CA Magazine June 2022 - Room to Grow (Mentoring)

The ICAS Foundation provides financial and mentoring support for young people. Mentor Jonny Steen CA and mentee Finlay Brown share the lessons they’ve learned from one another

Finlay Brown (Student, University of Strathclyde)

I loved accounting from my first accountancy class. I’m a logical thinker, so I took to it well – I remember getting excited over the basic stuff like FIFO [first in, first out], LIFO [last in, first out] and variable cost per unit.

I’m an optimistic person and I don’t usually think of the barriers when I want to do something – but I definitely saw them when applying to university as a mature student. I did the college route, rather than going straight from high school. When you go to high school in a deprived area, you aren’t encouraged to go to university. But the University of Strathclyde takes people in year two. More and more universities are trying to be accessible in this way, and that will definitely be a big help going forward.

I found out about the ICAS Foundation when I was applying to Strathclyde – they advertised the bursary as an option to apply for. After I filled out the application forms, someone from the Foundation came out to Ayrshire to meet me. It was very accessible and made me feel comfortable.

Jonny Steen CA (Audit Manager, Audit Scotland)

I studied engineering at university, but it wasn’t for me. I always drifted towards the numerical, analytical side of things, so I took an accountancy degree too, thinking it would be a good fit. It’s a reputable profession and offers career progression. There’s a lot of variety there – the qualification really opens doors.

I try to put myself in the shoes of the students coming through today. It’s such an important stage in your life – entering university and applying for your first professional jobs. And the mentoring and financial support offered by the ICAS Foundation is such an important source of help. It would have been immensely helpful when I was a student. Plus, the mentoring means there is someone who’s been there and done that. Hopefully, it’s been helpful for Finlay to have someone to listen and be empathetic – it’s really demanding, juggling dissertations, exams and coursework, and applying for jobs and summer placements.

Both Finlay and I were mature students when we studied accountancy at university. That helped us to be on the same wavelength – we were there to study, get a degree and push our careers forward. So we were a good match for mentoring.

FB The financial help from the bursary enabled me to cut down on my hours at work and dedicate more time to university, which was a huge help.

I loved the idea of mentoring - meeting up with someone to learn from their experience. I had a picture of accountancy in my head, but it's quite different when you talk to someone and they give you advice on how they went through the process. It's immensely helpful.

Before the pandemic, we met in person. Jonny worked around my schedule – meeting me for coffee if I had a half-day at university, for example. Then, during Covid-19 lockdowns, we went online. We still do monthly meetings and stay in regular contact using email. And Jonny has been amazing. When I was applying for jobs, we went through common interview questions and the best way to approach them. It really helped to calm me down. Having that extra person telling you that you can do it, and not to worry, is really helpful.

JS Outside of our regular meetings, Finlay would get in touch if she wanted a bit of advice on her CV or a job application, for example. It’s been more frequent as Finlay has come to the end of her degree, and we talk about the first steps she’s taking in her career. She has recently secured a graduate trainee role to work towards the CA qualification with Audit Scotland, which is fantastic news.

The mentoring was never too formal. We talk about how Finlay’s getting on at university – coursework and exams – but we also talk about family, holidays and so on. It helps us develop that mentoring relationship and provides a bit of context with where Finlay’s at and where I’m at. It’s really important that mentoring is thought of as a two-way thing.

I learned a lot from Finlay during Covid-19. Working remotely can be difficult at times – but she is always positive and enthusiastic. I’ve tried to take that away for my own management style. And mentoring has really helped with that. I’m a relatively new manager and my role has become more about supporting my team and making sure they can do their best. It’s about listening and being reassuring and empathetic.

I’m keen to promote the Foundation’s benefits both for students and for the diversity of the profession. If you have the talent you should be able to progress regardless of your background, and in audit it’s especially important to have different views on things. It enriches the discussions you have at work and the findings and recommendations that you share with clients. There’s a handful of us who are ICAS Foundation mentors at Audit Scotland – and it really ties in with our values around diversity at work.

FB The Foundation does great work and it needs to keep being promoted. I mention it to anyone who is thinking about accountancy – you can’t beat it. My favourite part is the mentorship. The money is helpful – but money is money. It’s having that same person throughout university, helping you along – that is priceless.


The ICAS Foundation is a registered Scottish charity No SC034836.

You can support the work of the ICAS Foundation by donating, volunteering to mentor a student or providing an internship or work placement. You can also contact us to discuss a specific area where you would like to help.

This article was originally published in the ICAS CA Magazine, June 2022.