How I Became a Qualified Accountant without University

Leigh Cocker

I joined Champion in November 2007 after leaving Blackpool Sixth Form, where I studied Economics, Business Studies and Maths.

Champion had recently acquired local accountants Haworth Moore and were looking for young, enthusiastic employees to help drive the business forward. They offered me the chance to study alongside full time work, which appealed to me as I was undecided on the prospect of accumulating huge debts by taking the university route. I was always interested in pursuing a career in finance, although at this point I admittedly knew very little about accountancy.

I started out undertaking basic accounting work assisting my qualified superiors, but worked my way up the ladder through hard work and endeavour. I have now worked for Champion for over 6 years, and I am responsible for preparing the accounts and performing audits for companies turning over up to £18m.

Working at Champion has allowed me to benefit from the knowledge and support of hugely experienced individuals, who all immediately made me feel like an important cog in the machine. Judgement and problem solving play a large role in the life of an accountant, and being able to rely on the support of these experienced colleagues has helped me develop at a much quicker rate.

I began taking the ACCA exams in December 2010, completing my final exam in December 2013. I had a few exemptions from the earlier ACCA exams due to past qualifications (AAT) so to finish the entire ACCA exam syllabus would take around 6 months longer.

The ACCA syllabus, like any exam format, becomes progressively harder and contains a variety of subjects including aspects of law and auditing.  The courses are fairly intense but it was usually enjoyable as the tutors try to inject some humour and fun. Taking the exams each June and December was challenging and required hard work but it was ultimately satisfying when I received the text to say I had passed a few months after each sitting.  Being able to putting my knowledge into practice also helped to aid my development and gave me the opportunity to see how it all fitted together in the real world.

I would advise anyone looking to pursue a career in accountancy to take the route I took, rather than taking a related University course. Beside the obvious financial implications of going to University rather than ‘earning and learning’, there is the fact that the exemptions you will receive from the ACCA exams aren’t significant. It is likely you will still need to study for a further 2 years in order to complete these exams and become a fully qualified accountant.

A large part of the role of an accountant is to form business relationships with your clients and gain their trust over a period of time. This is something that it is difficult to teach in a classroom environment. The University courses are often theory based, meaning that graduates who join accountancy firms often find there is a huge gap between their practical ability and their academic achievements.

I definitely feel I chose the right path by seeking employment instead of taking the university option. I am now 25 and a fully qualified accountant, without the burden of £30,000 of tuition fee debt hanging over me.

I will now look to gain further experience at Champion, increasing my knowledge and continuously learning from my peers. I will also try to assist junior members of staff who are taking the same path as I did, by offering advice and support where required.

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