Problem solved! Why accountants love their jobs

Accountants are problem-solvers who excel in strategic thinking and address a variety of business challenges on a day-to-day basis

Successful accountants and tax professionals explain why they believe they have hit the professional jackpot.

As a self-confessed “naughty” schoolboy growing up in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, Mathew Croad gave study short shrift – until he got a wakeup call.

Croad’s uncle, a respected accountant, took him on a tour of the production line of a white-goods manufacturing plant with a lesson in tow. 

“My uncle showed me guys putting red buttons on kettles and said, ‘Well, if you keep doing what you’re doing at school that’s where you are headed’,” he recalls.

The ploy worked. Croad is now group financial controller with professional services company Beca, as well as deputy president of the New Zealand Branch Council of CPA Australia, and he loves his job. 

From leading and coaching to advising on projects and sealing deals in the Asian region, Croad says “no two hours are the same for me”. But perhaps more than the challenge of managing an entire array of accounting and logistics, he relishes his role as someone who helps people. 

“For me, it’s about making a difference. That’s what motivates me.”

Problem-solving is key

A 2015 study by the Robert Half recruiting group supports the view that accountants have evolved from stereotypical number-crunchers with pocket calculators and spreadsheets to problem-solvers who excel in strategic thinking and address a variety of business challenges on a day-to-day basis. 

The online survey quizzed 2600 American finance and accounting professionals on what part of the job they enjoyed most. 

Problem-solving (41 per cent) unsurprisingly topped the list, while working with numbers (22 per cent) and making strategic recommendations for the business (17 per cent) were other key responses. 

Lisa Liew, managing partner at Philip Liew & Co. in Singapore, is not surprised by the findings. 

Related: The new de facto CFO? Accountants.

Early in her career as an auditor, she loved dealing with numbers but as she progressed she started to derive more satisfaction from helping clients overcome barriers and grow.

“I had a client who took the plunge right after graduation to start his own business,” Liew says. 

“Within two years, his start-up business was bought … by a listed company and he became a millionaire at the age of 24! This is an amazing success story and I’m really proud to be part of his journey.” 

Just as the survey indicates, Liew sees herself as a business advisor who can create value for clients. She enjoys using her experience to mine historic data and help make important projections about the future. 

“[This] is something that clients value. It facilitates better business decisions on their part.”

When asked for a specific example in which she was able apply her strategic thinking skills to solve a difficult problem, Liew cites a case in which she successfully tackled a value-added tax [VAT] issue that had threatened a client with a possible tax clawback of almost SG$1 million.

“It’s challenging assignments like these that make me look forward to coming to work.”

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Sector veteran Murray Wyatt, principal of Morrows, made the switch to public accounting in the early 1980s after years as a company secretary. 

“I wanted the people contact,” he says. Accountants have long been the subject of inaccurate characterisations that they prefer dealing with numbers instead of personalities, but Wyatt turns this stereotype on its head.

Wyatt believes accountants are in a privileged position to help people by discussing everything from business to sensitive family matters with clients. Accountancy affects every facet of human life, and he sees this clearly in his day-to-day interactions.

“It’s pretty personal stuff,” he says, adding that he has assisted some clients for more than 35 years. With the likes of lawyers, bankers and even GPs suffering some “brand dilution” over recent decades, Wyatt believes accountants must keep striving to maintain their “hard-earned reputation” as trusted advisors. 

Getting great pleasure from playing his role, especially through work involving estate planning, asset protection and succession planning, Wyatt puts people at the centre of what he aims to achieve.

Passion comes to the fore

Sitting in an accounting class as a 15-year-old, Robyn Jacobson FCPA experienced a defining moment. Explaining that assets equal the value of liabilities plus equity, her teacher wrote “A=L+E” on the board “and at that moment I was sold”. 

Now a senior tax trainer at TaxBanter, Jacobson has specialised in training for almost two decades after an early career in auditing, business services, superannuation and tax. 

While she still loves numbers, Jacobson’s training focus underlines the diverse options that await today’s accountants. Combining her passion for tax with technical skills, Jacobson enjoys presenting complex ideas in front of audiences of up to 300 people. 

“I get enormous satisfaction from interpreting really technical developments in tax law and then communicating it to clients in an engaging and practical way. You can have a lot of fun along the way.”Also professing a love of Federal Budget nights – “It’s the biggest night of the year for us” – Jacobson says she has been fortunate to find her perfect job. 

“I still love it as much as when I began training nearly 20 years ago.”

Related: Salary outlook favours talented accounting and finance professionals 

Although she has made her name as a lawyer, CPA-certified Sue Williamson’s day-to-day work as a tax adviser is never far removed from numbers. Specialising in tax controversy, the Ernst & Young tax partner provides strategic advice on alternative dispute resolution and tax litigation, and has found her niche through her knowledge of law and technical accounting issues. 

She finds resolving disputes gratifying. “It’s just the satisfaction it brings in strategically thinking about things and getting the best result,” Williamson says.

It’s the experiences of people like Williamson and Jacobson that prove that people skills are also a critical aspect of mediation in tax disputes. 

“A successful mediation requires an understanding of what is important to the parties in the dispute,” she says.

Opportunity to make a difference

For Nik Hasyudeen, accounting is as enjoyable as it is important.

The adjunct professor at the University of Malaya has a stellar career history, and has contributed significantly to business and policy development through his work in public accounting firms and senior roles on bodies such as the Audit Oversight Board, Securities Commission Malaysia and the Malaysian Institute of Accountants. 

What does he love about accounting? 

“Saving the world,” he quips. Hasyudeen adds that helping people and supplying management with the appropriate information and strategies to create value makes accounting a “cool” profession. 

He supports the view that today’s accountants are more like modern-day detectives, saying “the role has [evolved] from solving problems to solving mysteries.” 

Jacobson agrees accounting is an essential discipline for any business and believes tax is at the forefront. “You can’t do anything in business without good tax advice,” she says.

Liew, meanwhile, regards accounting as “the language of business”. All three may call themselves accountants, but their every-day experiences mirror those of investigators searching for root causes of problems and applying solutions that affect businesses in a multitude of ways.

“It is the basic and the key framework that any business is built upon. An understanding of accounting [assists] executives to make operational as well as strategic decisions to bring a company forward.”

For Croad, accounting is a profession that makes the world a better place through its contribution to economic, community and social growth. He is ever thankful to his uncle for putting him on a path to a rewarding career. Has he been able to pay him back?

“Never enough,” Croad says.

Read next: 9 accountants who changed the world


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