It’s a fact. The path to becoming a state-authorized public accountant is not a “one size fits all” model. When you look beyond the shared relief and joy of the 9 Deloitte accountants who completed several years of wear and tear by passing their final exam at Børsen this November, their stories and experiences are very individual.
Everyone agrees. To become a state-authorized public accountant you must put in countless hours of hard work and face the dreaded exam at Børsen. It significantly raises the professional level and opens the door to new opportunities. It’s the proof of admission. But it’s also much more than that. For Jesper Elkjær, it has given him a whole new approach to working as an accountant.
“So far, I’ve been primarily a compliance-focused auditor, looking at how we comply with the legislation and audit standards on various tasks. But I’ve become much better at seeing the tasks from the clients point of view and focusing more on what other services we can help with. For example, restructuring or process optimization. We’re trained to be “house doctors”. Our customers rely on us. What we say is heard and it has value to them. It matters.”
Jesper Elkjær emphasizes Deloitte’s internal course as an important positive factor in an otherwise professionally and personally challenging course. He also credits the support of the management team and the opportunity to prioritize studies during working hours.
“Deloitte has been good at saying that this must be a priority. And they’ve done a lot to support us. It’s still your own responsibility but it’s also good practice. You learn to live with the fact that something has to be prioritized less. And to take responsibility for it. Regardless of whether we felt ready for this, we’ve all been amazed at how much we’ve learned. So, people who are in doubt just have to dare anyway. The doubt is normal, but it won’t stop us.”
Even on the day of the exam, Jesper Elkjær found an extra source for preparing for a good performance in DeloitteHuset.
“It was a day where I could feel the nerves in my stomach as soon as I woke up. I put on some casual clothes and walked over to DeloitteHuset. It’s just a place I like to be, the atmosphere is friendly and informal. When you go over there and feel that you’ve been preparing for a long time and that you really know your stuff, you feel like you’re just going to another client meeting. Somehow, it became almost like an ordinary day at the office.”
Jesper Elkjær emphasizes that the nervousness is not the fault of the exam situation itself, but the risk of being asked a question that hits a blind spot. It’s the fear of failing and waiting half a year to try again. A situation that statistically is very likely.
Better people than you have failed
For Thomas Simoni Mortensen, the final exam is an extraordinary redemption. He’s relieved and grateful when he embraces the many joyful hugs from his girlfriend, family and colleagues. Finally! He has crossed the finish-line.
In the process to become a state-authorized public accountant, passing the exams is far from given. While accountants often specialize, the exams as a state-authorized public accountant require mastery of generalist knowledge. Therefore, many accountants are at risk of taking exams in a subject area where their practical experience is limited. It may be part of the explanation why the pass rates are significantly lower than in other educations. In the most recent A, B and C written exams, the pass rates on a national basis was respectively 65%, 57% and 67%.
At Deloitte, where in recent years, much has been done to increase the pass rate, the numbers looks somewhat better. As an example, the pass rate at the B exam in 2019 was 23% above the national average. But the difficulty of the exams is still the reason why many accountants for the first time ever in their careers experience not passing an exam. This happened to Thomas Simoni Mortensen in 2018, who had otherwise passed the A and B exams in 2017, but now had to wait until 2019 to pass the last of the three written exams, which must be passed before the oral examination on the Exchange.
“Even the best can fail an exam. I was told this myself, and unfortunately this year I have had to tell talented colleagues this as well. ”
Thomas Simoni Mortensen says that the adversity, however, offered an opportunity for personal growth that he would not have achieved so quickly without a year off the track.
“It probably easier to say now, but I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t failed that exam. It’s also about understanding that everyone may not have to deliver the same thing at the same level at the same time. As a state-authorized public accountant, I can now say these things with even greater authority, rather than if someone else did.”
The hardest thing about failing back then, according to Thomas Simoni Mortensen, was the feeling of being left behind and the doubts that came with it.
“You feel a little like being on an athletics track, but suddenly you’re not running around with others in the field. And then what? It’s one more summer vacation with the family I have to drop to study. And there’s no guarantee that I will even finish. How long will I keep trying? And what will I do in the future if I don’t become a state-authorized public accountant? Thoughts like these flew through my head after the bad news. A colleague was in the same situation and had the same thoughts. So we helped each other get back on track and crossed the finish line together at Børsen this year.”
And it was precisely Deloitte’s colleagues who did the trick for Thomas Simoni Mortensen.
“You have to surround yourself with people who matter to you. That’s how it is with everything in life, I guess, but here it was confirmed. I had some insanely good colleagues who picked me up and helped me through.”
The next task for Thomas Simoni Mortensen will be to find out what role he will play in the future of Deloitte.
“I evolve as a human when I see others evolve under my guidance. If I can help others get better, it’s a success for me. So, besides working with the clients I still expect to have a role within teaching and leadership. It really gives me a lot, both as a professional and as a person. “
You have to go “all in”
Nightmarish dreams of being flunked by a particular examiner had been part of Jens Serup’s more involuntary preparation for the exam. So, when he showed up for the exam at Børsen, it’s almost comical that he not only got this exact examiner, but he also got an assignment on something he doesn’t normally deal with.
“I really wasn’t playing my homefield. Every time I was in doubt, I thought, “Take a sip of water and buy yourself some time”. Let’s just say I ran out of water.”
Fortunately, things went well. But Jens Serup had not made it easy on himself. If he was to make it through the tough exams, he knew he would have to push himself by being as ambitious as possible.
“There’s a tendency for people to not dare speak up about their ambitions in the process to becoming a state-authorized public accountant. Maybe they’re concerned about living up to them. But with those thoughts, you might mentally rule out your success before you even get started. That’s why I tried the opposite, by saying that if I’m to succeed, I must dare to be open about the fact that I have this goal. And not just the goal of becoming a state-authorized public accountant, but about getting through the process without failing a single exam. And I dared to say that out loud. Because if I dare say something out loud, then I can also really believe it can be done.”
Jens brings this approach and experience to teaching, both at CBS and internally.
“If others come to me and have doubts about their own readiness for something, I say to them: you have to believe in yourself. Set some goals and go after them. And then of course we can evaluate halfway. But as a starting point, you can achieve more by going after them than by not going after them.”
Jens Serup also made a conscious choice of a particularly ambitious mentor.
“I needed someone who wouldn’t just say ‘You’ll be fine’. So, I chose a woman who’s also very ambitious. Someone who really knows the process because she’d just been through it. Anette stormed all the way through the course in one stretch. Now she’s spend a lot of time helping me do the same.”
On the whole, Jens Serup has tried to get as much qualified advice and support he could along the way.
“I have felt immensely privileged by our internal network. We have five floors full of specialists, and I’ve just found that everyone really wants to help. I’ve gained a lot from that.”
The future is not what it used to be
There is no doubt in the minds of the three newly appointed state-authorized public accountants that the process helped them prepare for a future that sets new requirements. They all feel ready for the challenges. They’re invested now. More than ever. But when you’re invested, you must dare to talk about what is difficult.
“There’s so much transformation in business right now. There are great demands on what we need to be able to do to be relevant to our clients. The training for a state-authorized public accountant, probably still has its roots in the old ways. However Deloitte is already entering a completely different future. So, there is a small gap there that will hopefully get smaller over time. After all, we have to adapt quickly to be relevant”, Jens Serup concludes.
To talk openly and honestly about how a career in the audit industry can become an attractive choice for more than one type of personality is also an important subject to the new state-authorized public accountants.
“A career has to be about more than just putting in a lot of hours. It will be more attractive to me – and maybe others too – if it becomes about other parameters as well. For example, leadership and professionalism. And, if we can speak more openly and honestly about the fact that we may need to accelerate our carrier up or down for periods of time. If it can be like this, then there are likely to be more people who can see themselves reflected in it. I took 12 weeks of maternity leave with my first child. And I will do the same thing again when we have our second child. I think that taking that maternity leave as a man is not just an important signal to send to other men, but also to the women.” Thomas Simoni Mortensen says and continues:
“I think it’s really a shame that there are so few women getting state-authorized, especially there are so many talented women – not just in Deloitte, but in the audit industry in general. I think the problem, is that women have a hard time seeing themselves reflected in the future possibilities that potentially wait on the other side. We need not just mere female role models, but other ways of being a leader or becoming a partner, than those we have traditionally seen.”
Jens Serup agrees.
“I think that the auditing house that first succeeds in accommodating “the whole person” is the one that wins the talent. But it’s a process where we are always somewhere in the middle of what we say we would like to do, and then the examples of not quite hitting the mark. We’re on a journey right now and I believe that is something we all are trying to be a part of – and that we will therefore also succeed.”
Congratulations to everyone who made it through the needles eye and the most important exam of their lives. A milestone has been reached in their careers, and a milestone has been reached here in Deloitte, where, after an intensive training course and a newly developed SR course, we’ve managed to reach our goal with an incredible passing rate of 82% and with 9 out of 11 candidates passing the final exam.