Writing for Accounting Web, Myfanwy Neville outlines how she went from graduate trainee to audit partner in just nine years.
I’m the first at BKL to come in at graduate level and work my way up to partner, which is exciting but also sets a precedent for me to live up to. Before becoming partner I undertook a few secondments, spending six months in the corporate finance department after I qualified, and then the insolvency department, which was great experience.
For young accountants looking to climb the career ladder, my advice would be simply to work hard and be enthusiastic. Having a ‘can do’ attitude is vital. It’s not easy to get excited about ticking off audit schedules, but if you do it with gusto, you’re more likely to be rewarded with more exciting things to do later on because people like working with you.
Compliance work can be seen as tedious, but it’s so much more rewarding when you get to the business end of it. For trainees, it’s sometimes just about getting through the process but at a more senior level you get direct interaction with clients which makes it more interesting.
An important thing for trainees (and in fact, anyone at any stage of their careers) to remember is to take ownership of their work. It’s very easy when you’re a junior, senior or sometimes even a manager to think that someone else above you will sort out a problem. Sometimes all you need to do is open a book and look something up, or speak to someone in the relevant department and find the answer for yourself. Doing this demonstrates to the partners that you’re serious about your role, and you will learn something new each time.
Challenges are measured with different yardsticks depending where you’ve reached in your career. At the moment, it’s a challenge for me to overcome the traditional stereotype of what people think an audit partner should look like – your typical charcoal suit, briefcase and grey hair. It’s more important than ever for me now to keep a cool head, be professional and get the job done well. Generally, producing great results is the best way to get over misconceptions like that.
The most important thing in this line of work is putting clients first. For every promise you make, make sure you can stick to it. If you deliver work on time and to a good standard, you won’t go far wrong.
My priority as a partner will be to build upon the existing relationships I have with my client portfolio, as well as to continue building up my network base, as well as talking to existing clients about ways we can help them over and above what we’re already doing and continuing to meet with, and connect with other professionals outside of BKL.
The best part of the job is interacting with people – clients, other internal departments and business associates. One of my favourite things is making new connections and also joining up people in my network. For example, one of my clients is setting up a media publishing business but didn’t know much about advertising online, so I connected her with an internet advertising expert I know. It’s great to see that by introducing clients to the right people, you can really help them overall with their business – it’s part of giving a good service.
Internally, I’ll be taking on a few projects as the ‘new kid on the block’ in a variety of areas as digital media and online social networking. I have started using Twitter and discovered that lots of accountants are using it, so there’s a brilliant support network there. It’s a great forum for sharing best practice and I hope to devote more time to this going forward.
I’m also involved with a lot of internal technical quality control projects including topics like iXBRL. The main software houses appear to have solutions for it, but for clients with smaller accounts prepared on Excel there aren’t many obvious answers right now, so part of my role will involve working with the team here to research this and come up with solutions for our clients.
The worst part of the job is the huge amount of regulation that comes with it. Sometimes it’s very hard to get the team enthused when you’re ploughing through checklists and forms. It’s important to keep in mind the big picture of what the audit is trying to achieve and what’s valuable to the client.
It’s also hard to get some clients excited about audit. To them it’s almost a commodity service which they’d like to be as low cost as possible. It’s important to add value to the relationship by taking time to talk to them about the key risks and big issues for their business.
There’s no such thing as a boring set of accounts. No two businesses are identical. Every business has individuals behind it with hopes and dreams and things they want to do in five years’ time. You can find something interesting with each and every client if you know what questions to ask.
A partner needs to be able to relate to all sorts of people at different stages of their careers and from varying walks of life and you need to be able to do it with a little bit of intuition. It’s about understanding the people behind the businesses; this puts you in a better position to help them get what they want, which is what they’re paying you for.
I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry. In fact, I’m so addicted, the other partners keep trying to lock it away in their drawers when I go on holiday! It’s a really good way of using your downtime, so if you’re on the Tube and have a bit of spare time, you can keep up to date with emails or stay in touch with clients and with your team.