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As part of Exeter Works’ blog post content, we recently spoke with Cate Davey at Thomas Westcott about how she got into ACCOUNTANCY:

What is your job?

I am a Corporate Finance Executive at Thomas Westcott Chartered Accountants. My team provides advice and support for companies and individuals undertaking mergers and acquisitions, selling their businesses or raising finance. The work is very varied. A typical day might involve producing written marketing material for a business that is being sold, doing a valuation of a company, or undertaking due diligence work.

When did you decide to become an accountant?

My plan throughout university was to become a researcher in Human Geography. Half way through my Master’s degree I realised that wasn’t the right career path for me, but I had no idea what I wanted to do instead. I had some negative preconceptions of accountancy and didn’t consider it as an option at that point. I visited a careers advisor who told me to think about my values and what kind of working environment I wanted to be in. She also advised me to do some online aptitude and personality tests (there are plenty available for free online). When the results of these all placed “accountant” in my top five careers, I knew that was a route I needed to investigate. I did some research and found that accountancy was much more interesting than the stereotypes might suggest!

I joined Thomas Westcott as a trainee chartered accountant in our audit department. In audit I worked in a close-knit team, reviewing accounts to ensure they were accurate and complied with company law. Usually, that meant visiting the business to look through their financial records. During my training contract I also spent time working in our accounts, tax and corporate finance departments. At the same time, I was studying for my ACA, an internationally-recognised accountancy qualification. In my final year of studying, I joined our corporate finance team permanently.

What do you like most about your job?

I’m not always stuck behind my desk, and my best days are spent receiving a factory or warehouse tour from someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about their business. As an auditor and in my current role in corporate finance there are lots of opportunities to visit businesses, meet the people who work there and see first hand what they do. Sadly, I haven’t been able to do that this year, and I am looking forward to getting out on site again soon.

The other thing I like is the variety. Like any job there are some repetitive elements, but in audit I had the opportunity to work with different teams and on-site at different companies throughout the southwest and further afield, which made each job feel different. My clients ranged from engineering and construction companies to retailers and designers. In corporate finance no two days are the same, and it is exciting wondering what job will land on your desk next. 

What do you want to do in the future?

The great thing about getting a professional qualification like the ACA is that it equips you with brilliant transferrable skills as well as technical knowledge in accounting and business strategy. At the moment I’m enjoying getting to grips with the world of corporate finance, but it’s good to know that in the future I could specialise further in finance raising or forensic valuations, or return to the world of audit. I could even go to work for a business in a finance or management role: 20% of FTSE 100 CEOs are chartered accountants!

What prepared you for the job?

Having a degree meant that I was able to start my ACA training straight away, without having any bookkeeping qualifications or experience. However, plenty of people I trained with didn’t have a degree. They had joined accountancy practices straight from school, completed the AAT bookkeeping qualification and had a few years’ work experience under their belt beforehand. A lot of people think that you need to go to university to become an accountant, but that is definitely not the case.

Lots of my peers at university had accountancy work experience and internships on their CVs, or degrees in economics, finance or maths. I had none of these and was worried that it would hold me back, but that wasn’t the case. In my opinion, skills and attitude are just as important as qualifications. Problem solving, written and verbal communication, and an ability to be resilient when things don’t go to plan are skills that can be developed at university, through volunteering or a career in a different field.

What advice would you give to anyone considering accountancy as a career?

Give it a go! There are so many different career paths within accountancy, from personal tax to management accounting, and you don’t always know what you will like (or hate!) until you try it.