Jess joined Sayer Vincent as a trainee in 2012 and qualified in 2015. Since then, she has dedicated her career to the social purpose sector, working her way up to audit manager at SV before moving on to Help Musicians where she was the Finance Manager. Jess has recently started a new position as Head of Finance at Painshill Park Trust in Surrey.
We caught up with Jess and she has reflected on how her training at SV equipped her with the depth of knowledge she has taken forward to her role since leaving.
How was your time training and working at Sayer Vincent?
Working at Sayer Vincent was the perfect start to my accounting career. As an audit trainee, I was able to visit a different charity every week and get to know so many wonderful organisations doing fantastic work for their beneficiaries. The breadth of knowledge gained from working across so many sectors, including international NGOs, health and social care charities and arts and culture organisations, has been invaluable. The structured training path at Sayer Vincent enabled me to progress to manager level within two years of qualifying and gain a whole new set of transferrable skills to take away with me. The size of the firm meant that I was able to work closely with all managers and partners, who really are experts in their fields, and had brilliant role models to aspire to. I have stayed in touch with many of my colleagues from Sayer Vincent and they are always happy to provide support, advice or specialist technical knowledge over a coffee.
Making a difference and working in the sector
There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to stay in the charity sector when I moved on from Sayer Vincent. I was keen to experience the other side of charity finance: working within a charity and being audited myself. For me, the opportunity to get to know a charity inside out, rather than the whistle-stop nature of audit, has been fulfilling and a great career move. I learnt an incredible amount as Finance Manager at Help Musicians UK and have recently taken that experience with me to my new role as Head of Finance at Painshill Park Trust.
What advice would you give to those interested in starting a career in charity finance?
I would definitely recommend audit as a starting point to any finance career as it provides variety in both working environment and knowledge. I would also recommend working in a charity for a period as it equips you with a depth of knowledge that is useful even if you later return to audit.
Other than working with fantastic colleagues and feeling that I’m helping people just by doing my job, I love the technical side of charity finance. Many people would run a mile at the mention of partially exempt VAT or restricted funding, but I genuinely enjoy their complexities. Corporate accounting has always seemed rather dull in comparison!
Whats been the highlight of your career so far?
My favourite part of being the lead finance person in a charity is working with all other departments to prepare budgets, helping them better understand their management accounts and report to trustees. During my time at Help Musicians, we made significant progress towards non-finance colleagues taking ownership of their budget areas and I am about to embark on a similar process at Painshill.
“Many people think accountants are simply ‘bean-counters’ but, in reality, there is a huge focus on understanding how best to work with different types of people, many of them without a finance background.”
It is immensely rewarding to play a part in enabling the programme team to help more beneficiaries, the fundraising team to raise more money and the landscape team to restore our magical crystal grotto.