Over 181,500 chartered accountants across 148 countries are members of ICAEW, one of the world’s leading accountancy organisations. While these chartered accountants are world-class experts in business, did you know that many of them don’t actually come from a background in business, accounting, and finance?
Indeed, ICAEW has many members who studied fields such as the natural and social sciences, technology, and law before becoming chartered accountants. We recently talked to an ICAEW member, Julian Soon, to gain insights into his journey as an ICAEW ACA from a background in engineering. He also shares how his ICAEW ACA journey has helped him to kickstart his own startup in Malaysia, Supplycart – a B2B e-Procurement platform that aims to help companies throughout South East Asia digitalise their procurement processes.
1. You initially studied engineering but decided to pursue the ICAEW ACA instead. What made you decide to pursue chartered accountancy and specifically take up the ICAEW ACA?
My first internship was at a manufacturing plant. In addition to my mechanical engineering tasks, the plant manager kindly allowed me to conduct my own research where I surveyed and spoke with various departments to understand the inner workings of running a business. That experience ultimately cultivated my interest in business.
The following summer, I took up a job at my university in London and lived with a flatmate who was pursuing the ICAEW ACA qualification. After learning more about ICAEW’s chartered accountancy programme, I decided to pursue an internship with KPMG UK to experience what it would be like to work in business and finance. My internship was extremely rewarding and exposed me to an exciting landscape which convinced me to pursue the ICAEW ACA as I anticipated that it would open up new doors for me in my career journey.
2. What are some of the skills that you learnt studying engineering and the ICAEW ACA?
Pursuing the ICAEW ACA has provided me a great platform to apply the critical thinking and problem solving skillsets I obtained from studying engineering. For instance, back when I was doing my ACA training, I was constantly challenged and had many opportunities to hone my ability to navigate complex scenarios by thinking on my feet and quickly adapting to change.
The ICAEW ACA also enabled me to develop new perspectives in addition to my background in engineering, such as attaining an acute sense of business awareness and the exposure to management level work environments around the world. Ultimately, the skills I acquired geared me to understand the nature of how successful businesses operate.
3. You worked at KPMG in London for 6 years, qualifying as an ICAEW ACA during your time as an auditor and then as a management consultant. Can you elaborate on the nature of your work? Was it what you expected from working in audit?
What I found refreshing during my time as an auditor was the level of ‘real work’ exposure and direct engagement with senior clients that I experienced. For instance, I was immersed in conducting thorough analyses and learned to strategically make sound judgements in order to conduct meetings with my senior stakeholders, all of which are critical components to growing as a professional. I worked with an experienced and helpful team that emphasised the importance of integrity and fit-for-purpose approach to auditing organisations with unique and different financial situations.
Auditors today need to be able to process large amounts of information efficiently and analyse them accurately in order to interpret the overall financial state of the business. My big takeaway from the experience was learning how to balance working strategically and ensuring optimum risk management for an audit client.
4. After working in London you moved to Singapore to work with BP’s internal consulting team. How did your experience at a firm compare to your experience with an oil & gas company?
The skills I obtained as an ACA enabled me to navigate my transition seamlessly from a career in a services organisation to one in an oil and gas company. There is no doubt that the experiences in problem-solving and decision-making that I obtained from the ICAEW ACA.
While the overall business nature of the oil and gas sector differs from that of the services industry, I found the nature of consulting in BP to be familiar, such as optimising the overall business and ensuring that the company carried out operations with due diligence.
5. How did the ACA prepare you to become an entrepreneur?
When I first launched Supplycart, I was extensively involved in setting up the finance team and establishing financial and business processes. Having previously worked as an auditor and management consultant, facilitated my ability to think through what kind of structures and frameworks I needed to prioritise in order to grow my business.
Having dealt with various stakeholders and financial institutions also made it easier for me to engage with the relevant organisations and people outside my company to get Supplycart running, such as opening up a company bank account and sorting out the finances. With my auditing experience, I am now able to shape the conversation around proposals that other auditors put forth when it comes to assessing my company’s finances and growth.
6. It is interesting that you started in finance and have now moved on to lead technology & product development. Could you tell us why you decided to make this change?
While engineering and management consulting have taught me to approach problems in a methodological manner, being an ICAEW chartered accountant has helped me to gain a deep understanding of business and financial processes that enabled me to approach and understand a business problem from different angles and perspectives. By learning about the inner workings of successful organisations and weighing a range of solutions to see which was most pragmatic, I was able to kick-start Supplycart’s development of an e-procurement platform that would address procurement challenges for companies.
In addition, I would definitely say that my ability to successfully navigate and transition into various professional fields comes from my combined experience in engineering and chartered accountancy, along with my consulting background. I would attribute my mobility to the ICAEW ACA, which helped me to develop transferrable skills that are valuable across industries and subject matters, including the ability to effectively communicate and add value to businesses.
7. In one sentence, what would you say is the greatest benefit of having the ICAEW ACA qualification?
The ICAEW ACA qualification has equipped me with not only a robust understanding of the accounting field but also invaluable insights into business and finance, which I can use to navigate a wide range of professional industries.
Ready to Embark on a Life-Changing Career Path Like Julian’s? Learn about the ICAEW ACA and Full Scholarships Available!
If you’re considering kickstarting an exciting career journey then learn more about the ICAEW ACA to fast-track your professional career aspirations. You can contact ICAEW Malaysia via: