Lucy Maher, Google

Gen BODY - Lucy Maher-min

Does the Chartered Accountancy qualification offer security as a career?

Yes, the skills a Chartered Accountant brings a to company, either as a trusted advisor in practice or as a member of the management team in industry, are even more important in times of recession or economic uncertainty.

The broad strategic thinking developed by the qualification mean that Chartered Accountants will always be in demand to help companies make the hard decisions to ensure they survive, and are well positioned to thrive, after challenges like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I have been lucky to continue working full time during the recent pandemic when many people have been furloughed or are working reduced hours.  Most accountancy roles are well suited to flexible hours and working from home.

Have you discovered flexibility in your career options as a Chartered Accountant? Do you feel you could move industry or country easily?

Yes, part of my reason for choosing to requalify as an accountant was because I felt the profession was inherently flexible. I started my career working part time as an accounts administrator and gradually built back up to full time employment as I completed my exams and my children started school.

Chartered Accountancy is a profession for life and many people choose to work reduced hours or take sabbaticals as their personal circumstances change knowing that the CPD program exists to keep our skills relevant and up to date and that opportunities are always available when you return to full time employment.

Many of my colleagues have chosen to work aboard, knowing that the Chartered Accountancy qualification is globally recognised and indeed many have transferred within the Big 4 accountancy firms or multinational companies.

How have your strategic skills as a Chartered Accountant been of benefit to you and your company, during recent times?

I am currently working on a large global project, while unable to travel and as colleagues and stakeholders are working at capacity to ensure business continuity while working from home. This requires a mix of strategic skills like change and project management and influencing in addition to the core financial subject matter expertise expected of a Chartered Accountant. Completing the specialist Diploma in Strategic Finance in 2016 has been a great advantage in my current role.

Can you share your thoughts on how flexibility to study from work or home could prove a real advantage?  

Many people who chose the flexible route are requalifying or transitioning from other industries. The ability to watch lectures online and study from home has always been a key part of the program for students who are still working in their current industries and day jobs or balancing work, studying and family commitments.

Tell us about your academic background?

Originally I studied software development at DIT and worked in various IT roles, mainly project and customer management, until taking a career break to care for my young family in the early noughties.

Why accountancy?

I evaluated various types of business qualifications when I chose to return to work and accountancy appealed because the logical, numbers based skill set seemed very compatible with my previous experience. Also, I initially needed to work on a part time basis and the Accounting Technicians qualification was the ideal route to return to the work force as quickly as possible in a flexible book keeping role.

Why Chartered Accountants Ireland?

I enjoyed the Accounting Technicians course and when I realised it was an entry route to the full professional qualification, I decided to continue studying. I knew I ultimately wanted to return to full time professional employment and Chartered Accountancy was a well-respected qualification in the industry. The Flexible Route had only been available for one year at that stage so I figured that, for a short period at least, there would be a relatively small pool of recently qualified Chartered Accountants with previous professional experience and that could be a useful differentiator for an atypical candidate like me.

Can you explain the Flexible Route to someone who doesn't know what it is?

The Flexible Route allows you to train as a Chartered Accountant without a training contract. A training contract is usually with a well-established accounting firm (frequently big 4) and is intended as an employment contract for recent graduates that includes training and education support. The Flexible Route supports Chartered Accountant trainees who may be mature students, undertaking a lateral career move and may continue to work in their existing roles and industries while studying and only transfer into an accounting role offering qualifying experience during, or even after, their professional exams.

What are the advantages to working and studying?

All Chartered Accountant trainees work and study, but having previous professional experience in other industries can give you a different perspective on the case studies and business scenarios you encounter in training. In particular, I found my project management experience hugely beneficial in balancing my work and study demands and subsequently in my professional career when planning and managing external audits.

Where have you worked and what kind of roles have you been in?

During my training, I worked in a small professional service consultancy firm, mainly in outsourced accounts assistant and management accounting roles. Post qualification I worked as a GL Accountant in the EMEA HQ of Amdocs, a multinational IT company. I then spent a year in a start-up consultancy delivering accountancy systems transformation projects to SMEs. I now work for Google, initially as a Statutory Accountant and now as a Senior Accountant working in Major Projects.

Describe a typical day for you?

Major Projects is all about systems and process transformation so there is no such thing really. I work closely with worldwide teams so the day could start with an early meeting with teams in APAC or LATAM. A lot of my work is collaborative so I'm frequently in cross functional meetings with business stakeholders across Finance but equally the day could be spent in a quiet office mapping out and improving business processes, preparing documentation and presentations, or researching new solutions.

Is it flexible?

Very - because of the worldwide scope I may have to do meetings outside of typical Irish working hours. As a result I can plan my days appropriately and work atypical hours and remotely as required.

How was combining work and study?

Looking back - harder than I imagined it would be - particularly with 3 young children at home too.  I never missed a lecture because unlike a lot of my peers it was easier to concentrate in CA House then at home! I had a good network of other mature students also doing the flexible route and we were a great support to each other both practically and emotionally. We all stayed in touch and it's been great watching everyone's career develop. 

Can you see how someone who is not an accountant might benefit from this qualification?

Absolutely, accountancy is a practical skill that is useful in any role. Everyone works with budgets and finances and cross functional skills are a huge selling point in larger companies. Look at the number of C level executives who have a background in Chartered Accountancy.

Would you recommend the Flexible Route to others? Why?

Yes, because the training contract route does not suit everyone's personal circumstances. I originally thought that Chartered Accountancy was not an option for someone who needed flexible working hours like I did in the early years. And being able to leverage and apply previous professional experience does allow you bring a different perspective to the role.

What advice would you give someone who is considering the Flexible Route?

Build a network! Most people are part of a large training intake, if you are the only person in your company or firm preparing for the exams, seek out other individuals on the Flexible Route and from study groups, share notes and bounce ideas off each other. As well as providing great moral support through the exams, you’ll be starting the professional network that will help you find new roles and develop your career into the future.

What success are you looking for?

Getting my job in Google was a huge personal success for me. Working in a large multinational with so many different career paths available both within finance, cross functionally, here in Ireland and overseas, is everything I could have hoped for when I decided to study Chartered Accountancy. I like the fact that success for me in ten years’ time could well be a role that I can't even envisage now.