Political Risk – by the numbers May 28, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Graduate recruitment, Political risk, networking , trackback
While Seán Doyle was studying his Masters in International Peace and Security at King’s College London he admits he would have had to be dragged forcibly into professional accountancy. Yet two years later he is a graduate trainee with KPMG in London and studying for professional exams with the ICAEW. He has surprised himself by how interesting he finds it and his mother is delighted! We talked to Seán about how this change came about.
Seán, what made you consider accountancy? After leaving King’s I went into a more typical role from the War Studies cohort and became an armed forces analyst with IHS Jane’s. I was especially focused on corruption in Eastern and Central Europe and while I enjoyed it and was able to be effective I started to get lost when I reached the numbers. I think I realised in the long term not being at ease around the numbers was going to be a significant limitation on my professional skills.
What does your work involve? Technically I’m a ‘graduate trainee’ – in other words I’m on the graduate training programme. I was able to do this because they consider all graduates regardless of how long they have been out of university. I am based in the ‘Investigations and Compliance’ section which is part of KPMG Risk Consulting’s Forensic Accountancy Practice. A major part of our work involves ensuring that fraud is prevented or detected. London is really a good place to be for this work, not so much because the place is full of criminals but because it’s a big financial centre which means money moved from one country often passes through London before reaching its final destination – money laundering is always a danger. The court system is also safe and predictable. This means that firms with interests in developing countries will often prefer to take commercial disputes (and the investigations arising from them) to London rather than keeping them in their home country. All this means we deal with some big cases. I really think that if I’d stayed in Dublin I would have had to work for 40 years and have a lot of luck to get involved with the level of cases I’m dealing with here as a trainee. I have to look at lots of material to detect unusual processes and patterns that would alert us to problems or provide evidence of wrong doing. This could mean anything from ploughing through 2 million emails to reviewing thousands of mortgage agreements. I have to make assessments about this information and, where necessary, create an understandable narrative about what it is telling us about companies or individuals. This has to be understood by non-specialists. Most especially by judges, but also by the victim so that they can take measures to prevent the fraud from re-occuring. You have to stay alert and use your knowledge and analytical skills to pick up on things that could be easily missed. Of course we are often up against people who are very motivated themselves. In one recent case our investigations seemed to hit a brick wall because the person whose assets we were investigating had them all tied up in a divorce case. On further investigation it turned out that he had been conveniently divorcing the same woman several times over the years – and it always seemed to coincide with a financial investigation. We do come across the occasional ‘cartoon criminal’ like this.
It would be very unusual find a classic ‘smoking gun’, much more typical would be building a full picture over a time and connecting apparently disparate things together.
How did your academic background prepare you for this? In a general way by developing my writing and research skills but more specifically by providing me with language skills (I studied Russian and my work focuses on Eastern Europe); and modules on things like Law and governance. For example I wrote essays and articles on the UN Security Council which indirectly helped me understand how people construct legal arguments around decisions that aren’t that clear cut in reality. My modules on governance really helped with the compliance aspect of my job which has a focus on rules and attitudes around compliance issues and the training needed. Other subjects I studied included wartime journalism which has a clear relevance in terms of the writing I have to do.
In a more general sense there is a real parallel between the motivation I had for researching in the academic arena and research in the practical way I conduct it for KPMG. In both domains I see that I am motivated to get through material to understand what is really going on.
Where there is a gap is the whole area around numbers. It’s not something that is covered on the masters course especially.
Why KPMG? Well they do consider people from a wide range of backgrounds and they support you in training around ‘the numbers’ from scratch. So, amazingly, I am now studying for the ICAEW exams (Chartered Accountancy) – and finding it more interesting than I had ever imagined. It was also important for me that I was able to access the support they are able to offer. They really want you to get through the professional exams and they know that if you fail one of the exams more than once then it’s game over. So far I’ve been okay. Even with the tax module – which I find hard to be positive about – I was able to get through. So the fact they give you practice exams and revision time meant a lot to me.
What tips for those considering this kind of career? Well if you are applying for KPMG make sure you are motivated to do the job. By the time you get to final interview they will have worked out if you are intelligent enough and have the right experience. The final interview really tests whether you are motivated to do the job and involves presenting a case study. It isn’t that difficult for them to tell whether you have prepared this thoroughly and are able to demonstrate a genuine interest. The interviewers will really grill you on this because they do want to see if you can think on your feet. They also want to see whether you will fit in with the culture of the firm. So do have a look at the company values and have an honest look to see if they really resonate with you.
A few more tips I found useful
- Do consider this as a career. I rejected it flat out before I knew about it but there is a real connection between my subject and this work.
- Do less applications but do them better. Tired people put in tired applications.
- CVs – customise them. It’s usually obvious when you haven’t. Consider for example is your language skill relevant? Often it will be. So give it more prominence in your skills section. I also tend to recommend a profile early on in the CV to highlight your key selling points
- Use your careers service. I was lucky in my department, they really got on our case about using careers and I did I found it very helpful both for CV checking and the practice interview they gave me. Typically in the careers library you come across material by accident as well which really reinforces my message about being open minded.
- Network. Again we had lots of events which enabled us to meet people but you can use things like LinkedIn to network. People like me aren’t in a position to give out jobs but we do have useful things to tell you. I think people avoid it through a fear of rejection. The best way to make sure you get a positive response is really reading the profile of the person you are communicating with and finding a legitimate point of connection. I wouldn’t be very motivated just to help people I don’t know who just want a job.
- Check your online profile. Even if recruiters don’t check your LinkedIn and Facebook accounts (though they sometimes do) your colleagues most likely will and you want to make sure you present a professional profile.
- Don’t take it personally. Sometimes recruiters make mistakes and sometimes in a rejection there are things for you to learn. In either case you mustn’t get discouraged.
THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT THE OPINION OF KPMG UK LLP