On a path to gold

Nov 02, 2020
Caroline Kealey, Tax Associate in PwC, has received first place in her FAE exams and awarded the Ulster Society Diamond Jubilee Award and Gold Medal, something only given to 25 people over the last 131 years. Caroline explains the key to her success.

Why have you decided to become a Chartered Accountant?

I always liked accounting in school, so I decided to study Accounting and Finance in DCU, which I really enjoyed. As part of my course, I had the opportunity to do an internship in PwC, and this gave me a good insight into the business world. I realised how many opportunities I would have with a qualification from Chartered Accountants. From there, it made sense to continue with a career in accounting. I completed a Master’s in accounting at DCU before starting my training contract with PwC.

What has changed in your career because of the pandemic?

If I’m honest, a lot! We are all working from home, which took a bit of getting used to. That said, PwC has put a big focus on technology over the past number of years, so we were all well equipped to work from home, keep in touch and collaborate. 

The most significant change is in the way we interact with clients and each other, but virtual meetings have quickly become the norm.

What has been the most challenging part of the quarantine/pandemic for you? What has been the best?

I miss the social aspect of going into the office, which is a huge part of working in PwC. Even though we can maintain contact virtually, I do miss the face-to-face interaction and random conversations and craic that we would have on the floor.

Saying that, there are plenty of benefits to working from home. It was a good chance to move home to Offaly and spend time with my family. It has allowed me to slow down. And skipping the daily commute has meant I have a lot more free time in the evenings.

How was your exams experience in August compared to the past? What new challenges did you face?

Naturally, there are pros and cons to both. Doing the exam online meant there was much less pressure on the day, I didn’t have to worry about dragging a suitcase of books to the exam hall, and I could have my desk set up in advance. 

Typing the exam was also useful as the overall layout of the exam was much better and I didn’t have to worry about my awful handwriting! Having to do the exams online rather than in an exam hall was far better than I had expected.

On the other hand, there was always the concern around having Wi-Fi or technology issues on the day. Thankfully, I was pretty lucky in this regard, but it was still a big worry.

What do you think contributed the most to your exam success?

I didn’t stress over the exams, and I think that helped me on the day. However, I worked consistently during study leave and got into a routine early, which meant I didn’t have to cram towards the end. 

It’s also helpful to have other people studying for exams alongside you. My housemates were studying for FAEs at the time too, so it was much easier to stick to a routine when we were all in it together. 

PwC also offered excellent support throughout the year, so we were all well prepared to deal with the change to online exams. The exam support team organised virtual lectures, provided laptops to ensure we were equipped to sit the exams remotely and were always on hand to answer any questions we had.

What advice about studying and the exams would you give to future students?

Don’t stress! Facing years of professional exams might be daunting, but it flies by. The qualification will be worth it in the end, so continue to study and make sure to find time to enjoy yourself in between. 

When choosing a training contract, make sure to look into any exam support that could be offered by your firm as this makes a huge difference when it comes to exam time.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Honestly, who knows? One thing the pandemic has taught us all is that we never know what’s around the corner, so we’ll see what opportunities arise in the future. 

I do see myself continuing to progress my career in PwC, and I think qualifying as a Chartered Accountant will open plenty of different opportunities in the future.

What advice would you give to your past self? 

The exams will fly by so continue to enjoy all the experiences and take every opportunity that comes your way – you’ll get there in the end!