How an ACA qualification can open up more opportunities than you might think

Jim Leeves is a chartered accountant who spent 11 years at a successful practice before becoming a partner and consulting manager at Xero. Even before joining Xero, Leeves championed cloud adoption and knows first-hand the benefits and challenges of running successful digital transformation projects. He describes the benefits of ACA qualifications, his career journey and transitioning across sectors


he ICAEW Chartered Accountant qualification, ACA, is one of the most advanced learning and professional development programmes available. It is valued around the world in business, practice and the public sector.

Impressively, 77% of FTSE 100 companies have an ICAEW chartered accountant on their board. It takes a minimum of three years of training and requires you to pass a series of examinations and commit to continuing professional development.

Many might think that this opens up quite a specific career path, but actually it could lead to a whole host of different opportunities. You could find yourself advising charities on tax, helping to influence a school’s spending or working on the board of a global company, driving tech innovation amongst the accounting community.

I have found the flexibility and opportunities available first-hand in my own career.

Jim Leeves, partner and consulting manager, Xero

Starting your journey

If you are keen to learn more before embarking on your journey towards an ACA qualification, the ICAEW offers additional learning including the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB).

This allows you to learn more about finance, accounting and business and is a globally recognised qualification. It can be achieved in 12 months, after which a lot of people then move on to complete the full ACA.

My journey started with my love for numbers. Even as a kid at school, I remember asking to do extra maths and loving the thrill of getting the numbers right! Fast forward a few years, and I graduated with a maths degree from the University of Kent and went looking for a career in accountancy.

In my early days in an accounting practice, I remember piles of floppy discs with software backups and A3-size analysis pads being commonplace. But as technology developed and started to change the game for the industry, advising clients on new digital tools became a real passion of mine. This is what spurred my career change.

Making a career transition

I decided to make the move to Xero in the summer of 2017. Part of this was fuelled by wanting to help more small businesses to get the type of support and advice they needed from their accountants. Too often, we were allowing businesses to struggle with manual or inefficient finance functions, and I knew there was a better way.

That is what is so great about a career in accounting: it gives you the flexibility to explore different options as the industry changes. Moving to a global technology company has given me lots of different opportunities – and helping practices to scale, operate more efficiently and use digital tools more effectively has been really important to me.

I would encourage others in the industry who are thinking about their future to spend time considering what you are passionate about and the areas of the job you love the most, and to talk to other peers.

What are your transferable skills?

Many of the skills developed from an ACA qualification can be transferable and used in different environments.

For me, having a strong background working in a practice has really helped me to do my current role even better. If you have never worked in practice, it is tougher to understand the challenges the accounting industry faces and what is most important to them.

I have been able to work across our product, marketing and education teams over the years, lending them my first-hand experience from my time in practice.

Think about the skills you have or the ones you want to grow. This will help you look at which ones are transferable and could open new doors and career paths for you.

Find shared values 

A key area for me in my career is working with organisations with which I have strong shared values and where I feel supported. Luckily, I have found this in my roles to date, but it is really important to explore this as you consider new opportunities.

At Xero, we have a great purpose and a set of values which we genuinely live out every day. Over the past 18 months, finding the right balance between work and personal life has been more difficult than ever. As a company, we were all given three hours off every week to enjoy with our families. That is something important to me.

I was always told that an accounting qualification – in my case, the ACA – would open up opportunities that I did not think were possible. That has certainly been the case for me.

I would encourage anyone to be open minded when it comes to career paths. You never know what doors might open.