Career Profile: Management Accountant

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Stevie Dennis MAAT is a management accountant at Vertu Motors, which owns 190 dealerships nationwide selling a wide range of cars from Citroen to Ferrari. It also offers servicing on-site.

In our interview, she talks about how she decided to study for her AAT qualification because she had always had a great interest in business and finance, how she loves cars and how she has found her AAT qualifications of huge benefit in the workplace, leading to her winning the Apprentice of the Year award from her employer.

What is your role?

I am a management accountant at Vertu Motors. I wanted to progress up into management because my granddad was a managing director, my family is interested in cars, and I knew I wanted to do something with numbers. The combination of those things was exactly the career path that I wanted.

I am responsible for the running of the finance function at the dealership in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. I manage a team and I authorise all payments out of the company bank account. I am responsible for the mid-month forecast, the estimate at the end of the month, keeping an audit file and being the custodian of the balance sheet, and finally, producing the monthly accounts.

When I began researching apprenticeship roles, I searched for accountancy apprenticeship opportunities through the government website. My current goal is to study for my CIMA qualification.

What qualifications do you have?

I am AAT Level 3 and Level 4 qualified. I completed my Level 3 qualification and apprenticeship during the COVID-19 lockdown, which presented some challenges but also allowed for focused portfolio work.

The apprenticeship involved a combination of on-the-job training and study, and I found that working and studying at the same time provided a deep understanding of the accounts department and its functions. With the apprenticeship I also had the opportunity to work at different sites, gaining experience in dealing with different procedures and team dynamics.

I was the first person to come back to work at the Bradford dealership after lockdown, and I helped out with the finance function at two sites.

What prepared you for this current role?

When I was studying for AAT Level 4, I was working full time and I didn’t take any time off to go to college. I was very disciplined in dedicating time in the evenings and weekends, which enabled me to complete my Level 4 qualification at age 20.

What are the most interesting parts of your job?

It is interesting to look at the finances and find out where we are incurring costs that are unnecessary – for example at the Nelson dealership in Lancashire I discovered we had been paying a large amount for a franking machine each month.

It sounds like a small thing, but when you add all the expenses over a year it makes a big difference. Recently I have been running reports on the bodywork repair centre, assessing the average number of jobs completed in a day, the average number of cars, and working out the average cost of a job.

This enables me to see whether the cost of preparing a car to sell is going to be excessive and whether we would lose money on the car, in which case it is better to sell it to trade rather than to a customer at the dealership.

How did you win Apprentice of the Year?

While I was studying for AAT Level 3 I got a really rounded view of the accounts department. I looked after three different sites to get that experience and I had a deep dive into the accounts department and its functions. The award recognises commitment to learning and outstanding development. The nomination for that award came from the development I acquired through lockdown. Lockdown was a huge challenge, but it also meant that I was recognised for my work and it gave me a lot of skills.

During that time I was often the only person on site and I learnt a lot really, really quickly and filled gaps where other people would normally have been completing the roles. That gave me a lot of extra responsibility and a huge range of experience.

Why did you decide to follow this career route?

I knew I wanted to progress up into management. I had a passion for figures, business, physics and maths during school, and I was influenced by my family’s history of working with cars. My granddad made car radios and my mother spray painted cars.

I chose Vertu Motors because they offered the AAT Level 3 qualification in accountancy, which aligned with my career goals of becoming a chartered accountant.

How has AAT helped you?

AAT Level 3 provided a transactional understanding of accounts, while Level 4 offered a more conceptual knowledge to analyse information and enhance performance by understanding accounts and cost analysis.

AAT has helped me because the qualification means that my knowledge is recognised and therefore I will be considered for roles like management accountant, dealership accountant, and my eventual ambition which is finance director. As a young person in a management role it does take time for people to take you seriously.

Then there is the depth of knowledge – for example in Level 3 Advance Bookkeeping you obtain insights into how the accounting system works, the categories that transactions are split into and a better understanding the balance sheet.

What skills does today’s accountant need?

Analysis: Recently, my company has been putting a lot of emphasis on cash flow. I have been looking at cash flow forecasts and I reconciling them with the movements in the bank, enabling me to gain a lot more awareness of the working capital position.

Management skills: When I first started, I didn’t see myself being responsible for the development of other people in my team, but now that is one of the favourite parts of my job.

Adaptability: Thisis a really important quality in an accountant, especially with the digital world changing so quickly. Since I started, the company has implemented a lot of new systems and you have really got to be open minded and ready to learn.

Digital knowledge: Managers also need to be cyber aware, as a lot of businesses have email phishing attacks. This is a key part of our training, to help colleagues spot suspicious emails and malware.

Communication: This is a key skill because not everyone is familiar with accountancy and finance jargon and you need to be able to communicate figures and strategy to all the different departments. Since I have been promoted I have learnt how to take time to explain the finances to people and communicate in a way that non-finance colleagues can understand.

What do you like most about your job?

My day-to-day responsibilities include overseeing the finance function, managing a team, authorising payments, monitoring cash flow, and producing management accounts. The most enjoyable part of my day is working on cash flow forecasts and seeing the accuracy improve over time.

I really enjoy being a leader and mentoring people in my team. I just really enjoy having a problem to solve. At heart that is what I’ve always been fascinated by – looking into problems and finding a solution.

What challenges you have overcome?

When I was just starting out I had to make my mark as a young women in a male-dominated industry. I have developed the confidence to be a female manager, stand up for myself and explain that I have the knowledge to make those decisions. Now that I’ve grown more comfortable in my role I find it a lot easier to explain to people what my experience and AAT knowledge means and how I have used it to get to the solution.

What are your interests outside work?

I am completing a course on Marine Biology. I love the ocean and I grew up in Bridlington, a seaside town in Yorkshire, before my family moved to Leeds. I am the proud owner of a four year old Corn Snake called Bean. Ironically, up until about six months before I bought a snake, I was actually terrified of them, but after seeing videos about keeping them as pets, I realised that I would like to care for one myself. I actually now find that handling them is quite therapeutic. Bean needs to be kept in an enclosure that has both a warm side and a cool side to allow her to thermoregulate. Other people are often quite surprised about my hobby but tend to be quite interested in it.

Further reading

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.

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