Q+A with Sarah Smart, Director of SmartCats
Sarah Smart CA, Founder of SmartCats Consulting, provides a snapshot of her career and the ins and outs of running a financial services consultancy.
When did you qualify as a CA and who did you train with?
I trained with Coopers & Lybrand in Edinburgh, qualifying in 1998.
What have been the key points in your career?
The first was my decision to move to Scotland when I left university, which was largely responsible for me deciding to train as a CA; the second was being told that I would severely limit my promotion prospects if I decided to work part-time. I realised then that I would need to work very hard to carve out my own career and way of working.
What does your job involve?
I spend time considering what organisations are currently doing, asking what they want to be doing and helping them to come up with ways to move from one to the other. I work mostly in financial services, specifically pensions and investment. I also spend quite a bit of time on industry initiatives, such as being a member of the FCA’s institutional disclosure working group.
What appealed about setting up your own business?
I have never been a “business as usual” person. Working for myself allows me to define the projects I want to be involved in, and means I never have to work with people I don’t want to work with.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The intellectual challenge is huge. I also work with a wide variety of different people, and I love having to figure out how they all tick.
… and the worst?
I have to read a lot of papers for meetings. Last weekend I had about 650 pages of detailed information to wade through.
Proudest moment so far?
Being appointed Chair of TPT Retirement Solutions when I was 37. The organisation took a big risk in picking me rather than
an industry “name” but I hope that over my eight years as chair I rewarded their faith in me.
Any advice for a CA taking on a non-executive role?
Be persistent and resilient if you don’t look like the traditional non-executive. Despite diversity initiatives, it is still a difficult line of work to succeed in if you are different.
How’s your work/life balance?
Pretty good. My work is lumpy (most board meetings happen at around the same time of year) but I can manage my own diary. I spent August in Europe in a camper van last year, and hope to repeat that this year.
What do you do to relax?
I run around in the mountains, mostly in Scotland. My decision to move to Scotland after university remains the best decision I ever made.
How has your training as a CA helped prepare you for this role?
I learned very quickly when I was auditing that I couldn’t bluff about whether I understood something or not. It taught me the importance of continuing to ask questions until I got to the bottom of something – that has been invaluable as a non-executive.
What advice would you give for a CA looking to pursue this career route?
Build some experience with pro bono roles and opportunities alongside your “main” job, so that you already have lots of great experience to talk about when you decide to do this full-time.