Ellie Garratty is an assistant accountant with Mazars, an international audit, tax and advisory firm.
In our interview, she talks about how she decided to become an apprentice rather than finishing her second year of sixth form, how she has found the AAT qualifications practical and invaluable at work, and how technology and communication skills are a surprisingly important part of her job.
What is your role?
I am an assistant accountant at Mazars UK.
What made you decide to become an accountant?
When I was at school at Bacon’s College in Southwark, London, I loved Maths and Business and in school I was pushed to go to university. If you were interested in a career in finance then university was seen as a natural progression. However, I was not keen on going to uni, as I wanted to be earning money as soon as possible.
In Lower Sixth I was at City & Islington Sixth Form College and I started studying Maths, Business and Psychology. I was thinking of studying Maths & Economics or Maths & Business at uni.
During my lower sixth year I went to a lot of careers talks and I became really interested in accountancy. They discussed options to become an accounting including University and ACCA, but I thought rather than study for three years there must be a quicker way. I was interested in an apprenticeship because I wanted to learn on the job and earn money in the field.
How did you break into accountancy?
In the summer of Lower Sixth I joined a programme called Leadership through Sport and Business.
I decided to go on the programme with LTSB rather than going back to sixth form, so I had my AS Levels but I didn’t finish my A Levels. Over the three months between September and December 2017 I was studying AAT Level 2 and being supported by LTSB with help on interviews, getting a job, finding the right career opportunities. I also had a part-time job, first tutoring and then working in Waitrose.
Why did you decide to follow this career route?
Through LTSB I started studying AAT Level 2. I found it really interesting, and I enjoyed it. It gave me a really good insight into what accountancy is and what is involved. LTSB said that Mazars was interested in my CV. They had recruited two other people before me via LTSB and I had the interview in January 2018 and started work later that month.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
What I like best about my job is the variety and being able to speak to different clients. I can never say that I’m bored. I’m interacting with clients on a daily basis and I like that they trust me and come to me for advice.
The most surprising part of my job is how much technology is involved. At AAT Level 2 it was quite a manual process but Mazars is a large accountancy firm, and they are at the forefront of new technology and software, so there is not a lot of manual processing.
What made you choose Mazars?
I chose Mazars because it was a bigger firm, it was not just focused on one aspect of accountancy or clients. There was a wide range of clients, and I felt that I learn best when I was exposed to a wide range of clients.
I had two apprenticeship offers – one from Mazars and one from a firm based in the City of London.
They both offered me a role, but Mazars paid better and the other company was smaller and more focused on investment.
What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different. I have a lot of different clients in my portfolio and the bigger ones take up more of the week. I check my emails and I have a weekly and daily checklist.
Every Monday we have a team group meeting. I’m also responsible for some of the juniors and so I check in with them.
I review transactions that have been processed or payment runs that have been done. I answer questions from clients that can take up a couple of hours of the day. I do payment runs for one of the larger clients. The first week of the month is always hectic because we are finalising VAT returns.
How has AAT helped you?
I was offered a job with Mazars, and I started working at the end of January, 2018, and I’m still there now, that’s three and a half years on. I studied for Level 4 between 2019 and 2020.
Level 4 was helpful in my job, particularly the “understanding the financial statements” module, even down to notes in the financial statements.
AAT study has certainly made me more independent and I really recommend it to other people. For example, when I was learning the Indirect Tax Course with AAT I was working on VAT returns at work, so I had more context and it helped me understand what I was preparing.
I found that very useful, going through all the exams and applying what I learnt to my daily job. My advice to others at the early stage of AAT is to use your time to reflect and think about what you enjoy, as that will give you an insight into what you might want to do in the future.
Any tips on how to break into the profession?
- Research and explore your options, and whether you want to be with a larger or a smaller firm.
- Think about the different routes into accountancy – do you want to join as a graduate or after leaving school?
- Consider an apprenticeship. When I was at school I was encouraged to go to university. Apprenticeships were seen as more suitable for people who were not going to university. However, for me it worked out better taking an apprenticeship.
- Don’t just go for the first job offer you receive. Research the company. You could be the right fit for them, but you need to make sure that they are the right fit for you.
- Find out what study package they are offering.
- Once you are in the role ask as many questions as you need to. There is no such thing as a silly question. I am now training some graduates who have joined my team and I encourage them to ask any questions they like.
- When you are in the workplace ask questions from other members of the team so that you can learn on the job.
What skills do you need?
Communication and technology skills are really important. We use cloud based software and it can decipher relevant information from an email so you do not need to upload anything to an Excel spreadshet.
What are you studying now?
I’ve got my synoptic exam and then I will be fully qualified. I don’t need to book time off for study leave as it is provided by my employer.
My work is very flexible. Although the hours are nine to five, I asked if I could work nine to three because I’m working from home, and I felt that it was hard to study at the end of the day. So now I finish at 3pm, have a break for an hour and then I start study from 4pm. I’ve been well supported by my manager.
What has your role given you?
I started work at 17, and I always wanted to have a career in accountancy. AAT has helped me develop my time management and learn on the job.
Communication skills are a big part of what I do. First, I was a bit shy but now my confidence has definitely grown. Initially, I was so scared to pick up the phone. Now I just call clients whom I’ve built relationships with, or I go to the offices and have conversations with them. I have a large range of clients, and I take every opportunity to develop those skills because they have been very beneficial.
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Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.