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My ACA Experience: Rachael

Rachael went straight from school to completing the AAT level 3 and 4 qualifications before completing the ACA and becoming chartered.

Rachel Sumner

Rachael Sumner Audit Associate, Grant Thornton UK LLP

ICAEW route: AAT-ACA Fast Track

Industry: Audit and assurance

Location: UK

Rachael's story...

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

I first joined Grant Thornton on the audit school leaver programme in August 2016. I began my journey by completing the AAT Level 3 and Level 4 qualifications before moving onto the ACA qualification in 2018. By the time I had finished my AAT studies, I had been exposed to many challenging and fast paced environments including working on client audits in multiple industries from financial services to large private and listed companies. Many of these clients are key accounts within my office.

The day-to-day role includes liaising with clients and audit team members on detailed testing and reviews of financial statements and their compliance with the relevant financial reporting standards.

Why did you choose the ACA over other accounting qualifications?

This qualification is globally recognised by the finance world. It’s a challenging and rewarding qualification which gives you expertise in complex accounting, strategic corporate management and finance which generates numerous routes for career progression and development. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work towards this qualification.

Who or what inspired you to become a chartered accountant?

I had a difficult and challenging background as I worked my way through my GCSEs and A-Levels. This ignited a drive within me to better myself and set myself up for a stable future.

From an early age, I had enjoyed Maths and found myself naturally excelling in the subject. I went on to take Maths and Business Studies A-Level, where I found enjoyment and had a fantastic teacher who was personally invested in helping me further myself and find the right career for me. He inspired me to push myself and have confidence in my abilities and ultimately was my inspiration for choosing this career.

I spent a lot of time looking into this qualification and found that Grant Thornton and many other audit firms offered a school leaver programme straight out of Sixth Form. I knew very early on that university wasn’t for me as I wanted to work towards a qualification and future whilst earning. This gave me the perfect opportunity to put myself out there and hope that someone would take a chance on me. When I got offered a role at Grant Thornton, I was very excited and I knew that deciding against university was the right decision for me.

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

I think when people picture your stereotypical accountant, they’re normally seen to be upper class individuals who sit in front of a computer all day crunching numbers and they’re often perceived to be a little boring. This couldn’t be further from what I’ve experienced and I’m yet to find someone who fits this stereotype! It’s a high paced, highly complex, technical and challenging industry with constantly evolving standards and deadlines.

I’d say I firstly challenge this stereotype by being someone who has come from a lower socio-economic background and just worked hard and took a risk in applying for the programme, despite not believing I would be hired. I’m chatty and cheery, and I love the fast paced and challenging environment. You’re constantly pushed to grow and do the best quality work you can do. I’ve met some amazing people throughout who challenge this stereotype on a daily basis by doing what they do and doing it well, something I aim to do with everything I work on.

What advice would you give to aspiring accountants?

My biggest piece of advice would be to persevere with the qualification and work hard. The exams are challenging and demanding but they are extremely rewarding and are very much worth it. It can be hard to think of the bigger picture post qualifying, particularly for school leavers whose routes to qualification are longer than graduates. The expertise and practical skills you develop from working alongside the qualifications are irreplicable and the hard work now will benefit you greatly in the future.

What do you love the most about what you do and why?

I enjoy the unpredictability and challenges that come with the job. In audit, you work with so many different team members and clients in many different industries and each time, you’re challenged and stretched throughout. I love the people you get to meet and the sense of togetherness and relief you get when you complete a huge job. I love being in a position where I can now pass on my knowledge to more junior members of the team and help to contribute towards their growth and progression.

However, I’d say the bit I love the most is the constant feeling of accomplishment. You take the small wins with the big wins and whether it’s completing a large job or coaching someone through an issue, the rewarding feeling of helping or finishing something never gets old. And your team being with you every step of the way makes it even better.

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