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My ACA experience: James

James began working at BHP in September 2020 following studying chemistry at university and working as a research and development scientist for a chemical manufacturing company.

James Thompson

James Thompson Assistant Accountant, BHP

ICAEW route: Graduate

Industry: Charity

Location: Sheffield

James' story...

Tell us about your career journey and what you do day-to-day in your role. 

I began working at BHP in September 2020 following studying chemistry at university and working as a research and development scientist for a chemical manufacturing company. Since joining, I have worked on a wide variety of clients, and I am a member of the specialist charities team.

Every day is different, and I alternate between working in the office or out on a client site. I have progressed from working as an audit assistant to now taking on the role of audit senior supervising other assistants on the audit. My role involves both accounts preparation and audit which is the best combination to learn the intricacies of financial reporting.

Why did you choose the ACA over other accounting qualifications?

The ACA is recognised as the premier accounting qualification, it is also very challenging to complete. It has a wide variety of modules allowing trainees to become proficient in all areas of finance. As well as modules on audit and financial reporting, there are tax, management accounting and strategic papers, allowing ACA holders to go on to a range of careers from practice to industry.

Who or what inspired you to become a chartered accountant?

Training as a chartered accountant gives the best background for a career finance. It allows trainees to look inside all areas of the organisation from revenue recognition processes to the strategic objectives of an organisation. Working in charities is particularly interesting as the strategic objectives are varied and do not just involve maximising profits.

Working in audit also has a significant benefit to society by ensuring that users of financial statements can place reliance on the information contained within them and maintaining the integrity of the market. The stringent review processes that come with working in practice also sharpen technical knowledge and encourage trainees to be very critical of their own work to drive up standards.

Our accountants are more than you’d imagine. They challenge the traditional accountancy routes and career paths. They have an innovative approach and skill to their work. How does your career path, attitude and skillset support this?

Working in R&D gave me some background in data analytics, BHP apply this to auditing by using data analytics software to analyse a client’s transactions for those of the highest risk. I also developed strong communication skills with regular catch-up meetings with other members of the research team, I have been able to apply this to audit and keep managers up to date with audit progress.

Do you think there is such a thing as a stereotypical accountant? If so, how do you challenge this stereotype?

One typical stereotype is that accountants work in the background preparing figures and that the job does not require communication skills. In contrast to this, my role as an auditor requires proficient communication and the confidence to challenge a client where we find errors or inconsistencies in their financial statements.

Why did you decide to go down the route you did?

I had always been interested in finance and had a questioning and sceptical mind. While working as a scientist I also found I was more interested in the cost analysis of the production process than carrying them out in the lab.

Working in audit allows me to apply scepticism daily to ensure that figures in the financial statements are true and fair. Many of our charity clients have significant responsibility for the conservation of our history and culture and our work ensures that they are making the best use of public funds.

What do you love the most about what you do? 

My senior colleagues at BHP have taken a real interest in my development and I have been assigned to jobs that will help me progress. I have also been given significant responsibility very early in my career and been supported by managers while holding this responsibility. I particularly enjoy supervising and coaching my junior colleagues and passing on the knowledge I gained as a new starter.

At ICAEW, we encourage applicants from all backgrounds. What skills do you bring to your career due to your degree and why did chartered accountancy appeal to you?

My background in research, development and manufacturing allows me to have more context of some of the clients we deal with. One of my specialities is working on grant audits where clients receive money from funding agencies for research projects. My background in research aids in analysing the figures included in the claim and helps me understand the aims of the research project.