Being an audit associate requires good financial skills, the ability to communicate effectively, and a willingness to ask searching questions.
In our interview, Caitlin M Davis, Audit Associate at Grant Thornton UK LLP, talks about choosing a firm with the right culture, talking to CEOs on a daily basis, and the excitement of understanding how businesses work on a deep level.
How did you get your role as an audit associate?
I had interviews with around six firms while I was in sixth form and did a lot of research around the types of roles I would be interested in. I had a lot of support from the careers team who put me in contact with people in different firms whom I could talk to. I reached out to them and found out a lot about their roles. I also spent hours researching the companies on the Internet to find more about their culture and values.
What attracted you to audit?
I first got interested in audit because the role was described as needing analytical thinking, professional scepticism and an inquiring mind. It appealed because I like the idea that not everything you hear in the first moment is going to be the truth and you have to delve deeper into the figures.
What have you been studying?
The Grant Thornton role is an apprenticeship. I am working and studying at the same time. It took a while to settle in and find the right balance. In sixth form I was quite busy, I had a part time job and hobbies, and it was just about finding that balance. I know some people like to study before work and get up early, but found it better to spend a couple of hours in the evenings working. I’m learning online at the moment.
Joining Grant Thornton as an apprentice means that you have a structured training plan over five years. Long term I’m hoping to get promoted up through the ranks and manage bigger roles. I am now 20 and I’ve passed AAT advanced level (level three) and AAT professional level (level four) and I’ll be starting ACA in two months’ time.
Why did you decide to pursue this career route?
I did my A levels in Business, Maths and Drama at Rainham Mark Grammar School in Rainham in Kent. I got an A star and two As. While I was in sixth form, I did work experience at Lloyds Bank, and a construction company where I worked in the finance department.
I applied to Grant Thornton at the end of my first year in sixth form. It was one of a number of firms that applied to during Sixth Form. I was interested in applying for firms that provided AAT as the first qualification, because I knew it was so well regarded and such a good grounding. In my second year I had a lot of interviews, and I chose Grant Thornton because of the culture and the people who were very welcoming.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I was in the office until March 2020 and I am currently working remotely. I am an audit associate in the financial services division and I am involved in audit for banks, insurance companies, and investment companies. A typical day means managing small jobs in my team. I do a lot of checking up on the more junior members and I carry out client calls. I’m doing a lot of the field work for the reports and feeding back information to my managers.
How has AAT helped you?
I chose a AAT qualifications, because I’d heard from a lot of people who had gone straight into ACCA, that they’d struggled with it, or had dropped out. I knew AAT was a good strong base and was very well regarded. Even if I had decided to complete my AAT Level Three and Level Four and then move into a different profession, I would still have had a good grounding and great qualifications. That would have enabled me to work in a number of different career paths and provided a lot of options for the future.
I was learning on the job, and started at AAT Level three and although there was some presumed knowledge you can quickly pick it up. It is a good level to start on basic understanding of accounts, the way they’re structured, and concepts such as double entry. By combining work and study things start to click more at work. I’m glad that I had a solid understanding, and everyone I know who’s done AAT is really pleased with how prestigious it is.
What skills do you need?
You need to be adaptable and open-minded. I often have to change my plans when something comes up. I used to be the sort of person that likes to stick to a timetable, but then a deadline might come up, and I need to scrap what I had planned and respond to that deadline. So adaptability is really important.
Communication is really important too. I am speaking with CEOs on a daily basis and I have to ask the right questions. I also have to communicate well with my team because audit is a job which involves a lot of teamwork.
It is more challenging to make sure everyone is doing okay when we’re working remotely. I have changed a lot since I was 18 – client calls used to terrify me. Now I’m the one leading the calls and it shows just how much I developed as a person.
Any tips on how to break into the profession?
I knew quite early on that I wanted to work in a financial job. I liked the idea of working in finance in a business environment. My school had good connections with businesses across London, and a lot of people used to come in and do talks.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I definitely enjoy speaking with clients and CEOS. I never thought I’d be having such conversations. It’s really exciting to be speaking to people at board level.
Audit is a role that enables you to learn so much about business in general. You get to see the way businesses work, how they manage debt plus all the aspects of business and how they join together. There are a lot of management decisions and controls. It’s all very interesting, and gives you a real insight into what makes a successful business.
Any tips for breaking into the profession?
Research what you want to do – there are different firms with different cultures, and although they provide similar apprenticeships, you need to find the one that’s right for you. I also found it important to do the AAT qualification. If you go to a firm, and it’s not working you can change firms, and still continue with your AAT studies. When you go to the interview, make sure you understand the firm and its values. Do lots of research in advance.
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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.