Why people skills matter in the insolvency business

Robyn Erskine FCPA

Robyn Erskine FCPA says people skills are a vital part of insolvency work.

Robyn Erskine FCPA didn’t choose the insolvency business, it chose her.

“I fell into it,” she says. “When I started my career, I didn’t really have an idea what it was going to mean. I thought I was working in an accounting office. I’d heard the word bankruptcy and that’s about it.”

Fast forward to now, and Erskine is nearing her 25th anniversary as partner at Brooke Bird, a Melbourne-based boutique practice specialising in insolvency and restructuring work.

“People often say, ‘Why insolvency? It’s a tough gig’. In the main, you meet good people who are in a really difficult time in their lives. As practitioners, we are able to assist them through that period, and that is a really important aspect of our role.

“It is important to me to give back to the profession. It keeps me mentally challenged and stimulated.”

“It is intellectually stimulating to review an underperforming business and see if it can be restored back to a viable economic entity. If it cannot, the challenge is then to develop strategies that allow for the assets of the business to be realised as efficiently as possible – all the while knowing that when you get appointed it’s a bit like a flashpoint, and depending on how you handle the situation it could erupt out of control. If you don’t handle people sensitively you can have mass unrest so it’s important to have good people skills.”

Outside her day job, Erskine maintains a strong connection to the profession through her work on several boards, councils and committees.

“It is important to me to give back to the profession. It keeps me mentally challenged and stimulated.”

Erskine is a member of CPA Australia’s Public Practice Committee, and also the Victorian Divisional Council. She is a board member of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency & Turnaround Association, and was recently appointed to the International Federation of Accountants Small and Medium Practices Committee, with her first meeting in Brussels in February this year.

“Participating in these forums opens my mind, as I get quite a broad view of what’s happening across the board. Being involved is a privilege. The intellect and the knowledge of the people around those tables is both amazing and rewarding.”

When asked why insolvency is seen to be a male-dominated field, Erskine attributes this to its “tough guy” tag – which she thinks is now more of a myth than reality. “There are certainly more females choosing to work in the insolvency restructuring and turnaround field and that is great to see.”

She says it is a rewarding career and one that she encourages others to pursue, although she accepts that it may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea. “It’s not a nine-to-five job. You have to work when the work is there. If an administration comes in and it’s Friday night then everybody has to work, it’s just the way it is. Some people would see that as a turn-off. However the first few days of a new matter, while they can be hard work, are the days that can be exhilarating.”

“There are certainly more females choosing to work in the insolvency restructuring and turnaround field and that is great to see.”

As for the future of insolvency, Erskine says the trend towards early intervention and restructuring will mean things in the insolvency restructuring world will become more orderly. “These changes are being encouraged by practitioners, regulators, government and other stakeholders, and should lead to less out-of-the-blue, messy collapses. Also, accountants across all disciplines will need to look at ways to reduce costs without compromising quality or offerings, as there continues to be pressure and increased scrutiny on fees.”

Erskine is confident there will always be a need for traditional insolvency work, but there will also be great opportunities for practitioners to apply their skills in the restructuring and turnaround space.

“The coming years will see the marriage of the restructuring and turnaround profession and the insolvency profession well and truly cemented.”


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