Principal Accountant Career Profile

Written by: Fiona Narburgh
Published on: 20 Nov 2020

Meet Rob, an everyday hero working as a Principal Accountant at Wychavon District Council.

Below Rob has shared his story to show what a career as a Principal Accountant is like.

What's your role in a nutshell?
I help make sure that public money is well spent and represents value for money for residents. I’m part of a 15 strong financial services team and I lead on budget setting and monitoring and make sure our managers have the right financial information to help inform decisions, such as how much a project will cost and how much budget they have left.

Was this a planned career or one you fell into?
A bit of both. I fell into it after I didn’t get into the RAF but now have a career plan.

I started helping out in an elections team back in 2016 when they needed extra people to help run the referendum. While I was there, I had the opportunity to work with the payroll and finance team. I really liked it, so I kept an eye on the WM Jobs website and when a trainee accountant role came up, I applied and got it.

I’ve been doing my CIPFA qualification - Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy - while learning on the job so now I’m a qualified accountant - it’s taken over three years.

I think biologically local government finance is in my genes as my mum works in a local council and my dad is a chartered accountant, so I already had a positive view of the sector.

Are you a doer, manager or leader?
Doer, but now also a manager as I’ve already been promoted since I’ve been here and I’m now managing the new trainee, after initially ‘acting up’ when my line manager left, then successfully getting the Principal Accountant job. I was involved in recruiting the new trainee which we did over zoom, and I’m looking forward to further developing my line management skills.

What do you love best & love least about your job?
I love being at the centre of the organisation and getting involved with all aspects of the business through the finances – I’m a bit nosey! With Covid-19 it’s been a real challenge to keep track of all the money going out, such as the £30million we’ve paid to local businesses in grants; that’s been a real team effort with colleagues in revenues and benefits and economic development.

What I love the least is when managers ask for urgent financial information late on a Friday!

Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?
My degree is in Geography so totally unrelated to finance – and the new finance trainee has a degree in Biochemistry, so it’s possible to be an accountant without a degree in it! I’ve really enjoyed doing the CIPFA qualification as it’s a mix on online learning and lectures at college; my council have supported me by paying for the course and giving me study leave too.

Special skills – you need to be good with numbers and good with spreadsheets. But you need to be good with people too. In my spare time I am the finance director for an American football team – that’s helped develop my leadership and team working skills too.

Routine or variety?
A bit of both. There’s the routine monitoring reporting of budgets every month and yearly tasks like the closure of the accounts and the budget setting process including setting the level of council tax to be charged to residents.

Lots of variety too – working on specific projects, like technical support on business rates and setting out the financial implications of employing new people.

Pay check or calling?
Calling. Even though I’m dealing with numbers and money all day, that’s not my personal motivation. I really like that I’m making a difference to society; I’m helping make sure money is spent wisely and achieving the outcomes the council sets out.

There’s lots of other benefits of working here too – not just training -there’s been a move towards more flexible and agile working, which means teams work together to cover the working day but decide when to do their hours, that’s really helpful now that we are working from home as the norm these days.

Is there development support available or is it DIY?
Now I have got my accountancy qualification I want to do some of the other courses that the council are offering such as the leadership course. There is a real drive to skill people up here and also an acknowledgment that quite a few of the managers are nearing retirement so the council want to train people up for succession planning.

Staying put or moving on?
Staying put, for now anyway. I want to help guide my new trainee through her CIPFA training and be there for consistent support. But after that I am keen to progress and manage more people. Here the Chief Executive is an accountant so that shows what is possible!

Can you share a life lesson or specific career advice?
Whatever job you do, however mundane, fully apply yourself – you never know where it will lead.

And finally, the best thing about working for the council is…being at the heart of the organisation in a great team and knowing that the sound financial decisions we make lead to better services and outcomes for residents.

Rob, is an #EverydayHero, working to change and make better the lives of others and you can be an #EverydayHero too. Click here to find roles currently available within Finance. 

Click here to read about more of our #EverydayHeroes