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Training doesn't have to be taxing!

06 Mar 2018

Is the route to become a qualified accountant worth it? Brightwater's Stephen Turkington addresses that in an interview with the ACCA Ulster Chair Clodagh Hegarty on her career path and advice for professionals starting off in this field.

S – What led you down the route of accountancy?

C – I come from a family business – my parent’s always instilled in me that if you want to run a business you need accountancy.  My mum ran a family shop, a very small business but I definitely realised how much the books matter!

S – Are either of your parents accountants?

C – No, one was a Building Contractor and one ran the shop so both ran businesses in their own right and they both needed that accountancy knowledge.

S – What were the opportunities presented to you after university?

C – After my initial course in university – I did my degree in commerce in Galway –I wasn’t ready to leave University, so from there I went to Ulster University and did my Masters in Accountancy and then I went travelling around Australia, did the backpacking thing and realised very quickly that money is actually very important!  After that year I decided I needed to top up my Masters with a good professional qualification to get a good job out there. I came back to Dublin and started to pursue my accounting qualification.  I actually went into a Chartered Accountants firm and they gave you the option of qualification route, so after weighing up the options available to me and factoring in my exemptions I decided to go down the ACCA route.  It was flexible, I could potentially get all my exams finished in the year with the study I had behind me already, and it was more of a global qualification and at that time I wanted out of Ireland as quickly as possible to travel again!

S – Did you go back out again then once you qualified?

C – I didn’t!  I went into a small firm and realised I really liked tax, then someone in the office suggested I complete my tax exams.  So having qualified with ACCA I then went on to complete my Institute of Tax exams and that lead me to a new role within EY in Dublin.  I went with them for a couple of years, finished my Tax exams and headed back Down Under.

S – What happened next when you came back?

C – I stayed a while in Dublin but then started to miss home in Donegal.  I have to say it is the beauty of any accountancy qualification that you can be based in the city or in rural locations or anywhere and you can work as an accountant.  So I took a job with a small local practice, was there maybe a year and then changed my mind again and headed back to the tax team in EY in Dublin.  I spent another few years there, up and down the road from Donegal before finally taking the job with the University.

S – Going back to when you were training, how did you find juggling work, study and personal life?

C – When I was studying, I did lectures on a Tuesday and Thursday evening, though I’m not sure how many students do that now.  I always made sure to make an effort to meet up with my friends and also get my study done but you almost have to be strategic about it and plan when you will study and when you will see friends, both are important.  You have to be very disciplined and find that balance – the danger is if you can become so caught up in study that when you finish you won’t have anybody to talk to!  I would say to anyone doing exams now it is very important to remember that your brain can’t study every hour of the day and finding some opportunities to take time off is key.  Especially when you are working all day alongside that!

S – What were your emotions when becoming qualified and how did you celebrate?

C – I went out to celebrate and then I went off travelling again.  I spent most of my time in Australia in Melbourne and loved it.  I think it’s good when studying to have something to focus on and work towards.

S – You’ve talked a bit already about your career path, can you just walk me through the moves you made?

C – I started in a small practice with two partners and then went into the tax department in EY – one of the Big 4.  Then I left to go to a medium practice in Donegal as a Tax Manager, then back again to EY and then into Ulster University via another stint in that medium sized practice.  My role there had me involved in a lot of training and seminars with staff and CPD events through the ACCA and that really led to me going for the job at the University.  I’ve been here 5 years now, I do miss the buzz of practice at times, being hands on and being client facing but there is also more stress in practice than my current role so I’m happy where I am for now.

S – The modern day accountancy route seems to be proving more and more popular, have you noticed the culture change over the past few years? 

C – Absolutely and it’s good to see.  I think sometimes in the past, even in films, anyone playing the accountant role doesn’t tend to fare too well!  The role of the accountant is definitely changing, it’s not just about being the bookkeeper or doing the numbers you have to work with people, to be a counsellor sometimes when delivering news to small business owners, to play a part within a team internally and with clients and to be much more consultative.  I think the role is still changing and for the better.

S – That being the case, have you seen a change in your students in the past 5 years?

C – There definitely is a lot more doing accountancy and a lot more being proactive in grabbing placement opportunities and getting involved in things.  They seem more open to new things, in society as well as accountancy, even if they need a push sometimes!  We also see a lot of mature students getting into accountancy.  I actually did a talk for school leavers recently and at the event a parent came up to me and said “I think I want to do accountancy now as well”!

S – What advice would you give to your students when they leave university to embark on their career in accountancy?

C – One of my friends once said to me that an accountancy qualification is like a tree, and when you go out into industry or into practice there are so many different branches you can follow that you should explore the options and find the area you like doing.  You can always top up your qualification as you go along then to specialise in the area you enjoy – maybe tax like me or forensic accounting or liquidation, whatever it might be – but the important thing is to remember that there are so many different avenues that can be explored and it’s good to take the opportunity to do that.  That advice was great for me and I always pass that on to my students now.

S – You are currently approaching the end of your tenure as ACCA Ulster Chair, reflecting on that period how has it been for you?

C – It’s been a great experience, I’ve met some fabulous people from all kinds of different backgrounds; people from Big 4 practices, from small practices, from government departments, from education but there are no two people who have had the exact same career.  The panel also gives me a window to see what is going on out in the accountancy world and that helps steer CPD and other events to help our members deal with the challenges they face currently.  Digital advancements, Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence are all issues becoming a big thing for accountants and it’s been good to be at the centre of facing those issues.

S – What kind of responsibilities have you held as Ulster Chair?

C – I would chair the Quarterly Meetings and work as part of the panel to put together the events for the year.  There is a lot of promotion of accountancy as a career and ACCA as a qualification route and a lot of that is out at careers fairs. I would also act as an advocate at various events and dinners which means a few speaking engagements throughout the year too.

S – Coming to the end, how do you manage to wind down outside of work with a packed schedule?

C – Good question!  I enjoy trips to the cinema and swimming but sometimes it’s nice to go home, pour a glass of wine and open up a box set.  I have just finished the second season of Stranger Things. .

S – Finally, as we approach the new year what lies in store for Clodagh next?

C – Well I am thinking of starting my PhD in the New Year, I’m getting my proposal gathered at the moment but hopefully we can get going next year.


Stephen Turkington works in Brightwater’s Accountancy & Finance division as a specialist in part and newly qualified career moves. For further information and a confidential discussion about your career please contact our Brightwater team below on 02890325325 or email: [email protected].