How internal audit paved the way for my career
Neil Machray, Chief Internal Auditor at Aegon, shares his advice for recently qualified CAs with an interest in audit, and discusses how he started out in his career.
Tell us about your career so far...
After university I joined Price Waterhouse (now PwC) in Aberdeen on a CA training contract. I decided in my second year that I wanted to specialise in financial services and eventually became a senior manager in the financial services practice. I had no plans to leave financial services but received an offer to join Scottish Widows where I started as Head of Financial Control. After 12 years at Scottish Widows I felt I needed to gain exposure in different areas to continue my personal development, so I joined Aegon UK as Chief Internal Auditor.
Why would internal audit be a good grounding for a CA that is 0 – 3 years post qualified?
I view an internal audit role as an excellent opportunity to gain a deep understanding of all aspects of a business, and the role typically allows access to a range of senior executives. It builds on the experience gained during qualification, and provides an opportunity to deploy these in a commercial environment.
For anyone considering a role in internal audit my own advice would be to do your due diligence, as you would for any opportunity, but focus particularly on joining a function with an empowering and progressive Internal Audit Director. Further, ensure that the function has a strong mandate with a supportive CEO and active Audit Committee Chair as well as opportunities for your progression and career development, particularly options post internal audit.
What advice did you receive when you were a newly qualified CA?
The best advice was never to become the type of manager who runs a full agenda. Get involved in new initiatives, because that is the way to become most valuable to an organisation. I am also the type of person who takes their time with key decisions, so I walked away from a number of career moves which came my way because I felt they were not right for me.
My own experience of becoming qualified is to take time to consider all options – the profession remains a great option to develop your career. I was happy to build upon my areas of expertise and to use the exposure my role in Price Waterhouse provided to gain an insight into different companies to help me make up my mind on what I wanted to do. I stayed at Price Waterhouse for seven years after qualifying before an opportunity came my way that I could not turn down.
Given that a large amount of newly qualified CAs will have similar experiences, what can they do to differentiate themselves from their peers?
I consider a CA qualification to be an excellent grounding in a rounded business education, and the skills and experience gained are highly relevant for the work of an internal audit department. I expect all good candidates to be sufficiently qualified and experienced to be able to perform the core aspects of any role well.
What differentiates is the ability to go beyond the role. I call this "going for the gaps". Really good people do not just focus on the requirements of a role specification but want to do more, seeing and taking or creating opportunities to mark themselves out. These values along with the drive and determination to achieve them are what I look for when recruiting.
Some CAs fear being pigeon-holed in the discipline that they first move into, such as internal audit or financial control. What would you say to them?
This comes down to a balance between specialising and retaining a broad and general approach. Do your job well, but go further by gaining exposure in the company and getting involved in other initiatives. This approach will succeed in the right environment regardless of the role. My approach is to look two steps ahead when making career decisions. Career plans can be useful but should be flexible and adaptable - individuals also need to react to circumstances and opportunities.
I find that in the recruitment market what really matters are the quality of experience, rather than the range, and what the person can bring to a job.
What general advice would you give to newly qualified CAs about their first or next career move?
Firstly, be patient. Have the confidence to wait for the right move – don't jump at the first opportunity if you are not convinced it is right for you.
Secondly, be bold and develop a relationship of trust with your current manager so that you can ask them for their advice. I have done this and found my managers to be helpful in assessing options. In addition they tend to have some great contacts.
Thirdly, I am a big supporter of great mentoring and am a registered mentor with ICAS. Mentoring has helped me greatly with career decisions – the ability to call on people without a vested interest who can give you impartial advice and challenge has been invaluable to me, both in terms of career development but also other challenges I have faced.
Ross began his recruitment career in 2007 and he has specialised in the Accountancy and Finance market since. He has a depth of knowledge across all areas of industry, commerce and financial services and his predominant area of attention is the newly / recently qualified accountant level through to circa 5 years post qualified. The skill sets Ross regularly focuses include: Financial Reporting, Decision Support and Business Partnering, Regulatory Reporting, Statutory and Technical Accounting, Cost and Financial Analysis.
About Wilkinson & Associates
Wilkinson & Associates is a consultancy which specialise in the recruitment of Business Change Professionals and Qualified Accountants in Scotland on both a permanent and temporary basis. Their approach is both personal and consultative. Wilkinson & Associates is a key recruitment partner of becomeaca.org.uk, the official online recruitment platform of ICAS.