The three newly-graduated state-authorised public accountants were practically brimming with pride when we met them for an interview. What they had to say could be summed up in three exuberant words: “We did it!”. And that’s certainly not surprising, as receiving the engraved Mont Blanc pen that all state-authorised public accountants get as a graduation gift is no small accomplishment.
But to get to that point, they had to make it through the oral exam at the historic Børsen stock exchange in Denmark – a particularly unnerving experience for all who make the attempt. Among Deloitte’s 11 new state-authorised public accountants is Simon Bach Nielsen, who described that day in November as an emotional rollercoaster he’ll never forget.
“I was struggling with the constant ‘Am I really good enough?’ doubt. It was only on my journey to Børsen, from Næstved to Copenhagen, that I started getting confident and psyched up. Suddenly, I was standing at the Christiansborg Palace square with a feeling of ‘Bring it on,’” he said.
At the exam, you get 40 minutes to prepare, and the examiners are two state-authorised public accountants and a civilian external examiner from the Danish taxation authority SKAT, the Danish Business Authority or a major Danish company. The exam-taker is presented with a case in which you have to advise a client.
“A nuclear bomb could go off behind you, and you wouldn’t notice. And you really don’t think about the fact that you’ve got 50-60 people staring at you,” said Simon Bach Nielsen, referring to the fact that it’s a public exam.
“There’s this magical five-second period after the examiner tells you that you passed. Then the doors swing open and you walk out to a cheering crowd. It’s a feeling of such indescribable joy that it’s hard to comprehend; it’s like seeing your child for the first time,” said the 38-year-old father of two.
In order to become a state-authorised public accountant in Denmark, you must first complete the relevant programme and exams, a process that takes two and a half years. There are three written and one oral exam. The first written exam is about ethics and independence, the second about accounting and auditing and the third is about generational handovers, tax, etc. The oral exam takes place in Copenhagen’s old stock exchange building, Børsen, and is structured as a case scenario where you get 40 minutes to prepare before the 20-minute exam.
Ane Sachs Aasand remembers feeling similarly. She’s 34 years old and mother of twins, and even though she wouldn’t compare the feeling of passing the exam to becoming a mother, it’s one of those life experiences that stands apart from the others on a very special shelf.
“There are three things in particular that I’m proud of having achieved in my life: I got married, gave birth to my twins and became a state-authorised public accountant. Becoming a state-authorised public accountant is something I achieved, with the support of my husband of course, but it’s me who stayed the course,” she said.
The day at Børsen was also a terrifying one for Ane Sachs Aasand.
“There’s so much awe surrounding that exam, and I was so nervous. They make quite an effort to prepare you for the exam setting, for instance that the floor creaks, the door handle is placed higher than normal and that the panels are high. You understand that this exam goes back years and years,” said Ane Sachs Aasand.
”I can do it too”
Ane Sachs Aasand’s motivation for embarking on the long journey to become a state-authorised public account was simply to prove to herself that she could.
“It started as an idea many years ago; I’d always been told how hard it was and that you had to be one of the really tough ones to get through it. I wanted to give it a go if I was ever fortunate enough to get the chance. Over time, it became a goal that I set my sights on and kept working towards – and then finally, I made it.”
Simon Bach Nielsen was encouraged to go for it, and his girlfriend helped give him the final push he needed.
“Jens Jørgen Simonsen asked me at an owner-managed business academy course whether I might be interested, which kind of sowed the seed. When I told my girlfriend about it, with some reservations about the idea, she said ‘Listen, get yourself together, take the exam, or you’ll just regret not going for it 10 years from now.’”
Both Simon and Ane wouldn’t have gotten through the long evenings of studying and writing assignments without the support of their partners. It simply would have been too tough otherwise.
Remember to be realistic
It was also a tough journey for Peter Kyhnauv, even though he’s 30 years old and has no children – although he and his girlfriend are expecting their first this February. He was able to spend his holidays studying, and even though it was a major undertaking, he feels that people ought to tone down the rhetoric a bit.
“I was as nervous as I’d ever been before in my life. It’s definitely a big deal, but it’s just an exam. There’s a syllabus you have to know and someone that assesses you based on some assessment guidelines, so it’s a bit like taking an MSc in Business Administration Economics and Auditing exam. I’d like to see it played down a bit more. People were making it out to be something huge, but it’s essentially just another job,” he said.
“Remember that you don’t know what it’s going to be about before you get started. You can’t know everything in advance, and the courses prepare you for that,” he said.
Ane Sachs Aasand would advise new state-authorised public accountant students to be sure they know what to expect.
“You should know that you can’t get something for nothing; you need to work for it. But it’s all worth it in the end. It’s been about a month since I passed the exam, and now I can look myself up and see ‘state-authorised public accountant’ next to my name. It’s surreal,” said the newly graduated state-authorised public accountant, a sentiment backed by Simon Bach Nielsen.
“You don’t have to be a genius. You just have to want it.”