Careers in Audit and Assurance

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How about skipping Uni in favour of gaining professional qualifications?

Mike Ayres

Mike Ayres, Director, Audit & Assurance, Farnborough Office

Whilst many Menzies trainees are graduates, every year we also accept applicants who have previously studied to college level, to complete the AAT fast-track (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualification.

The AAT qualification is an excellent access point to our industry and provides a strong grounding in accounting. Starting with the basics and ramping up the complexity of the exams through levels three and four. It takes around two years to complete whilst you are also gaining experience of working in the profession.

Following completion of AAT, the majority of our trainees are offered the opportunity to apply to study ACA. This is the same qualification that graduates would study, though as a qualified AAT there are exemptions from up to five of the initial exams as these are deemed to have been adequately covered by the AAT qualification.

What are the advantages of choosing the AAT route?

  1. An AAT accountant may be younger. (AAT takes one year less than a typical three-year university course.)
  2. An AAT qualified accountant would have two years of practical experience.
  3. An AAT accountant may have fewer exams to take when it comes to studying the ACA than a graduate. (Some university courses will also offer exemptions from selected ACA exams.)
  4. An AAT accountant will not have accumulated any student debt.
  5. An AAT accountant will have been earning a full-time salary for two years.

Non-standard trainee path

Though AAT applicants tend to be younger, this is not always the case. Personally, I joined Menzies in 2010 as a 27-year-old, having previously worked in banks and building societies for eight years after finishing college. I had decided to pursue a career in accounting after being made redundant from my previous role during the financial crisis, despite having options to continue in finance.

Although I was studying with other trainees nine years younger than me, this was never something that bothered me or the others in my cohort.  I was also accepted into the trainee team in my office without issue. It never concerned me that the person who gave me the most guidance was five years younger than me. They had completed their ACA the same month that I started (having previously been an AAT trainee), and I respected what they had achieved. I joined others continuing their studies on nights out and age never felt an issue.

I completed AAT after two years and ACA three years later. Six years on I am now a Director in the Audit & Assurance team as well as head of the Financial Services sector.

The rewarding role of a Training Manager

For 5 years after I qualified, I was also a Training Manager, assisting other AAT and ACA trainees through their qualifications. There are many elements to this role including:

  • providing regular feedback on the work completed,
  • attending meetings with the trainees and a representative from the training provider to discuss progress,
  • ensuring trainees stay on track with their qualification; and,
  • listening to any issues or problems trainees may have to ensure nothing stands in the way of their development.

During this time, I was fortunate enough to see many trainees through the process and though some have now moved on, a lot of them are still around me today.

There is no ‘one thing’ that makes one trainee successful over another, but there is something that is consistently stated by them all: putting in the time to study for what are very difficult, but certainly passable, exams. No-one walks their way to becoming a successful accountant – they work hard on their study to ensure that they give themselves the best possible chance to pass each exam.

How do I describe a day in the life of an auditor?

n shah from menzies

Nimita Shah, Senior Manager, Audit & Assurance, London Office

When I tell people that I’m an auditor, they often they often ask me what I do daily. The old stereotype of someone who is good at maths, buried in spreadsheets and numbers and ticking boxes couldn’t be further from the truth.

As a trainee I would often travel to client’s offices with my team, staying in hotels always looking forward to meeting clients in a new environment whilst learning how to carry out new audit tests.  The occasional stock count was also a treat. However, I always enjoyed returning to the office home base to catch up with my colleagues and see what they have been up to.

Before the pandemic this was the life of a trainee and Covid has further highlighted the importance of being in the office or onsite with your colleagues, working in a team, learning how to read people’s reactions as you make your enquiries, developing relationships and building your own networks. All of this is much more difficult when working at home.

Travelling to different clients can be quite attractive as you can develop an understanding of different industries and sectors from not for profit to retail. You’re in a unique position to see the inner workings of lots of different businesses, from which vantage point you can choose to specialise in a particular sector. Even if you choose not to continue with a career in audit after your training contract, you might find a particular sector that you want to work in.

When I became a Manager, I stopped travelling  to clients and my role was very much office based, but no less varied! My days would consist of reviewing audit files whilst project managing, budgeting, resourcing and arranging audits.

As an Audit Manager I learned to expect the unexpected, be it in the form of an email or phone call from clients or the audit team requesting my assistance. I savour the chance to come up with a solution to a technical challenge. Every day is different to the day before and I can honestly say that I never get bored. 

Recently I took part in a pilot programme for audit software which uses robotics to enhance some of the audit testing we do. I relished the chance to use exciting new technology and one of the things I love about working in audit is the chance to use slick pieces of software that make my job so much easier.

I enjoy meeting with my clients and, because of the pandemic, face to face meetings now often take place online. The advantage of this however, is that we have far more of them. I can now see my clients in LA or have regular face to face meetings with my colleagues from an HLB (network) office in Canada.

Now, as a Senior Manager, I realise the importance of people in our business. I spend a lot of time coaching and developing more junior members of the team, conducting performance reviews, interviewing graduate trainees or developing training sessions for our trainees. I have seen some of my trainees develop right through their three-year training contract and I feel proud to say that I contributed to their development.

One of the challenges of working in audit is the constant change in regulations that require us to keep training and never stand still. However, this also means that the profession is constantly evolving and no two days in the life an auditor are ever the same.

Ultimately, I think one of the most rewarding parts of being an auditor is knowing that your work is valued by your clients and feeling satisfied at the ‘closing’ meeting where the client thanks you for all the hard work the whole team has put in.

What does it take to be an auditor in four words? Communication, Confidence, Commitment and Collaboration

Claire Workman - Menzies Accountant

Claire Workman, Senior Manager, Audit & Assurance, Woking Office

There is much more to being an auditor than being good at maths, which is the general stereotypical perception of an auditor.  As well as technical exams that an auditor will undertake as part of their training contract, there are many soft skills that a good auditor will naturally have that will be developed throughout their training period to stand the auditor in good stead for their future career. 

One of the key attributes that an auditor should have is excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.  Auditors liaise with clients on a daily basis via onsite visits, emails, phone calls and meetings.  An auditor should therefore be able to tailor their language depending on who they are speaking to, for example technical language may be used when speaking to a Finance Director whereas layman’s terms may be used when speaking to a Managing Director who may not be familiar with accounting jargon.

An auditor is usually a self-assured person who is willing to challenge explanations given to them to test the validity and find supporting evidence.  Auditors will either be naturally confident, or their confidence will grow with the more experience that they gain from visiting a variety of clients in different sectors.  Auditors should be confident to challenge the opinion of clients when appropriate. 

An auditor should also be good at finding solutions and thinking on their feet.  Often an auditor will know what audit test they want to complete but it may not be possible to complete a test in the usual way due to limitation in the documentation that a client retains or the reports that the client’s software can produce.  An auditor would have the skills to identify a suitable alternative method to test their objective and work around any problems that they overcome.  

Integrity is another extremely important key attribute of an auditor.  Auditors must be honest and behave with integrity at all times. This is particularly important as auditors are trusted with highly confidential data.   

An auditor should have good work ethic, strong commitment and well-developed organisational skills.  Auditors work to deadlines, which are sometime very short, so an auditor needs to be committed to completing a job by the required date.  This requires the ability to prioritise work and delegate to members of the team where necessary. 

Auditors work in small teams to complete their audits. Therefore, it is essential that auditors are team players and are comfortable to spend time training staff at lower levels and giving feedback to coach and develop newer members of the team.  It is crucial that they are prepared to pass work down to new trainees to give them the opportunities to learn and progress.  New audit trainees should be open to opportunities to push themselves to do work outside of their comfort zone and ask questions and learn from the feedback given to them.  This will help with their development in the workplace. 

An auditor gains a wealth of experience of different sizes of businesses in diverse industries by spending time at each client to complete their audit work.  The knowledge gained can be used to spot weaknesses in client’s systems.  An auditor should be confident to be able to feedback any weaknesses or opportunities that they identify for clients to the relevant Manager or Partner to then communicate to the client in the appropriate format. 

Working in audit exposes an individual to such a variety of work that it makes each day different and, overall a very interesting and fulfilling career.    

Why is audit a great place to start a career?

Rachel Bishop, Senior, Audit & Assurance, Farnborough Office

There are many reasons why I would consider audit to be a great place to start a career. Firstly, working within audit gives you the opportunity to travel to various client premises and meet new people. This allows you to develop your communication skills and become more confident within yourself. Not only is this a key skill for work, but it is also valuable in your personal life.

Working in audit gives you a more detailed view of how businesses function internally and provides an insight into how businesses make their strategic and financial decisions.  This is valuable for understanding how businesses operate and what goes on ‘behind closed doors’. These skills are not only valuable within audit but are also transferrable to various other roles within finance and the wider industry.

In audit you experience the full audit process, understanding what the key risks are to both the business and the audit firm and how these risks can be mitigated. One of the best things within audit is that every client is different, and this provides variety on a frequent basis.

Within the audit team you build very close relationships from trainees through to partners. These relationships allow you to develop and learn from each other as you progress through the very clear career ladder at Menzies. The ladder itself provides motivation to progress through your career as you get to interact with others around you who have also been in your position. The managers and partners themselves are always willing to assist and impart their knowledge and experience.

As you gain more experience, you will begin to mentor new starters and help them with any queries that they have. This helps you to solidify your own knowledge whilst developing some leadership skills when you begin to act as the senior on audits. This is a very rewarding part of the job and makes you appreciate things you probably didn’t know you knew!

By starting a career in audit, you are immediately surrounded by a network of other trainees who are all in the same position as you in studying for their qualification. You therefore constantly have support from your peers across Menzies who are always happy to offer you help and guidance. Sometimes this is done by providing 360 feedback from those within your team. Menzies is very supportive when it comes to your exams and you will be assigned a Training Manager who will support you through the training process, and even on the dreaded results day!  This support network makes the thought of studying for exams whilst working slightly less daunting!

Menzies also offer a Trainee Academy which provides skills training such as business writing skills and time management courses to continue to help your own personal development. Starting my career off in audit has been the best decision of my life and one I will always encourage others to consider, not least because of the life experiences and personal and professional development you can gain in as little as three years.

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