Neil Watters is currently Head of Finance at the Academy of Medical Sciences. The charity has gone through a period of sustained growth and his role has involved building a new team and implementing a new finance system.
How was your time training and working at Sayer Vincent?
I always had a passion to pursue a career in charity finance. Before I started at Sayer Vincent, I was working in the finance team for a small charity in Glasgow but the opportunity to join SV, gaining a wide range of first-hand experience working across so many types of charitable organisations was one I didn’t want to miss. Sayer Vincent provided a very supportive environment throughout my time as a trainee and working as an audit senior after I qualified. Working and studying for the ACA was definitely a challenge, however there were lots of people around for moral support and also guidance throughout.
The culture at Sayer Vincent was great and really attracts likeminded people – those who genuinely care about working for social purpose organisations. During my time at SV, I became particularly interested in international NGOs, I was grateful to have the opportunity to work with several INGO clients as well as joining the internal sector group for international charities. The experience and deep understanding I gained of how international charities work really helped me with my first role after leaving practice, as Group Finance Manager at Farm Africa.
What are the lasting skills or experiences that you took from your training at Sayer Vincent?
I’m currently Head of Finance at the Academy of Medical Sciences. I joined during a time of rapid growth and change, my role has involved building a new and larger team and implementing a new finance system. My role has been a challenge and I think the experience and knowledge gained at SV has been utilised the most since I started my current role than in any of my previous roles. My experience as an auditor involved looking in depth at systems and controls and writing post audit reports to deliver useful insights – this has been a great asset. My experience advising clients and delivering internal and external audits for various types of clients gave me great insight and experience which has been fed back into my work at the Academy.
Can you share any key lessons learned over the years?
Be open to change
Transitioning from an auditor to working in a finance team within a charity was a challenge initially. Generally, I’ve found the culture within charities to be similar to Sayer Vincent in many respects which has been helpful, however, the day to day work as a finance manager is very different to that of an auditor and I had to adjust to this change. Analysing things from and external perspective as an auditor is very different however there were a lot of transferable skills and points I was able to apply from my experience.
Take time to think strategically and assess priorities
In common with many of those working within finance my impulse is often to throw myself into a task and my comfort zone is generally working my way through an immediate problem. As my career has progressed and particularly as I have been involved in an increasing volume of project work as well as being responsible more widely for the strategic direction of the team it has, however, become ever more important to ensure I make time to take a step back from this and review priorities. Completing PRINCE2 project training has been very useful in improving my project management and helping me to balance these aspects of my roles with the day-to-day.
Interact with as many people in your organisation as you can
Having a lot more interaction with internal stakeholders within the various charities I’ve worked in has better enabled me to gain a more strategic perspective. A key tip from me would be to listen to people and make sure that you fully understand their needs. This really helps with gaining a better understanding of how the organisation works in order to provide a beneficial service which should ideally go way beyond the regulatory aspect of finance.
Expect the unexpected
In a previous role I was called to travel to Kenya to finalise the country office year end accounts at very short notice due to staffing and control issues. My experience as an auditor working in a new environment and under time constraints really kicked in and has helped me to fulfil several time-pressured tasks since leaving audit.
Making a difference and working in the sector
I really enjoyed my time working as a treasurer at South London Community Music which gave me a closer perspective on the workings of a charity at the trustee level. I’m keen to get back into volunteering again and will shortly be commencing the first stages of becoming a listening volunteer for the Samaritans.