Special report: Introducing the ICAS Gold Award 2023 winner
Welcome to the next generation
Every CA reading this who has attended the ICAS admission ceremony will vividly remember the occasion. It marks the culmination of years of hard work and the moment when you can officially call yourself a CA. But while the ceremony is a permanent milestone in the life of a CA, everything around it is changing.
In this special report, we find out how the latest cohort of newly qualified CAs is having to adapt to a changing world – and not just through being the generation who studied through the pandemic. They share their views on how new technology, new ways of working and – hopefully – a new, more determined approach to sustainability are shaping their lives and careers, both present and future. Read here.
We also speak to Lisa Blum, this year’s ICAS Gold Medal winner, the first time the award has been given to a current student rather than a qualified CA. Blum’s journey reflects the international make-up of CAs, as somebody who was born in Germany, has worked in Australia and New Zealand, and who took the qualification because she sees it as a passport to business anywhere in an increasingly global economy. Read below.
ICAS is also about to embark on a period of profound change. Director of Learning Gail Boag explains how the organisation will deliver the CA qualification in an entirely new way, one that is digital first but will also meet the demands of the evolving business environment. As Boag says, “We cannot overstate the significance and scale of the change that is about to happen.” Read here.
Lisa Blum, who has just been named ICAS Gold Medal winner, combines her CA training with work and national sporting competition. Ryan Herman hears her credit her incredible work ethic to her inspirational mother
When Lisa Blum discovered she was this year’s ICAS Gold Medal winner, it took her by surprise, even if the timing was apt. “I had just done a Q&A session with new graduates at Lloyds, where I work. They got to ask me about the company’s graduate scheme, but also about ICAS,” says Blum, who combines her studies with her job as an Assistant Finance Business Partner for the banking group.
“After I finished that session, I checked my phone and saw an email saying I’d been given this award,” she says. “I had to read that email several times to take it all in.”
The ICAS Gold Medal is awarded annually to the candidate whose overall performance during the May and November Test of Professional Expertise (TPE) exams is “judged to be first in order of merit”. For the first time, it is being given to a current student rather than a recent graduate.
Blum’s route to becoming a CA has been unconventional. Born in a small town near Stuttgart, Germany, she went to Australia, and New Zealand after finishing high school, combining travel with work, then studying international business management with French at Edinburgh Napier University, which included a semester in France.
“I’ve moved around a lot,” she says. “That meant starting at university later than others. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I have benefited from all these life experiences. I knew I didn’t want to leave Scotland after uni, having spent four years here building a new life and gaining a great group of friends. When I looked into the ICAS graduate programme, everything made sense.”
Blum, who is also fluent in French, was 26 when she decided the CA would suit her skillset. It will also mean acquiring “a passport to business”, earning a qualification recognised around the world. “The opportunities you get, the doors that open for you when you qualify as a CA, mean you can work in all types of industry and business,” she says. “I can’t think of a business that wouldn’t benefit from having a CA.
“That’s the nice thing about it – and one of the reasons why I chose ICAS. You don’t always know where you want to end up in your career, but with those skills, and with the CA qualification being so respected, you can make whatever move you want.”
Raising the bar
In fact, she hadn’t anticipated the scope of the training being as wide as it is. “I was pleasantly surprised,” Blum says, “because I’d expected it to be accounting-only. As I went through the first year at ICAS, I realised how much you are taught about commercial skills. When you think about TPE level, it’s not really about the numbers anymore.”
As any qualified CA will confirm, combining studies with work is challenging and one often needs a release. Again,
Blum’s choice of outside activity might seem unusual to some. “I’m a competitive powerlifter,” she says. “Doing that gives me the headspace and the energy to combine work with study, because anyone who says becoming a CA is easy would be lying. I’ve been training as a powerlifter for two years and started competing last year.”
Blum came second in her division at her first competition in Edinburgh, which means she has qualified for the Scottish Championships later this year. If she performs well enough there, then it’s on to the British Championships in 2024. “I went through all sorts of emotions before that first competition and first lift,” she says. “Because you’re in a big room with a hundred people staring at you. What I like about powerlifting is that it gives you a little success each time you lift a heavier weight.”
Blum’s other major milestone for next year will be qualifying as a CA. She is keeping an open mind about the step that follows. “I try not to think too far into the future because a lot of the decisions I’ve made have been quite spontaneous and so far they’ve worked out pretty well,” she says. “I want to find a job I really enjoy and where I can make an impact. I think that’s typical of many ICAS students. When I was in my TPE classes there was a lot of focus on commercial awareness but also social awareness and going beyond the numbers.”
Winning the Gold Medal while also excelling in powerlifting is testament to Blum’s great work ethic. “I get that from my mother,” she says. “She was a single parent. It wasn’t always easy for her, not only working but also looking after me and my brother. Watching her as I was growing up, she showed me how much you can achieve with hard work, determination, never giving up, and taking chances when they arrive.”
Ms Blum Senior must be a very proud mother right now.
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