Darrell is a Senior Trainer with the CIPFA Education and Training Centre for students working towards their Professional Qualification. He has worked with CIPFA for over 20 years and is based in the CIPFA London office.
Why did you choose to become a CIPFA member?
Whatever I’ve done in terms of social activities, I’ve always been the one to eventually teach people how to do it! Maybe I have a natural inclination for it, and I definitely do enjoy it. I’ve got a fairly inquisitive mind, and there’s nothing that teaches you about a subject more than having to teach it to somebody else! You have to know it all inside out. The students have no knowledge at first, so you have to be prepared for any question they might throw at you.
What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?
It’s a continuous thing, because every time the exam results come out you can see if the majority of your pupils have passed. The students who are borderline, but are really determined and try really hard to pass – when they pass the exam it’s a real highlight. The thank you's and feedback from the lessons is nice as well.
What’s been the greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge is normally trying to work through the stuff that shouldn’t get in the way, but it does! Usually IT problems and stuff like that. It’s the little stuff like that that’s challenging.
What’s your typical working day like?
It depends whether I’m training or not. Training days are usually for six hours and one subject with the same group, either face to face in the training rooms here, or the ones in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, and Cardiff. We now have a global training strategy, and now we have more students outside the UK than inside the UK, and that’s all done via the online training platform. When it’s not a training day, I’m usually preparing materials and getting ready for the next session. We also have to update the materials to keep up with the rule changes. There’s four exams a year, so we train pretty constantly all year round.
When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?
I started university doing zoology, but I dropped out after failing my exams. I worked in a bookies for a while, and then I did a retraining TOPS course in accountancy. I got really interested in the law part, so went back to uni and did a law degree. I then joined the National Audit Office, because I was interested in financial accountancy. That’s where I started training and really enjoyed that.
If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?
The policy and technical side intrigues me, but I’ve been in this job for so long that I’m not sure what else I would do!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given or been given? And by who?
My advice would be - Always read the question!
My dad was a teacher and asked a colleague for some advice on what makes a good teacher and she replied with ‘Hold them by the hand, and kick them in the arse!’ I’ve had classes where nobody’s been making an effort, so I tell them that if you don’t put the effort in, you will fail. The only you’re going to be able to do this is by actually doing it! You can’t stare at a page and expect the numbers to jump out at you – you have to get on with it!
If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?
I would buy my wife a VW campervan, and I would buy both my children a kayak for playing kayak poloing. They both recently got heavily into it.
If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?
The one thing that really irritates me is the child benefit taper, where the benefit allowance is measured by person instead of household. It’s really bad for stay at home mums and dads.
What book/film/TV programme would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?
There’s one film I found fascinating called the Billion Dollar Bubble, from the 1970s. It’s about one of the earliest examples of computer fraud by a mutual equity insurance company. They created a ficititious account to balance the numbers and added fake insurance policies to it. A book which I would recommend to anyone who’s not interested in Maths is Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh. It’s a real page turner.
Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?
Stephen Fry would have to be my ultimate dinner party guest. One of my bucket list ambitions was to get on QI!
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?
Bear in mind that CIPFA is vocational, and is something you are going to use in your chosen career. So if you are working in public services, it should be your first choice. Unlike other professional qualifications, CIPFA is about financial management in general, so there’s more scope to branch out into other things. Just see where it leads you!