Trainee Profile - Helen Storr
I started at the Brebners London Office in September 2013, having spent five years in academic research following completion of my degree in chemistry. I decided to look into a career in accountancy because I have always wanted my own business. Studying for an ACA qualification whilst having daily exposure to a variety of organisations and industries seemed like the best way of learning about business and finance. Furthermore, I wanted to work towards a stable career that would give me opportunities for progression and potential opportunities to specialise in the future.
Working for a medium-sized firm like Brebners was always the right decision for me because you have the opportunity to start forming a working relationship with the clients from the beginning of your training contract. As a very sociable person, it was important for me to work for a firm that allows trainees to be client-facing early on.
Further, for smaller clients, you will work on the whole file individually with the support of a manager or senior, so you can see the wider picture of their business and develop a solid business acumen.
From the outset, you will get used to communicating with partners and managers on a daily basis, this is not always the case in larger firms.
You will gain good experience in both audit and accountancy, as well as some tax and company secretarial experience as opposed to being in a specialised field from the beginning, this will help you steer your own career based on your preferences and strengths.
As accountancy is a second career for me, I was understandably nervous about taking the plunge into the unknown. Plus, I was aware that I would be older than most of the other candidates and I worried about this too.
I need not have been worried because from the moment I walked into the reception area at Brebners on interview day, I knew I wanted to work here. It just felt right and I have been very happy here.
Brebners is a friendly, approachable firm and the people here work hard and achieve a great deal but also have lives and interests outside of work. This was key for me.
Brebners is always keen to employ people from all walks of life and your university degree subject is not important. We have students who read music, languages, life sciences and physical sciences so please don’t feel put off if you don’t have an economics or mathematics degree (though these subjects are more than welcome too!). Some trainees have started at Brebners having only just finished their university degrees and others have had time out to go travelling or have worked in other industries before moving to accountancy.
The office is open plan which helps to create an accessible and friendly environment to work in. It enhances communication between departments and experience levels and means you can easily approach staff for help and advice.
Outside of work, there are many Brebners social events such as the Christmas party, the annual karaoke and the highly anticipated, much loved quiz night. Further, when students pass exams, we organise drinks to celebrate their hard work and success!
As a junior you will start your Brebners career in the audit department where you will be booked onto various assignments working for a wide range of clients. You will be exposed to a mixture of both audit work out at the clients’ offices and statutory accounts preparation, in-house. In your first eighteen months you may also be seconded to the tax and media departments to assist them during their busiest periods, which provides a great opportunity for increasing your breadth of experience.
Brebners operates a ‘hot-desking’ system in the audit department meaning that, in theory, juniors will regularly move desks so that they can be positioned next to the senior or manager who will be supervising their assignment. This ensures that juniors receive the help and advice they need in order to perform to the best possible standards.
Study and Exams
This is the element of the ACA that potential candidates usually have the most questions about and I know I did when I was interviewing. The thought of sitting 15 exams in a little over two years is daunting and the exams themselves are not easy but they aren’t impossible and as long as you are prepared to work hard and remain dedicated and focussed during difficult times then you will get the results you need.
The marks are not graded so you cannot attain a merit or distinction, it is simply a pass or fail. The pass mark is 55 for most of the exams.
The exam papers consist of six computer-based e-assessments which are multiple choice. These make up the certificate level of the qualification and will involve learning a lot of information on a broad range of topics. These papers have a quick turnaround time because you will learn the material in college and sit the exam all within two to three weeks.
At professional level you will study for six written papers which are specifically looking to build on and develop the subject matter that you learnt at the certificate level. These papers are testing how you apply your knowledge and for this reason are a lot harder. You will spend a couple of months preparing for these exams.
Finally, at advanced level you will sit the case study paper and two technical papers which will bring together all of your knowledge and experience. These papers are open book in order to more closely mimic a real life situation and will be your biggest challenge yet. You will work towards these papers over the preceding six or seven months.
As an ACA student you will study at Kaplan Financial in Angel and you will be provided with all the relevant books and materials required for each paper.
You will be given leave from your work at Brebners in order to attend taught college courses and revision.
Even though college can be challenging, one of the best things about it is the social aspect of meeting other students from other SWAT accountancy firms. Some of the people you meet at college on your first day will go all the way through to finals with you and so there is a great sense of camaraderie and those are the people who keep you going on the tough days.
In addition to the experience you gain by working in the office and the knowledge you learn as part of your studies, you will also engage in professional development, at SWAT, in small groups of around 15 students.
These sessions occur once every couple of months and focus on developing ‘soft skills’ such as good presenting and public speaking skills, how to deal with challenging clients and how to effectively put your opinion across whilst appreciating the opinions of others.
The sessions will involve working in groups and carrying out debates, organisational tasks, team working, group and individual presentations. The subject matter is usually based around the accountancy profession and relevant current issues.
A requirement of the ACA is that students maintain an online training file which stores the number of days worked, short case studies of specific experiences and also involves developing ethical skills and awareness.
After your first six months at Brebners, you will have a review with the training partner in which to discuss your progress so far. As you move through your training contract you will clock up experience and you will write up your experiences which the training partner will review with you and authorise.
Despite the inevitable house-keeping element, the review acts as a support and is a really good opportunity for a one-to-one chat, to get any worries off your chest and to discuss aims for the future.
You will have further reviews with the training partner every six months for the duration of your training contract.
Brebners Interview Day
If you are invited to attend an interview day at Brebners, you will take part in a couple of tasks and be asked to complete a verbal and mathematical test.
Following this, you will have lunch with current Brebners ACA students who are at various stages in their training. This is a great chance for you to ask questions about the firm and the ACA studies so that you can be sure it is right for you.
In the afternoon, you will have an interview with one of the partners and a tour of the office.
Just be yourself.