How to Audit (Part 10): Leaving

In the 960 days since I’ve started audit I’ve seen many trainee and qualified auditors leave for non-audit paths. Sadly, high turnover is the norm in Big-4 audit firms. While they are missed by their colleagues, the audit machine is large and robust enough to survive.

It is more surprising when a trainee leaves given that they are locked into three year contracts. It is worthwhile to explore why trainees leave early.

In the beginning

We all start off with good intentions when we first join and no-one ever plans to leave. There’s enough effort just to get started. The graduates have stellar academic and extra-curricular records, well motivated, possess excellent communication and team working skills, and managed to beat 20 other similar graduates to get the job.

Fantastic opportunities lie ahead when you start. The ACA is an excellent qualification. You’ll work with great people. The experience you gain would proudly decorate your CV. It’s tough, but you’ll grow a lot professionally and personally.

Why leave?

In life, nothing worthwhile gets achieved without some pressure and trial. It takes three hard years to qualify as a chartered accountant: 15 exams and 450 days of work experience. It’s an impressive achievement because it is hard. But for some, the effort isn’t worth it and leaving is the right thing to do.

I believe people leave for four interconnected reasons:
1)    Stress
2)    Health
3)    Exams
4)    NFM – not for me

Not the easy way out by peminumkopi


1) Stress

The hours are long: 40 to 50 hours a week during busy season. This does not including time spent commuting, eating and thinking up accounting jokes. Audit is stressful. People think it is just about the numbers. However, soft skills count for more than calculator abilities. A lot depends on the effectiveness, efficiency and helpfulness of the client. So teamwork and interpersonal skills are vital. You’re under pressure to deliver results and meet deadlines. Untypical problems do come up, which needs creativity to find a solution.

Experience matters a great deal for coping with stress. Auditing is done as a team, and seniors will be there to help. Whenever I’ve needed it, help has been available. People do understand that trainees start off with no audit knowledge and take that into consideration.

2) Exams

You will be fired if you fail the (retake) exams. This is how most trainees prematurely leave a Big 4 firm. It greatly adds to the stress of the job. Fortunately, the work calendar is designed so that you the main revision periods are during the quieter times at work. Managers are sympathetic if you have exams and will endeavour to minimise working overtime. However, there will be times were you have to work long hours and revise in the evenings and weekends.

Telling you to pass the exams first time is an obvious and unhelpful piece of advice. But failing means: paying for retakes, using up holiday time for revision courses and destroying your weekends prior to the retake.

How not to treat the trainees by bottled_void

3) Health

Audit comes with a health warning.  The typical audit room is cramp and furnished with high tables and unadjustable chairs. This is not good for your back. Fortunately, trainees are only out at the client for about a third of the year. The rest of the time will be spent in college stressing about exams.

However, the long hours spent sitting down and eating sandwich lunches do take their toll. Regular exercise is essential to your health and sanity.

4) NFM – not for me

To some extent, the first three problems can be overcome. However, audit does not suit everyone. Of course, we all get depressed / annoyed / angrier than a banker without a bonus from time-to-time, but for some that feeling never escapes. Their reasons go much deeper than the ones I have outlined. Perhaps the hours intolerably encroach onto family life. The commutes are too long. The firm is too large and impersonal. Maybe the work isn’t simulating enough.


Some trainees will love the work and feel no pressure, others will find it intolerable. Most of us fall in the middle, the pressures are they but we’ve found ways to cope and still manage to have some fun.

I don’t want to attach any stigma to those who leave early. Everyone faces the same pressures. I would say that it’s important to consider how you will cope and if you will be happy before starting any job. However, it is impossible to know that until you have joined and discovered this for yourself. After all, no wisdom was ever gained from a blog post.


I actually wrote this blog post at the beginning of my audit career but I refrained from publishing it might have given the impression that I was going to leave early. However, with one exam to go before qualification, leaving is unthinkable. In a poll of some peers, no-one would choose to leave even if they won the lottery.

I did write this blog post for my friend, Graham. He faced a lot of these work pressures that I have talked about. And, a year ago, passed away after a long period of mental illness. He was 24.

In his memory, we (Graham’s friends and family) are raising money for Mind, a leading mental health charity by running in the Bupa 10k race. Please, hit the link below and donate generously:

Post Half-Marathon Report


Race day performance depends on two things:

  • Not getting injured – unfortunately, my ankle got buggered playing netball. It was actually football, but I refuse to blame her.
  • A good night’s sleep – I only managed 4 hours

Actually, the vital factor is the training that you must do beforehand. 12 hours sleep does not substitute hard miles run. I felt like I hadn’t done enough, but my version of preparation would be five dry runs of the actual route a year before the race.

So I set off to the o2 Arena for the start of the race with Johnnie (my running partner). I had a weak ankle and the feeling of workday tiredness. It was a gloriously sunny day. Perfect for a picnic but not ideal for a run. The race was well organised. It was a relief to find that there was somewhere to put my stuff and that I wouldn’t have to carry around my wallet, oyster, keys and phone. It also started on time.

I did a steady 9.5 minute per mile pace for the first few miles. My ankle hurt a bit but Johnnie and I soon hit a rhythm. It was hot and stopping for water was tricky. You had to virtually stop and wait to grab a cup off the table because the stewards were so busy. At the halfway stage, we were looking good and on track for a 2 hour (plus a bit) finish.

There were some killer hills at the 7/8 mile stage. Fortunately, training on "death hill" in Greenwich Park meant that we coped well. We soon hit the familiar training spot of Blackheath and Greenwich park. Alas, Johnnie got tired and graciously told me to go on ahead. Then I developed a horrible pain in my right knee. For the last three miles I pathetically hobbled towards the finish line. My theory that the pain would go away after 20 seconds was completely wrong.

I waddled over the finish line at 2 hours and 13 minutes. I finished 5,627th out of 9,065. The pain was worthwhile and I hope it has done a lot of good for Steven. Now, I’m determined to go back and beat the two hour mark.

I’m now on a post-run recovery regime of beer, pain killers, glucosamine, ice packs and rest.

Toronto Day 4 – Rock Band and Running

A good holiday. I’m away from the sweat of the London Underground. I don’t have to check my email every 10 minutes, mostly because I’m not connected to the internet all the time. I get to indulge in blogging and Starbucks. I can have a lie in if I choose to, but I can’t because my body has forgotten how to. Eight hours and I’m straight out of bed. Damn you work.

I’ve not ventured beyond:

  • My uncle’s house, where I sleep and get my meals cooked
  • The mall, where I bought Rock Band for the Wii
  • My cousin’s house, for whom I bought Rock Band and where the Wii is located
  • The (other) mall, where I write about how amazing Rock Band is and how I play it for hours every day

I did venture out of the house to go for a run yesterday. I thought that running at 3pm in 25+ degree heat and high humidity would be a good way to train for the half-marathon. I should have played Rock Band instead.