CA student profile: Jack MacAulay

Jack MacAulay
Stef Scott By Stef Scott, Senior Digital Editor

15 January 2016

Jack is a CA student based in Edinburgh working at Standard Life. Here he talks to Stef Scott about his experience of being a CA student, and offers some handy advice for current students.

What was it that inspired you train to be a chartered accountant?

I have always wanted to work in finance. Becoming a CA seemed like a great way to get into the industry. The CA is a very well respected qualification and I was struck by the number of CEOs, CFOs and other FTSE Executives who are CAs.

You are training via the TOPPs (Training Outside of Public Practice) route at Standard Life. What do you think the TOPP route gives you that training within a public practice firm doesn’t?

Training in industry provides a great breadth of experience in terms of the departments you can work in, as well as giving you detailed knowledge of the company you train with.

Not a lot of potential trainees know about the TOPPs route, but awareness is growing.  I think the TOPPs route is ideal for people who want to do their CA training without spending three years in audit, tax or another function. Many organisations offering TOPPs traineeships are large FTSE 100 companies, so things like pay, benefits and development opportunities are equal to (or sometimes better than!) what you may find an accountancy firm.

For those who are looking to use the CA as a route into industry, the TOPPs scheme offers the same qualification, but at the end of the programme, you already have three years’ experience in industry under your belt. I was also fortunate to undertake a ‘mini-secondment’ to a Big Four firm during my training – this gave me a taste of what external audit is like.

Can you tell me about a typical day (if there is such a thing!) in your role at Standard Life? What kinds of activities and tasks do you work on?

A typical day depends entirely on what placement I’m on, and this could be for Standard Life UK, Standard Life Investments, or at a group level. Typical placements include internal and external reporting roles, fund accounting, internal audit, business support, propositions teams, project teams, or corporate finance.

More technical roles like reporting are great because they provide you with a real grasp of technical accountancy. Other areas such as internal audit are much more variable and give you a chance to see many areas of the business.

Currently I’m in the Group Strategy and Corporate Finance team, where in a typical day I might be doing some competitor monitoring, working on corporate finance projects or helping review our strategy.

What has been your best experience from your CA training?

As much as I have enjoyed the experience and all of the opportunities that have come along with it, I must confess that the immense sense of satisfaction in passing that final exam has been the best part so far! To sum it up, I would say being a CA student with ICAS is tough but rewarding.

Is there anything that you have found challenging about the ICAS course and if so how did you cope with it?

The volume of information on some of the courses can sometimes be intimidating.  For me it was important to remember that you don’t need to know 100% of every module – another thing that helped me get over the volume of information was to recognise where my strengths and weaknesses were and revise on that basis.

How would you describe ICAS?

For an organisation with such strong reputation, I’ve found ICAS to be remarkably forward-facing. There are great opportunities for people at any stage of their career, for example the ICAS events, which have recently included events specifically targeted at under 35s.

What would you say to someone who was thinking of training to become a CA?

The exams are hard, but are very worthwhile - for those that want to work in practice having the CA qualification is a sign that you're at the top of the game, and for those who want to work in industry; it's a great way to get ahead.  The CAs in our business go way beyond the finance function. For example our IT & Commercial Director, our previous Chief Executive and our company secretary are all qualified CAs.

I would also (perhaps I’m biased) recommend having a look at TOPPs schemes, and to apply early. Of the 54 organisations that offer vacancies in the ICAS brochure, currently four are in industry (SL, RBS, SSE and Tesco Bank).

What advice do you have for new students who are just starting out with their CA studies?

My general advice for starting out studying with ICAS would be to be proactive – ask and answer questions in class and get as involved as you possibly can. ICAS have a well-honed curriculum and teaching methods, so make the most of the tutors and resources that are available to you.

How have you coped with your exams so far? What advice do you have for other students about getting through them?

Most trainees have been studying and sitting exams for a long time and will have a pretty good idea of what works for them, but ICAS exams can be a bit different to those you sit at University. Writing out notes isn’t the most efficient use of your time. It’s important not to get bogged down in the detail and to keep checking that the revision method you are using is appropriate (this is something that the ICAS tutors can help with).

Can you share some study tips for other CA students?

I’m sure every trainee has heard it over and over again from the tutors, but for me it was worth repeating – revision is all about question practice.  Not only is it the best way to identify the gaps in your knowledge but, more importantly, it gets you used to the format of exam questions. Doing the example questions to time really helps to get comfortable in the actual exam.


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