A former ACCA student’s experience By Magnolia Tabone MIA Education Co-ordinator

Ilona Gauci Grech is an ALCM (Asset, Liability and Capital Management) Analyst at HSBC Bank Malta. During her 8 year employment with the bank, Ilona has held several roles within the finance department that gave her various experiences and exposure to different areas within the banking industry. Ilona had started ACCA in December 2011 and successfully completed her ACCA studies in August 2015. In this article, Ilona tells us about his academic experience and professional aspirations.

Iilona Gauci Grech

What influenced you to opt for the Accountancy Profession?

My desire and persistency to become an accountant goes back to my secondary school days. At the time, accountancy was not a subject that the school offered to its students, but this didn’t really stop me from studying the subject through private tuition and sit for an O level and eventually an A level. I have always regarded accountancy to be a profession that provides endless opportunities in various sectors. Nowadays, accountancy goes far beyond the traditional idea of bookkeeping and fits perfectly well to my challenge driven and stimulating character.

Why did you opt for ACCA?

Working in the field of finance proved to be very demanding and at times rather challenging. Even though I had some experience and good knowledge of the basics, I decided to further my studies in accountancy in order to be more competitive and develop myself up the ladder at HSBC. Having a full-time job in a finance department, within a dynamic environment, I needed a qualification that offers flexibility to its students.

Above all, I wanted a qualification which is well-regarded and respected by most employers, both locally and internationally; one which provides me with extensive knowledge and set the tone for a successful and sustainable career. ACCA by far ticked all these boxes.

Tell us some more about your learning experience.

I was offered the option to be exempted from the first three exams (F1-F3) since I already had an A’ level in accountancy, but being absent for so long from books, classrooms and those cruel exam anxieties, I decided not to avail myself from the exemption but rather use the time to refresh my basic knowledge and get back to the study routine, and it worked perfectly well! I sat for my first exam in December 2011 and by June 2015 I had successfully completed all 14 exams without a fail. I have to admit though, it was anything but easy especially having a full-time job at the same time. The trick? Very simple – you need to set your priorities right, be committed, focused and above all allow an academy like AIM Professional Academy to guide you and prepare you for exams. I was never the study-to-pass-the-exam type just to tick another one off the list; on the contrary, I studied because I wanted to learn and I wanted to use this knowledge to become an outstanding and valuable professional. I must say that the BPP material played a very good role in making this happen. Attending lectures, being exhausted after a long day at work and trying to grasp as much of the lecture as possible was not always easy, but lecturers at AIM Professional Academy are very dedicated and were always there when I needed support.

Looking back, I cannot say that it was an easy ride, not at all. There were times, especially when under a lot of stress, when I would have preferred to be using my vacation leave to travel the world and even just wasting time felt like a better option, but I am grateful to be surrounded by family and friends who knew very well how to support me in times like these. I was extremely dedicated and faithfully followed all the study plans I set at the beginning of each session. During class I always raised questions whenever something was unclear and AIM Professional Academy really support this interaction. I made it a point to revise after each lecture and bring forward any difficulties to the lecturers to make sure I’m well prepared.

Studying with a friend who was also doing the same exams proved to be very healthy and at times fun too. Looking back, I remember during our F6 exam session, I convinced her to take past papers and calculators and work out some questions while at the beach! We supported each other and helped to remain focused whenever one of us was perhaps slacking or felt discouraged.

Completing ACCA was…

Possibly one of the best days of my life! Results were to be issued at 01:00am. I still remember reading: “Congratulations on completing ACCA’s examinations. You are now an ACCA Affiliate” after 15 minutes of psychological torture waiting for that alert on my phone! I was overwhelmed with joy not to mention the great sense of relief. Probably all my neighbours remember that special night too! The journey that once seemed to be too difficult and too long was over and finally, I could proudly call myself a qualified accountant. Completing ACCA did not only enrich my academic background, but also strengthened me as a person in general. It helped me believe more in myself and my capabilities and taught me how to manage time more effectively.

ACCA and your working career.

Although working in a demanding environment and studying at the same time was stressful, I have to admit, that it had its benefits too. ACCA helped me understand my roles better and my responsibilities as a professional in general. It opened a lot doors for me even at the bank itself. In the past 3 years I have had two promotions within HSBC’s finance department – from Life Insurance, to Global Banking and Markets and finally to a very exciting position within ALCM (Asset, Liability and Capital Management). Having parallel learning curves did add more pressure in the everyday life, but I am glad that I rose to the challenges and embarked on each opportunity that came my way. I am, however, convinced that despite my experience, constant commitment and loyalty to the Bank, doing ACCA and achieving great results throughout did make my applications attractive and I am sure that this will continue to be the case in my career – this is just the beginning!

What are your career aspirations?

For the time, I would definitely like to explore more of the very exciting world of ALCM. It has a good mix of all my areas of interest, those of accountancy, risk management and regulatory interpretations and application. It is a dynamic and demanding role, but one which has given me extensive exposure to senior management and external stakeholders – all this gives me the right level of motivation. I am not the type who likes doing the same thing over and over again for a very long period of time, as can be noticed from my career progress to date, on the contrary, I seek challenging roles that will broaden my knowledge and my experience, so I will remain open to any future opportunities.

Any advice you may wish to share with the readers?

Knowledge is priceless, it defines and distinguishes you. Something that no one can take away from you. My advice would be to never let anyone or anything discourage you from achieving what you really want. ACCA is not the easiest qualification and if it was, it wouldn’t probably be so well respected and prestigous. So dream it… Believe it… Achieve it!

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