Case study

Management accountant — Jess Harcourt

After leaving school, Jess studied accounting qualifications with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) while working in various finance roles. She now works at Fearless Adventures as a management accountant

How did you get your job as a management accountant?

I fell into finance while working at a small, family-run business. From there I started studying AAT Level 2 as part of my finance assistant role.

I then got the opportunity to work for social media marketing agency Social Chain, as it was starting out. They approached me through LinkedIn, as I had eight years' work experience.

From there, when the co-founders Dom McGregor and Steve Bartlett exited the business in 2020, they set up new companies and Dom asked me to go with him on his next adventure. This led to me starting my current role as management accountant for Fearless Adventures.

What qualifications have you studied up to this point?

I've achieved AAT Levels 2 to 4, as well as the Skills and Professional Levels of the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification.

What made you choose this career path and qualification route?

I didn't know what I wanted to do when I left school. Even though academically I was bright, I decided that I wanted a break from traditional education. I started working at a local football club doing something I enjoyed - football coaching. From there, each job has just led me to where I am today.

Studying while working was important for me, because I wanted to move out of my parent's house and still do all the things you want to do while growing up.

Are these professional qualifications essential for the job you've been doing?

Yes, as in accountancy the legislation is always changing. There are rules and ways of doing things, so it was important for me to become chartered and gain these qualifications. However, working while studying has helped me to learn and put everything into practice much faster than if I was just doing a degree and not working in the industry.

How have you found the work-study balance?

It's tough. It involves long hours and hard work. Working for start-ups while studying also creates added pressure. I just have to be strict with my time, and I schedule everything into my calendar. Even down to my gym sessions and socialising, everything goes into the calendar, so I feel in control and more organised.

I've also had to miss certain things, like the Platinum Jubilee weekend, for example. I spent the weekend studying for my last exam. But I know it'll be worth it in the end.

What support have you received during this time?

Each employer has been amazing. Social Chain and Fearless have both given me time off, as well as paying for the study support and exams. They've been so understanding.

My family have also been incredibly supportive. My husband does whatever he can to make sure I'm not getting stressed about any day-to-day stuff during exam time.

What's a typical working day like?

  • Early morning - get up, go to the gym and then commute to the office. I love being in the office around people. I find working from home very isolating.
  • Morning - check the bank accounts, post invoices and respond to emails.
  • Lunch - go for a walk and do some studying while eating.
  • Afternoon - I try to dedicate time to each business partner.
  • Evening - I attend run club on Tuesday with the team, Friday drinks, or studying if I have an exam due. Sometimes I study in the office in an evening and then I know when I'm home I have some time to myself.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The people I've met along the way, the team I work with every day are incredible.

What are the challenges?

My job is numbers - not everyone understands numbers so my job is to tell the story of what they are telling us so managers can make informed decisions. If the numbers haven't gone the way we expected, I sometimes have to give bad news - but I always make sure I understand the reasons why.

It's no use me saying sales have fallen, or we've spent too much on overheads - I need to understand the story.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I currently have the best of both worlds - industry and practice. I work in industry, but I get to work with different businesses every day, so it's never boring.

My ambition is to become chartered. That's been a goal for such a long time now that I've not really thought about what's next, but I do know I'll be up for the next challenge, whatever that is.

What advice would you give to others interested in pursuing a finance career?

  • Don't worry about following a traditional path - take whatever route is right for you. There isn't a right or wrong way to working in finance.
  • Actively look to get involved with and understand other parts of the business. Sometimes, finance teams are too blinkered with their own work, but in the finance team we're privileged in being able to see how all the cogs of a business link together. So, get to know everyone else and understand their roles too.
  • Keep learning. The world of finance is constantly evolving, with digital skills and software changing all the time to keep up to date. Don't be stuck in your ways just because you've always done something a certain way, as that doesn't mean it's the best way to do it.

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