For Yamile Monsalve CPA, understanding numbers is as instinctive as being fluent in a language, and she uses her talent for numbers to make a difference in her local community.
By Caroline Zielinski
When Yamile Monsalve CPA was an 18-year-old student at La Salle University in Colombia, she got the chance of a lifetime – a free trip to Australia and the opportunity to study at an Australian university for a semester.
Always good with numbers, Monsalve was in the middle of her bachelor of business administration degree when she was selected to attend Central Queensland (CQ) University as part of the 2004 Peace Scholarship Trust program, administered by IDP Education Australia.
There was only one catch, Monsalve recalls. “I didn’t speak English, which was a requirement of the scholarship.”
However, in an act of good grace, CQ University ended up waiving the English speaking requirement and agreed to extend her scholarship to include a few months of intensive English lessons to prepare her for a semester in Australia.
Monsalve happily agreed and, before she knew it, she was deeply immersed in the Australian university experience, culture and way of living. “I did subjects that I knew I could use as credit for my business degree when I got home,” she says.
Yet, before long, she realised that returning to Colombia would mean giving up the many opportunities afforded her in Australia, and she petitioned to stay. The university agreed to help, but on the condition she pay her own way.
“I had always wanted to live overseas, but it always seemed like a distant and unreachable goal,” Monsalve says.
“Then I ended up in Australia, where the quality of life is significantly higher than at home. I had a support group and I loved it, so I thought, why not give it a shot?”
Numbers don't lie
Fast-forward to 2021, and Monsalve is nearly as fluent in English as she is with numbers.
“I am very passionate about numbers – it is the one thing I am excellent at,” she laughs.
The 34-year-old CPA, who has held roles with the Environmental Protection Authority Victoria and Rockhampton Regional Council in Queensland, got started in public practice accounting after she realised that “career pathways in Australia are greater if you go into accounting instead of business administration”.
“Also, the way I see it, accounting is a more specific, evidence-driven science. You have numbers, and the numbers don’t lie – they always tell a story,” she says.
Mentors make the difference
Monsalve now works as an accounting service coordinator with Bayside City Council, in Victoria, managing a team of eight and reporting to the chief financial officer. She says she could not have advanced to this point in her career without series of mentors who believed in her.
“One of my first mentors figured out what I hadn’t yet managed to discover for myself – that I had a talent for systems,” she says. “So, he started giving me opportunities to develop in that field, and through that I came to work in systems accounting for the local council [in Queensland].”
Monsalve was so good at this role – because she “was able to see the gap between what the systems could do and what people needed the system to do” – that she ended up winning the 2014 Young Finance Professional of the Year award from the Local Government Finance Professionals Association of Queensland.
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Understand the numbers
It is clear that Monsalve genuinely appreciates the opportunity her understanding of numbers affords her when it comes to doing good in the world.
Her stints in larger governmental departments have left her feeling certain she prefers to work for local government, “it’s easier to see your efforts reflected in the community and the direct impact of your work in smaller organisation roles”, she says.
Monsalve says she is currently in her most rewarding job yet.
“Throughout COVID-19, our revenue base has been impacted at every level,” she says, reflecting on her role at Bayside City Council.
“Yet the council made a decision to help businesses and the community through a variety of measures, including waiving fees, providing financial support to local traders and community organisations, and ensuring that people who are isolated and lonely are still hearing from us. All of this is possible because we have strong financial management.”
This is an obvious yet often forgotten feature of accounting – someone has to make the books balance, because without money, services cannot run. It is here that Monsalve is most passionate. She believes strongly that understanding numbers and how to work with them makes good work possible.
One piece of advice
“If I was to give one piece of advice, it’s to actively seek out mentors with whom you can have honest conversations about your personal and career aspirations, and to be open to listening and following through on their feedback.”