CFO Series: Nick Levine (ICAEW) on Personal Finance and Careers

Wow, its been such an incredibly long time since I last wrote in this blog…

A lot has happened and changed, which I will post about soon. In the meantime I have continued to speak to and interview some really great CFOs on their careers to date, and how they have got to where they are now. Next up on the blog is the hugely talented Nick Levine, Head of Enterprise at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

For those unfamiliar with the ICAEW, it’s the governing body for accountants in the UK.

Nick, talk to me about your role and the role of the ICAEW.

I’m the Head of Enterprise at the ICAEW, a role that I have recently taken over. The ICAEW is the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales., My role is to represent members who work within small medium enterprises (SMEs) business or work at practice firms who advise them.

How did you get to this position in the ICAEW?

I studied English Literature at the University of Sussex. It was a great degree. I had a lot of free time, and got involved in variety of things, including the student media, managing friends bands and DJ'ing. I also did an internship with Warner Music.

Once university finished I didn't know I what I wanted to do. My parents lived in London so I moved back home and ran an online record store selling rare records. I teamed up with a business partner to put on London club promotion nights for Swedish artists. I enjoy Swedish music and at the time, London was the gateway to Europe for many Swedish bands and DJs. I was ahead of my time for digital marketing, building up my record business and club promotion nights on MySpace. While it was great fun and self sustaining, it wasn't scalable.

I decided I needed to broaden my horizons as I had niched down on the Swedish music scene. I wanted to open as many doors as possible. I went to Cass Business School and did a Business Masters covering HR, finance, strategy, operations and entrepreneurship. As I graduated, the Credit Crunch hit. 

I have always been a prolific consumer of business news and media; I loved reading about board members on different companies, and their career paths. The vast majority of boards in the FTSE 100 companies had an ACA (Association of Chartered Accountants) qualified individual and I realised that accounting was a springboard to many things. I did the completely safe option and went to a medium sized London based accounting firm in London where I worked as an auditor for three years while completing my ACA. I had limited work experience on my CV and I knew that if I qualified from the ACA with only audit on my CV, I would end up being placed into accounting or back office role. This was around 2007. At the same time the East London technology scene was rising.

Through the Swedish Music nights I was introduced to Last.FM who were the poster child for the technology scene before subsequently going on to sell to CBS. Twitter was also in its early days. I followed some people on there that were early adopters and they followed me back. Through the Swedish music scene, LastFM and Twitter I got to know the Soundcloud’s UK lead and went on to do a marketing internship with them before I started my ACA. They were just starting in the UK, and were based in an office on Old Street roundabout. In those offices it was mainly Moo.com but their owner sublet to SoundCloud, Tweet deck (which was then acquired by Twitter), and Dopplr (which sold to Nokia). This was Silicon Roundabout before Silicon Roundabout was crowned.

I knew after my ACA that I wanted to get into the tech sector; I was a beta tester for Spotify when they only had 1,000 users and while I was doing my ACA I helped DueDil research how their  services could be useful to accountants. After my ACA, I did a stint in a couple of technology companies in business development; I was the first London hire for Crowdcube and then went on to work for Crowd2Fund. At the time Xero, and the Xero add ons were on the rise. I realised I wasn't using my accounting skills as much as I wanted to and needed to get back in. 

I went to work for LimeGreen, an accounting firm staffed with ex-musicians, which served the creative industries. It was a cool environment to be part of, and the company went on to start a record label called LGM Records, which I still have a part in. They are a great example of bucking the trend of what accountants are. At the same time I was introduced to a couple of individuals at Deloitte who were starting up Propel, Deloitte's first accounting function for SMEs. I went on to do this for a year and a half and loved it. It was great experience, and I met a lot of interesting companies. Alongside my day job I have always been a freelance copywriter and journalist. I’ve written for  for Economia (the accounting magazine), Real Business, Xero, GoCardless, Receipt Bank, IWOCA, Market Invoice and eventually the Times.

 

What is your career goal?

A lot of people say, “don’t you want to run your own business?” When I first graduated from University I did that on a small scale, but I’ve always been able to get energy from my side hustles. I originally got into writing from Wired magazine and I’ve been fortunate that early on in my career most of the people I associated with were creative and entrepreneurial types. I don’t have any inclination to start my own business. I actually think there needs to be more of a case for the PAYE individual, particularly in the rise of the contracting and gig economy. With PAYE jobs you get holiday, paternity and maternity leave, you don’t have to chase getting paid and you have a set amount of income that you know you will get every month. I genuinely think we need to celebrate these roles as they are on the decline.

 

How much consideration was money in each role?

If you do what you are passionate about the money will follow.

 

Did you pass all your exams first time?

No, I failed Law and Case.

 

What are your favourite technologies in the market at the moment.

I have a joint account with Starling Bank; my wife and I joined purely to obtain a shared account. I’ve used Evernote for years. I’m a huge fan of it. For invoicing, Dropbox is brilliant and Google Drive and Google Docs are great to be able access your documents wherever you are. Instapaper is another favourite of mine. It’s a cloud storage device and it syncs saved desktop articles to your phone so you can read them on your commute. 

I’ve used Funding Circle for short term investments, although I have never invested in an equity campaign. In terms of pension, I have the one from Deloitte and I am a big fan of Bulb Energy; I love the transparency in their pricing.

 

What are your biggest outgoings?

Other than general living costs, food and travel.

 

What learning do you do?

Particularly in the light of Brexit, I am a politics podcast junkie. I love the Political Party by Matt Ford. He's a comedian who interviews individuals from the far left to far right political scale. 

I enjoy the Today Program; it provides big picture business from an economics perspective. I download it every day.

I really enjoy "How I Built This", which is on Chicago public radio. They have interviewed the founders of Airbnb, Ben and Jerry's and Stripe; the show takes the founders back to their early days, and how they built their companies. 

Finally, Desert Island Disks is a huge favourite, as is MoneyBox on Radio 4. In general, if I had any more hours in the day, I would listen to more Radio 4.

 

What is your ethos around money?

At this stage in my life, it’s going for the medium. I am more in the savings spectrum but being fortunate enough to live in London, its important to get the most out of this great city too – whether that be eating out, the theatre or going to concerts. There is a website called Hot-dinners.com where you can go to soft launches on restaurants and dinners. The price is significantly reduced from the normal price, but it means you get to eat out. 

 

Do you have any career or finance tips?

Look at emerging trends; I have benefitted immensely from that over time, such as when I applied for the job at Crowdcube. 

From a networking point of view, always try and help people and make introductions. Networking is hard to do if you haven't done it in a long time; keep rehearsing.

If you have hard core accounting qualifications under your belt, you have the foundations to go back and do something more conventional but follow your convictions. From a general point, see if you can do something complimentary to your job. It’s amazing how much an hour a day can achieve. Don’t worry about the money for your complimentary role, it will follow. Build up the experience as it can lead to other things. It can be the money, or a more satisfactory full time job in the future.