Sinead Gray never banked on a career of accounting giving her an exciting lifestyle. Here in her entry for Young Chartered Star, she explains how you can get the best of both worlds in your future job.
There’ll always be work for a Chartered Accountant’, as my father used to say when I was growing up. I always disregarded the idea. In my mind accountants were boring. The work they did was boring. That career wasn’t for me. But somewhere deep down I guess I was always heading down the accountancy path, even if I wasn’t aware of it. At Leaving Cert stage, I chose Geography as a subject only to switch, two weeks in, to Accountancy. For my school work experience I went to an accountancy practice in Sligo for two weeks. They asked me to come work with them straight after the Leaving Cert and do my Chartered exams through them. But no, although I enjoyed my time there, I was not interested. Next came the Business Studies degree in DCU – still not committing to accountancy though. Even signing up for a Post Graduate Diploma in Accountancy I was in denial!
But next thing I know I’m marching down Clonliffe Road on my way to the start of my three week induction training for PwC in Croke Park (and being from Sligo it was my first time walking into Croke Park!). ‘Am I actually going to be a Chartered Accountant?!’ I think I was probably still in denial.
Three years after that first encounter with Croke Park it turns out that yeah, I was and I am! Fast forward another 7 years and I can’t imagine working without my Chartered Accountant qualification.
Starting a Chartered Accountancy training contract with 200 + other recent, young graduates in a Big 4 firm is a great entry into the working world - it eases you in somewhat gently. It almost feels like you’re still in Uni: the camaraderie, the craic, the nights out…..! Oh, but obviously you’ve also got the hands-on experience, the training, the education and exam support, the building of a strong work ethic and the exposure to a range of clients from varying industries.
Having finally accepted, to the delight of my father, that accountancy was indeed the career for me and knowing that my ‘Chartered’ title would be recognised and respected globally and open up great opportunities for me, I planned to travel the world for a year or so. Having finished my training contract with PwC and coming away with invaluable experience, I took a so-called temp job in compliance with the Dublin-based, international humanitarian aid agency, GOAL, while I figured out my travel plans. ‘So called’ temp because seven and a half years later I’m still working with GOAL!
I never did take that ‘year out’ to travel. However, travel became an integral part of my role within GOAL. I’ve travelled to places I would never even have considered travelling to on my own, probably some I didn’t even know existed (including one that didn’t exist when I started) – South Sudan, Pakistan, Haiti, Honduras, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Nepal……the list goes on. Not exactly all on your average travellers ‘must see’ list but these have been some of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. I’ve met the most interesting people, including fellow Chartered Accountants, ate the most bizarre food, waited in the most 'unique' airport terminals and been part of some of the most interesting and exciting humanitarian and development programmes.
I’m currently writing this article on my flight back from Antakya, Turkey, close to the Syrian border, where our Syria Programme support office is located. It is in this office and in our office across the border in Syria that you’ll meet some of the finest people on this planet: true heroes who work tirelessly to provide assistance to those in greatest need, in some of the most insecure conditions imaginable. It is these people, and the rest of my colleagues worldwide, working in less than favourable conditions, who spur me on and make me want to do the job I do. The charity industry has had its fair share of bad press lately, GOAL included. Charities like GOAL have a responsibility to their beneficiaries first and foremost. Now, more than ever, it’s important that organisations like ours have strong governance, compliance functions and oversight in place so that our staff working on the front lines can continue with the great work that they are doing, providing life-saving assistance, without fear of programme interruption. And this is where Chartered Accountants come in. There are a number of Chartered Accountants working for GOAL and other similar aid agencies at headquarter level and worldwide in country programme offices, in financial controller, internal audit, compliance and other oversight roles and there’s always a need for more. It was my Chartered Accountant qualification and PwC experience that got me through the doors of GOAL initially. And it has been my colleagues and our beneficiaries across the globe that have kept me there for over seven years – I can’t imagine a more rewarding career.
As the Compliance Manager for GOAL I, along with a great team of compliance champions in Dublin and our overseas offices, am responsible for helping maintain donor confidence and ensuring continued funding of vital aid programmes. My team conduct regular compliance audits at various stages of a grant or programme to ensure that GOAL has adhered to both our donors’ requirements and our own internal control policies. I also develop compliance policies, such as our anti-fraud policy, and design, develop and deliver the training programmes used to ensure all staff are aware of their compliance obligations under these. In addition, we in the compliance team also provide training on the myriad of complex regulations of our donors - understanding the rules governing grants from our generous donors is a vital step to ensuring compliant programmes.
Working in compliance in an international humanitarian agency is not a career I ever would have dreamt about all those years ago when my view of accountants was the somewhat stereotypical one of ‘bean counters in grey suits’. While I’m sure there are still opportunities for accountants to wear grey suits if they wish, and perhaps even count beans, the world of accountants that I have become familiar with is far from grey. They are a vibrant bunch, doing extraordinary things, working with amazing people from different backgrounds and genuinely making a difference in this world.
One Young World
The One Young World Summit took place in Dublin in 2014. This was also the year of the West African Ebola virus epidemic. GOAL’s response to the epidemic was in full swing in Sierra Leone and Liberia as OYW delegates were descending on Dublin that October. My plans to take some leave and volunteer at the summit in Dublin had to take a back seat as it was ‘all hands on deck’ at GOAL HQ, providing support to our colleagues during the most widespread outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history (from my end this included travelling to West Africa on a number of occasions over the course of GOAL’s Ebola response). However I did manage to catch some of the OYW sessions on YouTube later, including the emotional call to promote human rights in North Korea from Yeonmi Park and the historical session on the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Participating in OYW is a great opportunity for young people to come together and see how we can impact change in the world – empowering and enabling us to get involved in solutions to global issues. As a Chartered Accountant working in the humanitarian sector I would also use the opportunity to encourage fellow delegates to consider how they could combine a successful professional qualification and career with really making a difference in the world.
My advice for those considering Chartered Accountancy……
There’s so much more to being a Chartered Accountant than just ‘accountancy’. The qualification opens up so many doors, some that you might not know even exist. So don’t pigeon-hole accountancy like I did in my early years - think beyond just number crunching. All industries, not least the international aid sector, have a need for finance and governance professionals and the Chartered Accountancy qualification makes you just that – professional. With this qualification you will have the opportunity to build a rewarding career and one that can really make a difference in the world.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn