts to audit.

Now that I am a fully qualified senior accountant, day to day, I plan the audits, lead the fieldwork stage of the audit and ensure that the reports needed at the end are complete.

I am the primary link between my firm and our client, so I am responsible for leading the audit team, which can consist of up to eight people.

However, I’m not just out on audits.

Over the past four years I have travelled the UK reviewing the stage of completion of construction projects, counted cars in hail storms, been taught how to brew the perfect cup of tea, counted more Girls Aloud eyelashes than you can imagine, spent time Googling people and companies, and I have even met the first man to ever sail round the world single handed non-stop, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston!

The highlight of my career has been getting the chance to go on secondment to Dublin. I lived there for three months and it gave me exposure to: new industry sectors, Irish accounting standards and, of course, the experience of living in a new country.

On a social side, I was there for the Six Nations and St Patrick’s Day which were unforgettable experiences.

I’ve had challenging moments in my career too. During my busy season I was the senior in charge of the firm’s largest audit, the client had a new finance team and the time schedule was very tight.

I was the main link between the firm and the client which meant I had numerous conference calls, emails and late nights. I had to ensure that my team and the client were happy.

People are what make my job so enjoyable. Our clients are really good fun and the audit teams and managers have a good sense of humour, which results in a good atmosphere, out at the clients’ premises and in the office.

I have been well equipped for dealing with the challenges I face, as the ACA qualification has given me knowledge of aspects of management accounting, the UK legal system, tax (both personal and corporate), as well as pure accounting knowledge. 

Through the ICAEW, I have access to a vast range of resources, from excel training to business speaking workshops, to name just a few.

To anyone who is considering a career in chartered accountancy I say: ‘Don’t believe the stereotype.’ 

I initially discounted accountancy because I thought that it would be full of old men sat in a room in silence all day. However, I have since found out that this is not even close to the truth. 

Go to careers fairs, talk to as many people as you can and see for yourself how varied the profession is.

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