Being a finance manager requires a deep understanding of how the business works, great communication skills, and a love of figures. Jess Brindle is 23 and finance manager of Social Chain, a digital marketing company in Manchester.
In our interview, she talks about how she was headhunted to become finance manager of a start-up social media marketing company and how her work experience as a teenager helped gain her a dream job.
How did you get into the role of finance manager?
I took 12 GCSEs at school and did really well, as my lowest grade was B. My school didn’t have a sixth form so I went to Sixth Form College with my friends to do my A levels. The plan was for me to study Maths. Further Maths, History and Music, but after two weeks, I dropped out. It just wasn’t for me.
My parents were a bit worried and said I needed to find a job, so I started working in football coaching, because I had been involved in junior football. I was working via my local club going into to schools and teaching kids, and although I enjoyed it I realised after a while that there was not a lot of money in football coaching.
I wanted to move out of my parents’ house and have my own place, but I needed to earn more. So, at 18, I got a job in office admin, and I was working as the receptionist there.
Why did you choose AAT?
While I was working there my line manager whom I sat next to was the management accountant and she had done AAT and she suggested that I should study it. I’m good at maths, I love a spreadsheet, which I think is a prerequisite of being an accountant, and so it sounded really interesting.
So I started AAT at 21. I was working full time in the finance department for a company doing basic administration, and then I was doing online classes and studying in the evenings. It was hard work, but if you work full time and you are learning about what you’re actually doing as a job, and then taking that and putting it into practice, it is a really good way of embedding your knowledge. I found AAT extremely useful because it gave me skills to help me with my job.
How did you break into your current career?
I completed AAT Foundation level (Level Two) and Advanced level (Level Three) at that company, and then I was headhunted for a start-up in Manchester called Social Chain. It is a social media marketing company in Manchester and I’ve been there for five and a half years. I moved there when I was 23 and I was recruited because they wanted somebody who was young enough to fit in with the start-up team, but who had work experience. I had been working since I was 16 and not many people had the work experience that I had.
While I have been working at Social Chain I studied for my Professional qualification (Level 4). I did that in the classroom because working at a start-up is hard work with long hours. I needed to be able to concentrate on my study so I did one day a week in the classroom. I finished all the modules and I have now achieved Level 4. I started ACCA last March and I have three exams left to do.
What is your role as a finance apprentice at Social Chain?
I’m now the finance manager, I manage three members of staff. I manage the trend transactional team sales invoices transaction, payroll, and purchase ledger, and I put the management accounts together and submit them to the Financial Controller at the company.
What is a typical day for you?
We are still working from home with a few days in the office, so in the morning I log on and see which clients have paid, and then I let the sales ledger team know who was paid, so that they can start chasing up the invoices. I check in with my finance team and make sure everyone is ok, as we are all still working remotely. Being at home all day can be a bit lonely and so we have a 2pm daily video call. It’s the opportunity for the team to meet up and ask for any help that they need.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
Month end is the most interesting time for me as I have a lot of month end tasks including analysing the figures checking that they all balance.
Why did you decide to follow this career route?
It was the recommendation from my first manager. I wish school had told me that that was an option. I didn’t know that you could do an apprenticeship for law or accounting. School had implied that apprenticeships were for people who were doing manual work. A lot of people come to AAT as more mature students and that can work well for them too.
Any tips for breaking into the profession?
AAT is a great foundation. They are extremely helpful when it comes to tips for working and studying at the same time. Although it sounds like hard work it does mean that you’re embedding the learning. Whereas an accountancy and finance degree doesn’t give you the real life experience of putting things into practice in the real world. When I was working I was asking people how we do some of the procedures that I was learning about.
What is the most surprising part of the job?
I am on the Culture Committee at Social Chain. This is a group of employees and the HR and senior leadership team. We give feedback on how the company is run, and how it could be run better. It’s really important to get involved in things other than just your area.
The most interesting part of my role is understanding how other teams work. Communication between departments helps people understand the Finance department’s points of view as well. We are sometimes seen as the “Fun Police” and seen as the department that says no, that asks where your receipt is, and so it helps if those departments understand what we do and why we do it.
There is another aspect of my role which is around education and helping people take control of their own personal financial future. Recently I did a talk on auto-enrolment and pensions. We are a young company and it is good to encourage younger people to pay into a pension. Sometimes they feel that they’d rather have the money now, but I can educate them on why it’s important. The sooner you start to save for a pension, the better. That is not taught at school either, so doing a role like that and helps people and is rewarding.
More career profiles:
- Career profile: Finance apprentice
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- Career profile: Forensic accountant
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.