When it comes to choosing which firm and which service line is right for you, finding out more about the qualification that you will be studying towards during your first few years is an important part of making the right decision. I spoke to Sophie Medwell – Public Sector Assurance associate and CIPFA representative for the Bristol office – to find out more about her experiences with studying towards the CIPFA qualification…
Tell me a little bit about yourself
I’ve been working for the Public Sector Assurance (PSA) team in Bristol for almost two years. During this time, I have studied the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants (CIPFA) qualification. I am also involved in many of the CIPFA organisations, sitting on both the South West Regional Council and national CIPFA Student Network.
What made you choose Grant Thornton?
My principal reason for choosing Grant Thornton was the people. From attending a careers fair, I got the impression that the people working at Grant Thornton were approachable, friendly and supportive, which has definitely been reflected during my time here. Another reason for choosing Grant Thornton was the amount of opportunities available. I have peers who have completed both internal and external secondments and there is also the chance to get involved in business or people development, such as the trainee co-ordinator role which I hold.
Why did you choose to study the CIPFA over other accountancy qualifications?
The PSA department in Bristol chooses to put all of our trainees through the CIPFA or now CIPFA-ICAS qualification, recognising the fact that the qualification gives great insight into our work, the sector we work with and the challenges our clients face. For example, one of the modules studied is ‘Advanced Public Audit’ which provides an understanding as to why we do what we do. Another module studied is ‘Strategic Leadership’ which looks into the public sector challenges and develops a student’s business skills in responding to such challenges. Finally, with the new CIPFA-ICAS partnership, our trainees learn about both the private and public sectors, recognising the ever pressing need for the public sector to become more commercial.
How does CIPFA prepare you for life as an associate?
As I mentioned above, CIPFA is a great qualification to study whilst working in PSA as it gives an insight into the public sector and the challenges it faces. In addition, CIPFA is keen for its members to be business leaders, not just accountants. For this reason, business management forms a core part of the qualification, and the portfolio of work we must complete requires an oral presentation. All of these elements come together to develop skills in managing yourself and others, confidence and awareness.
Are there opportunities to work in the private sector and/or abroad with the CIPFA qualification?
Like all accountancy qualifications there are plenty of opportunities with the CIPFA qualification. CIPFA is currently the provider of training to large international bodies such as the United Nations. In addition, CIPFA has signed mutual agreements with a number of countries including Canada and Australia so the qualification is recognised by accountancy bodies in these countries allowing you to practice there. Finally, with the new CIPFA-ICAS partnership, CIPFA qualified accountants are now able to add the CA (Chartered Accountant) designation to their CPFA (Chartered Public Finance Accountant) designation, which permits sign off on private sector accounts.
What is the support network like when studying towards your qualification?
The support network is probably one of the best things about studying CIPFA. As we travel up to Birmingham to study, the Grant Thornton trainees have become very close, and I would feel comfortable asking them any questions. In addition, as the majority of the department hold CIPFA qualifications themselves, from our partners to our people managers, there is great understanding of the demands of the qualification. Finally, my network through involvement in the CIPFA bodies is very helpful, and I can draw from their experiences working for a range of public sector organisations to support me in my studies.
Best and worst part of CIPFA?
I think the best part of CIPFA is the great support network, and the interesting people I have met whilst studying this qualification.The worst part is finding the balance between work, life and studying, as well as the self-motivation required to get everything done, although I imagine this is common for all accountancy qualifications.
Where can you see your qualification taking you?
I think this is probably the most difficult question to answer as there are so many opportunities out there! I could stay within the PSA team, or transfer to another team at Grant Thornton. I could work for a number of public sector organisations, such as the NHS or local government. CIPFA qualified accountants also work in places such as the National Audit Office. I have even met CIPFA students and members who are high up in government ministries or work at NATO, the possibilities are really endless!
If you have any questions about the CIPFA qualification or about my experience as an intern, feel free to email me at Mathew.J.Davies@uk.gt.com.