Keen to know how other Chartered Accountants have moved through their careers? Meet the team at Bellingham Wallace. Today we speak to Ash Clarke - one of our Business Advisory Managers.
What path lead you to choose accounting for your career?
I was actually a bit of a late starter – I went overseas first when I left school. Numbers have always made sense to me though, so when I decided to do something with my life, at the age of 26, I began studying a four year degree at MIT.
I knew I definitely wanted to become a Chartered Accountant, as it would be a big advantage for my career going forward.
What steps have you taken to become a BAS Manager?
I didn’t really know where I wanted to work when I completed my study. I had heard of the Big 4 firms, as a lot of people talked about them at Uni, but I actually missed the window to get in there as soon as I graduated.
So I started here at Hayes Knight, which later turned into Bellingham Wallace, and have worked my way up over seven years, natural progressing to becoming a BAS Manager.
What do you enjoy about your role as a BAS Accountant?
As cheesy as it sounds – I love helping clients and seeing them do well. It’s fulfilling, particularly since you end up becoming quite close with clients - they become mates, and you want them to achieve.
Advisory is completely different to compliance, because with compliance you are looking at historical data. And of course it is helpful to look back to then go forward, but I like assisting people to make strategic decisions.
What is your view on how working for a small firm differs from a large CA practice?
I’d say as a grad I advanced quicker because I was exposed to a lot more early on. And because of the skills of our Directors, and the work they do, they attract high level clients that other firms don’t.
There is a lot of variation here, you certainly don’t do the same thing day after day. And while of course as a CA you aren’t just going to do 8:30 to 5 and head home, there does need to be a balance. So we work hard when it is busy, but get down time when needed.
Because we’re smaller, we are also able to adapt to change a lot faster. The Government has loosened up some of the red tap around the preparation of accounts , making it easier for some people to do themselves. This is one reason why we really focus on the advisory and governance side of things; areas that many other firms are not doing strategically – although they are starting too.
What are the biggest myths that surround working for a small CA firm?
I think one of the main ones is that there isn’t a lot room to grow and be promoted, but there are definitely clear pathways here and the opportunity to rise up through the ranks. Plus there isn’t as much competition for promotion here, as there would be at a bigger practice.
There also seems to be the perception amongst employers – particularly those in commercial businesses – that the Big 4 provide the very best CA training. While I’m sure that their training is very good, we try to change things up a bit by adding commercial topics, like employment law, into the mix. Our up and coming team members also get a lot more time with seniors and managers than they might at a larger firm; in my opinion this type of mentoring early on is vital.
There still does seem to be a certain amount of notoriety around working for well-known practice, it’s often all that is talked about at University, but I think that is just because you don’t know what else is on offer. It’s not just about picking a firm because you have heard of it – you need to think about culture, the work environment, and other things that might not be so positive about working for a larger CA practice.
Read more: Expert CA career advice from Matt Bellingham
What are the main challenges you face in your role as a BAS Accountant?
Changing technology is a big one – you can get left behind real quick in this game.
And because there are so many different avenues of accounting, there is legislation for Africa. So staying on top of that, and technology, can be really different. In the seven years I have been an accountant, there have been so many rule/legislation changes, that it can be a bit overwhelming.
So balancing that, as well as training, putting enough time aside to up skill and doing want you need to do, can be challenging. This is where our managers and directors are a good sounding board.
What are your future career goals?
To go as far as I can. I’d like to move onto becoming a Senior Manager – mentoring and training people. One day I’d like to be a Director, if that comes my way.
Looking to succeed in your Chartered Accounting career? Download our professional BAS career planner which also contains a checklist of the technical and personal skills required for each progression.