Celebrating the success of the next generation
USW awarded Lowri Edmunds the ICAEW South Wales Society Prize for Best Student studying the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, recognising her hard work and commitment throughout her studies, and to celebrate International Women’s day I met with Lowri (virtually of course) to ask her about her ACA journey.
On 2nd October 2020 Lowri Edmunds received the text message all ACA students dream of, the confirmation that you have completed your ACA studies. Tears stinging her eyes, Lowri read the text message, hardly able to believe her goal had been achieved. The realisation was that one chapter had come to the end, and another had begun because from that day her life could now begin.
Lowri grew up in Ystradgynlais, attending Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera. With both parents in the teaching profession, and her older sister teaching Welsh to adults, it seemed Lowri’s love for Maths was a break from the mould. I asked Lowri whether she might consider now teaching ACA, but she quickly dismissed this as her next career path, for the moment the pressure of study is still too raw.
Lowri, a quiet student, progressed through her ACA qualification with determination and focus. As ICAEW Course leader, her USW Personal Academic Coach and her tutor for several modules I witnessed first-hand the immense pressure she placed upon herself.
Lowri, often her worst critic, would be filled with self-doubt as she approached the exams, despite her dedication and hard work, Lowri would always be surprised on results day, at seeing her success in black and white.
Did you always want to be an accountant?
No, my favourite subject in school was Maths, so I guess there was always an interest within the field of Accountancy.
Growing up I wanted to be a Vet, this was until I attended work experience at the local vets and fainted………It was at this point I realised it probably was not for me.
So, how did your path change towards accountancy?
I spent a few weeks of my summer holidays working at a local accounting firm and really enjoyed my experience. After researching Universities and courses, I decided a career within Finance looked interesting and offered good career opportunities, I successfully applied to Cardiff University reading Accounting and Finance.
What happened from there?
After leaving University, I applied for the Graduate Program at Watts Gregory LLP, I got the job and have worked there ever since.
Part of the program is to complete the ACA qualification.
How did you feel about starting the ACA?
I was really looking forward to starting, especially because it is such a well-respected qualification, but I did feel a little trepidation at the thought. I knew it would be challenging to study alongside working full time.
My employer chose the University of South Wales, to complete my studies, as the campus is based in Newport and offering a weekly timetable of study and they work alongside the employers to ensure students are prepared, on track, and supported.
Was it harder than you expected?
My lecturers at Cardiff had always said it would be difficult, so I expected a challenge and I prepared for that. I worked hard at Cardiff University and applied the same work ethic when I began my studies at the University of South Wales.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out on their ACA journey?
Don’t underestimate the work involved, work hard, keep your training file up to date and always ask for help when you need it. When you're faced with new materials and large study manuals, it can be very daunting, and it can look worse than it is. Ensure you make condensed notes as soon as possible and tab up your materials if you have an open book exam.
Lastly, believe that you can do it!
Did you ever consider giving up?
Yes, there were times I would allow the self-doubt to tempt me, especially in the lead up to exams. I always knew I wouldn’t succumb to temptation, as I have always been a sedulous learner.
One of my lecturers understood the challenges, having sat the exams herself. She was able to offer advice and reassurance. I am extremely grateful for all her concern for me and her firm belief, especially as mine waivered, that I would reach my goal, and I would become a Chartered Accountant.
She told me one day I would look back and never believe I considered giving up.
What would you recommend to someone struggling with the challenges of ACA?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during your ACA qualification as it can be quite intense at times. The following study tips are suggestions I found helpful when studying for my ACA qualification.
- Contact your lecturers if you’re struggling with the work or if you’re feeling stressed.
- Take regular breaks – going for a walk, baking some banana bread or just taking time to do something that makes you happy.
- Create a realistic timetable at the revision stage, this will help you plan what topic you will be studying on which day – it’s also important to factor in some days off into your timetable as you’ll need to take regular breaks.
- The sooner you can start making notes and start answering the question bank, the better. The question bank gives you good practice of the types of questions the examiners can ask and the approach you should take when answering questions.
What was your favourite module? What was your least favourite module?
My favourite module was Financial Accounting and Reporting. I enjoyed this module as the exam topics were relatable to my role in work – understanding and applying the different accounting policies and standards. There was a lot to learn for the exam, but the content wasn’t complex and there was structure to answering the questions which I found helpful when sitting the exam.
My least favourite module was Business Planning Tax. I found it a big step up from tax compliance, there was a lot of material to cover. Tax rules can be complicated, and I don’t deal with tax a lot in work, which is probably why I didn’t enjoy this module as much as others. Time management was crucial for this paper, and I spent a lot of time practising past papers to ensure that I always had time to answer all questions.
Would you recommend USW as a place to complete your ACA?
I would thoroughly recommend USW as a place to complete ACA studies and I enjoyed attending the Newport campus for the 3 years I studied. For me personally, I learn better from classroom teaching than online courses, so USW was an excellent option. I preferred that the lectures were spread over a few months rather than the traditional ‘block learning’ which doesn’t suit my learning style at all.
The lecturers I had at USW were all very helpful and would be quick in responding to any queries I emailed to them - even during revision periods in the Summer.
The course materials provided were extremely useful with additional homework questions which enabled me to verify my understanding of the topics covered that week.
A report in 2016, by the ICAEW surveyed female accountants to find out more about their perceptions of the profession. 57% of the women questioned admitted to seeing accountancy as a male-dominated field. What is your perception?
Traditionally accountancy has had more men than women, but I think it would be fair to say that we have seen a drive for change over the years. Gender diversity is vital in the workplace and this is now being highlighted more. It is being driven by ICAEW themselves, launching the ‘Women in leadership programme.’ Initiatives such as these all help in pushing forward the changes we want to see.
Do you feel you have to work harder to prove yourself as a female in finance?
Inevitably you find yourself wanting to prove that you can be just as good as your male colleagues.
Working in audit allows me to work closely with various finance directors in an array of different industries. Seeing women partners and female finance directors encourages me to work hard and gives me the drive to achieve similar goals.
Which women inspire you the most and why?
I am extremely lucky in life to have grown up surrounded by inspirational women.
It’s fair to say my sister is the person I look up to the most in life. I count myself very fortunate to have grown up with an older sister who I see as my role model. Throughout school and university, she worked diligently and conscientiously and seeing her work so hard motivated me to do the same. She is always there to offer words of encouragement whenever I need her.
My mother is also a big influence in my life. Despite being a teacher, she never put any pressure on me but always encouraged me to do my best. She instilled in me the qualities of respecting others, hard work and believing in myself. Even as an adult at 24 years old sitting my final exams, she would be there to remind me that all I could do was my best. Arguably she is the kindest person on the planet, and I am incredibly lucky that I get to call her my ‘mam’.
Was it worth it?
It was definitely worth it, being ACA qualified will open a lot of career doors.
The ACA qualification has changed me as a person, it was a significant moment in my life as it was a goal I had set to achieve since applying for university many years ago and I am proud to say it’s one of my biggest achievements so far.
I really value my achievement and I have more confidence both personally and professionally because of it.
Do you see a future in accounting and finance?
My career path is firmly in accounting and finance – be that in practice or industry. I hope to build upon my knowledge and experience to achieve a position of responsibility within a company.
In the long term, I would like to continue to build on my newfound confidence. Obtaining my ACA reaffirms that really now everything is achievable, and anything is possible.