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House key | AccountingWEB | Is age really just a number?

A fresh start: Is age really just a number?


After some big changes at home, Matthew Ord looks at the age-old cliché of age being just a number when it comes to making a fresh start in accounting.

2nd May 2024
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Moving house is stressful.

When I bought my last place, I remember sinking myself into the settee, taking a look around and deciding that was me done – I was never moving again. Why put myself through it?

In hindsight, that was always going to be quite far wide of the mark but having moved again recently, it all came flooding back.

It’s tough but it’s also been worth it.

Why wait?

The driving factor was not doing it too late. I’ve moved to a part of the country I’ve wanted to for a long time, with the original plan being to up sticks much later in life.

Why, though? Why wait to do something I – somewhat ironically – couldn’t wait to do?

A similar discussion reared its head on Any Answers recently, when amirthaa04 asked if 40 was too late an age to start studying with ACCA.

I was drawn to it and decided to dig a little deeper, given my recent dalliance with not wanting to wait around.

Sophie Parkhouse, technical and training partner at Albert Goodman, told AccountingWEB that it’s “not uncommon for us to have people joining the firm that are doing so as a career change”.

“We have had people come to us from the education and banking sectors, as well as people who may have worked in the past but due to family circumstances, have not had a career and are now at a stage in their life where they would like a new challenge and change of focus,” she said.

Becoming more common

Parkhouse believes it may in fact become more common in the future, with “millennials and Gen Z being more open to change in the workplace and being potentially less loyal to their employers, meaning that they are more comfortable with the idea of fresh challenges through their working journey”.

So far as the timing goes, she doesn’t think there is ever a point at which it is too late to enter the accounting industry.

“In being an accountant, you need a strong personal skill set, be able to regularly exercise judgement, have a questioning mind, challenge perspectives and problem solve. These are all skills which take time to develop and sometimes having had previous roles and a wider sphere of reference can actually support this.”

Parkhouse’s colleague Sarah Milsom, technical and training manager, is one such latecomer to the industry.

She joined Albert Goodman in 2018 having previously worked as a food retail manager. With a family background in sheep farming and a degree in economics, she completed her AAT exams independently prior to joining the firm’s farms and estates team.

Since then, Milsom has completed her ACCA exams.

Rethinking a career

Speaking to AccountingWEB, Milsom said that when rethinking her career, she thought about what she enjoyed studying at university – the answer being the “numbers side of things”.

“I picked up the phone to our local college and just had a casual chat with a guy who suggested I do AAT – while my kids were in early primary school – around my work.”

She did exactly that to see how she found it and without having to make any commitments, before “sticking in one application form” for the job she has now.

“I thought 'I’ve never worked in accounting and not got any experience, etc’. What're the chances of an interview? I'll just look over the next year.”

Milsom was soon invited for an interview and landed the role, with her attitude now being: “Sometimes you’ve just got to take a punt – and I went for it.”

Right thing to do

Overall, she says it wasn’t a particularly difficult transition. On the contrary, it was “absolutely the right thing to do”.

“Having to reset your mindset to go in again and start from scratch was slightly weird but in a good way – I just embraced it. It hasn't held me back and it never felt too onerous. I was always well supported at work and I was well supported at home.

“Absolutely I would 100% do it again every time.”

As would I with the house move. It’s easy to say in hindsight and everyone’s circumstances are very different but what mine and Milsom’s experiences share are taking somewhat tentative steps. She studied without the commitment and I did all the due diligence I could. Neither guaranteed the positive outcomes we’ve both had but the risk at least felt calculated.

“It's never too late,” concluded Milsom.

Or early, in my case.

Replies (7)

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By Roland195
02nd May 2024 15:40

I think this may be an over optimistic view - this forum is littered with examples of ACCA Finalists who are unable to qualify from lack of relevant experience that no-one has ever seemed to suggest would be a problem.

Thanks (0)
By WhiteRose
02nd May 2024 18:48

I had a career in retail, then changed course completely. I studied AAT in my late thirties, worked in practice for a few years and then set up on my own. Have never regretted it.

Thanks (2)
By Katedimo
03rd May 2024 08:43

I am close to 50s experienced accountant in Greece, owner of accounting office, worked lots of year in multinational companies during my youth. Now I want to make "The CHANGE", practice Quickbooks & Zoho and really enjoy the challenge! Want to "cross boarders " . Is there any collegue who needs help? There is going to be mutual benefit. If anyone thinks that we could cooperate pls mail me([email protected])

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
03rd May 2024 19:54

It's never too late. The biggest challenge however comes when anyone assumes that they are of value to an employer or will be able to set up and run their own practice simply because they have passed some exams. Whatever your age there is no substitute for decent experience in practice. On my 30 minute weekly podcast, Accountants' Success Secrets, we routinely hear from accountants who are far more interested in recruiting experienced people as distinct from those with qualification but only limited practical experience.

Thanks (1)
Replying to bookmarklee:
By Katedimo
03rd May 2024 20:23

Thank you Mr Lee.
But how can enter as a greek accountant in the UK accounting-bookkeeping market ? I think it is difficult to trust a non certified (ACCA,ACA etc) account no matter the experience and multinational companies' environment that I come from..

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Replying to Katedimo:
By FactChecker
03rd May 2024 21:00

You've missed Mark's key message: "Whatever your age there is no substitute for decent experience in practice."

In other words ... qualifications are great, but not enough on their own.
Similarly, age should not be a barrier in itself - although (back to Mark's point) it will be a bigger concern if the extra age is not accompanied by relevant experience.

Being blunt ... what you need to do is to find a business where your particular experience and skills are needed, and hopefully where they can offer you the chance to broaden that scope.
Probably obvious - but saying 'multinational companies' doesn't tell anyone in what capacity and at what depth you've operated ... and any prospective employer needs to know those things.

One last point: either you've got experience of UK accounting or not; if not you could be starting at the bottom unless you can find a niche specific to your skills.

Thanks (3)
paddle steamer
07th May 2024 11:09

I think the main constraint on such changes are financial obligations which can readily increase as one gets older( before hopefully then reducing again as one gets even older.)

It is a brave individual with mortgage, childcare costs etc who walks from whatever rung in one career and restarts in the foothills of another.

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