Why non-accountants should consider a finance career

Li-Anne Ooi CPA.

Li-Anne Ooi CPA was among the first batch of non-accounting graduates recruited by PwC Singapore in 2012. Her background? A degree from Le Cordon Bleu culinary college.

By Rachael McKinney

When Li-Anne Ooi arrived in Adelaide from Kuala Lumpur to start her career in hospitality management, she was just 16. She could not have predicted that within 10 years she would be a qualified CPA and an analyst with a venture capital firm. 

It wasn’t a long-held passion for haute cuisine that first drew the young Ooi to South Australia’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary college; what she wanted was a degree in hospitality management. 

“I have always had an interest in the hotel and service space,” she says.

Graduating from Le Cordon Bleu with a Bachelor of Business, International Hospitality Management in 2011, Ooi then spent a few months in Beijing studying Mandarin to boost her chances of getting a job back in Asia. It was here, surrounded by accounting and finance graduates several hours a day, that Ooi began to think perhaps her future didn’t lie in hotels.

“That was a pivotal moment, when I met many peers who were in accounting and finance,” Ooi recalls. “I figured that this profession was something relatively interesting.”

Prompted by that interest, in 2012 Ooi applied to be one of a pioneer batch of non-accounting graduates recruited to a new training program by PwC Singapore.

“They offered me the opportunity and I figured ‘Why not?’.”

What followed was three months of full-time study as she completed the eight CPA foundation papers, a condition of the offer. With first-time passes under her belt, Ooi then joined the firm’s assurance division. 

“I watched myself transition from someone who had no knowledge about accounting to two-and-a-half years later being able to offer advice to my clients.”

Ooi earned her CPA Australia designation in 2015 and, soon after, joined the transaction services team at PwC, first as a senior associate, then as a manager. It was a move that proved to be a stepping stone to her next role. 

“Mergers and acquisitions is a field I’ve always been interested in … being part of each deal brings a dynamic and exciting challenge.”

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Slightly over a year, and not long after being promoted to manager at PwC, she was approached by Jungle Ventures, a tech-focused venture capital firm in Singapore. In Ooi’s view, the VC and start-up scene in South East Asia is booming and experiencing radical growth, and it was a chance to be part of something new and fresh. 

“That was a very interesting opportunity and I couldn’t give it up. These opportunities are rare,” she explains. 

Founded in 2012, Jungle Ventures invests in technology start-ups in the Asia-Pacific. It puts money into businesses as diverse as Thailand’s fast-fashion Pomelo website, Singapore’s big-data platform developer Crayon Data, India’s short-term trade financing platform Vayana Network, and Australia’s online education resource Edrolo. 

Being in a smaller outfit of 19 other team members, Ooi is responsible for supporting her various stakeholders including portfolio companies, investors and her team of colleagues as best she can. It’s both exciting and a bit scary, she says, but definitely in a positive way.

Ooi shared her story with students at the annual CPA Congress in Singapore in 2017, and hopes to inspire other non-accountants to consider a career in finance. For Ooi, it has definitely been the right move. 

“In terms of career opportunities, I think it’s limitless at this point in time,” she says.

One piece of advice

“Never stop learning and don’t stop challenging yourself.”

Read next: Young entrepreneurs drive small business future in Asia-Pacific: survey


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