The best

I recently officiated at our annual International Prize-winners’ Ceremony at Chartered Accountants’ Hall. Some of our prize-winners had travelled many thousands of miles to be there; others had travelled a relatively short distance. They all had several things in common.

Firstly, they had not only taken some of the toughest professional examinations they could have chosen, but had excelled in them. They were the best of the best. Ahead of them they have careers that could take them anywhere in the global finance, accountancy, tax and audit professions.

I am sometimes asked if the exams are easier than they were when my generation took them. To that question I can give an unequivocal answer: they are just as tough as they have always been. The calibre of our students is as high as ever: it has to be, because we will never compromise on quality.

I am also sometimes asked why we train students outside the UK. That too is an easy question to answer. ICAEW is a global body with over 182,000 members and students in 152 countries. It should be no surprise that over a quarter of our students are now training outside the UK, part of our worldwide community, training to play their part in delivering our vision of building a world of strong economies.

Two moments during the ceremony were particularly special for me. One group of prize-winners I had first met at Sunway College in Malaysia last year. Presenting them with their awards at Moorgate Place was a very special pleasure. Students from Sunway have won over thirty of our international awards over the years. I have visited Sunway twice and each time came away impressed by the quality and enthusiasm of the students and their tutors.

And the last prize-winner was a student who had begun her career with my firm, A C Mole & Sons. Like me, she was a biochemistry graduate who had chosen accountancy as a career and the ACA as the key to that career. When we spoke after the ceremony, she told me that she now works for a company making spectrometers: a perfect combination of her accountancy and scientific knowledge.

After the ceremony, as our prize-winners went their separate ways, I wondered - as I had after our new members’ ceremony two weeks earlier - where their careers would take them and if their paths would ever cross again (as the paths of two members who recently attended an ICAEW Life Members’ event in St Albans did recently, almost 40 years after they last met in Jakarta). I reflected on the stories that life members have shared with me about their diverse and often extraordinary careers. And I reflected on what an extraordinary – and humbling - privilege it has been for me as ICAEW President to meet so many of our members, both embarking on their careers and looking back on them.

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