How to trade retirement for reinvention with professional networks

While some may continue working because it is their passion, for others it is borne out of financial necessity.

When things don't quite go to plan, keeping professional networks alive helps finance professionals navigate difficult times.

At a glance

  • Retirement is not what it once was, with changing lifestyles and technology that can enable continuous learning and semiretirement, as opposed to ceasing work entirely.
  • Members of CPA Australia’s Third Age Network advocate networking and keeping professional skills up-to-date, especially amid the uncertainty driven by COVID-19.
  • Volunteering is another good way to apply the skills acquired in a corporate setting, to give back to the community.

By Jessica Mudditt

Theresa Day FCPA planned to retire from her role as national professional services consulting manager at Sage a decade ago, but life had other plans for her.

“I started to slow down a bit and thought I might retire, but work called me back and gave me projects to work on from home,” she says.

“Then I ran a sales division, because we had a sales manager leave. I’m now 65, and I’ve been working like this for 10 years – I’ve never fully retired.”

Her husband of 44 years, Russell Day FCPA, also had his retirement plans hijacked, but under different circumstances. He was 53 when he attempted to retire after 35 years with BHP, but the timing wasn’t right.

“We went straight into the global financial crisis (GFC), and I realised that I needed to make my savings last for another 30 years. Within 12 months, I was back at work,” he says. Russell took up a full-time contract role with OZ Minerals.

These days, the Melbourne couple are as busy as ever with part-time accounting work, volunteering and regularly looking after their seven grandchildren.

“The conventional idea of retirement was that you gave up work to play bowls or move to a seaside resort,” Theresa says, “but I think nowadays there’s pressure on grandparents to help with grandchildren, and to make a commitment to not only minding them, but also helping a bit financially. It can, therefore, be good to keep a bit of money coming in.”

Baby boomers expect more

Russell, now 66, believes that a cut-and-dried retirement is less applicable to his generation than previous ones. Australian baby boomers are wealthier and have a life expectancy of 84.6 years for women and 80.5 years for men. This is up from 67.9 years and 74.2 years for men and women, respectively, in 1960.

“People used to go from full-time employment to a pension, and would cut back to a meagre lifestyle to get by, but I think baby boomers expect more: they don’t want to just sit back and watch the grass grow,” Russell says.

While some may continue working because it is their passion, for others it is borne out of financial necessity. In Russell’s case, after the shock of the GFC, he resolved to remain “work ready” by keeping his professional skills up to date. With the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, he says he is glad to have kept a foot in the door.

Russell became a member of CPA Australia’s Third Age Network (TAN) eight years ago, and served as its chair from 2017 to 2018. The network is open to CPA Australia members aged 55 and over who are not in full-time work, and provides networking and professional development opportunities. It was established in 2004, and has a presence in Victoria and New South Wales. Some of the network’s recent projects have focused on tackling elder financial abuse and matching CPA mentors with treasurers of not-for-profits.

“By participating in TAN projects, I’m using the skills that I’ve acquired over my career and applying them to the latest developments in accounting. I believe that puts me in a place where I’m ready to return to work if ever I needed to do so,” Russell says.

For 22 years, Russell was chair of CPA Australia’s Central Management Discussion Group, and helped organise more than 200 events between 1998 and 2019. He enlisted speakers who were at the leading edge of Australia’s accounting profession, and says that facilitating the exchange of ideas gave him enormous satisfaction.

In 2019 he became part of a joint subcommittee of the Women’s Network Committee, and became involved in a project focused on bolstering women’s superannuation.

“It was an incredible project to be involved in, as we identified how to lift the superannuation balances of women, which are lagging so far behind the balances of men,” he says.

Lifelong learning

Theresa says that her appetite for learning remains as strong as ever and that her volunteer activities are richly rewarding.

Since 2010, she has been a member of CPA Australia’s Women’s Network Committee, which provides professional networking opportunities to female accountants. It also facilitates sessions for women who are starting out in the world of accounting or returning to it after an extended break to raise children or care for elderly relatives.

“When I joined CPA [Australia], accounting was a male-dominated profession. That’s no longer the case, but it remains important that women have a voice and help one another out,” Theresa says.

“By participating in TAN projects, I’m using the skills that I’ve acquired over my career and applying them to the latest developments in accounting. I believe that puts me in a place where I’m ready to return to work if I ever needed to do so.” Russell Day FCPA

Theresa was a member of CPA Australia’s Victorian Divisional Council between 2016 and 2018. She participated in career nights involving up to 1500 students and gave career talks at universities.

While it is not compulsory for semi-retirees to undertake 40 hours per year of continuing professional development activities, both Theresa and Russell continue to do so.

“I hate to think that I would ever stop learning,” Theresa says. “I picked up a lot of things when computers first came in, and throughout my career, whenever there’s been a new piece of software to use, I’d be the one saying, ‘Please give it to me’.”

A passion for volunteering

Richard Blakeman FCPA retired from his role as business operations manager at Eastman Kodak at 60. What started out as a conventional retirement turned out to be short-lived.
“I took up sailing and planned on becoming a ‘grey nomad’, but I found myself getting involved in voluntary work, and it began to take up more of my time,” he says.

Blakeman, now 70, began volunteering in his 30s, but was never able to give it as much time as he would have liked.

During the six years he spent as a committee member of TAN in Melbourne, he helped set up a treasurer mentoring program, was involved with the financial abuse task force and mentored young accountants.

“Being involved with TAN helps me maintain an association with the profession and gets me involved in activities that stimulate creativity. It also helps to develop a network of contacts and friends.”

Blakeman is currently on CPA Australia’s Victorian Divisional Council. He is also heavily involved with his local Rotary Club and has served as its president. “The skills I acquired in corporate life are valued in the community, and the opportunity to give back is really satisfying.

“Being engaged in useful work also gives me a sense of purpose,” he says.

Blakeman has also helped provide lifechanging benefits to individuals around the world.

Last year, he visited the Indonesian island of Sumba as part of a Rotary Club project that performed cataract operations and trained local health workers to carry out such operations.

His advice to others on the cusp of retiring is to maintain existing professional links and cultivate new ones.

“My suggestion is to take advantage of the opportunities within CPA to continue your association with the profession. There are many benefits to maintaining it, and even developing it further during your retirement.”

Read next: Don't mention the R word! Strategies for older workers' third acts.

October 2021
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