The CAs making their mark in the US

Manhattan sunset
By Alec Mackenzie, CA magazine

15 June 2016

For stateside CAs there are many reasons to live and work in the land of opportunity, writes Alec Mackenzie.

With global attention firmly fixed on the surprises and excitement surrounding the US presidential race it can be easy to forget that America isn’t only about the rise of Donald Trump and the rhetoric of two political camps. Almost 500 CAs are located in the US and their experiences are just as varied. Despite current political uncertainty and economic growth slowing to 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, the general consensus among US members is that the country remains a hugely rewarding place to live and work.

Jim Robertson CA, vice-president of tax Americas at Shell, says: “I’d worked in the UK, the Netherlands and Malaysia but was less familiar with the Americas, so when I was offered a job with responsibility for that region, I saw it as a great personal development opportunity. I’ve now been in Houston since 2012 and am still learning.

Jim retains strong links to home and recently joined the ICAS Council representing international members. He is keen to see his fellow expat CAs retain an active involvement in ICAS affairs.

“I think it’s important that international members have a voice in the strategy and work of ICAS, because 16 per cent of our membership is outside the UK and that’s likely to rise to about 25 per cent in the next five years,” he says. “We need to apply a virtual lens to everything ICAS does. If committee meetings are held in Edinburgh, can we offer an opportunity to join by video or at least dial in?”

‘An openness to new ideas’

For Gavin Maitland CA, co-founder of medical marketing services and investment company BoomCom, being in the US means working in an “environment in which you can grow a business in many different directions at the same time”.

Gavin, now based in Colorado, came to the US 14 years. “There is a general openness to new ideas and concepts and the resources to deliver to clients,” he says. “It is also very easy to lose a client without very close attention to detail. On the other hand, it is easy to win new business through the mistakes of competitors, too.”

The majority of CAs will likely find themselves stateside through internal company transfers and secondments, many courtesy of a Big Four firm.

CAs in New York

Karen Franchi CA, an audit manager, is currently on a global mobility rotational programme with KPMG Barbados and KPMG NYC. She relocated from Barbados in 2015 and expects to return next year.

Describing her experience of the Big Apple she says: “I’m fortunate to be working and living in Manhattan and as a keen runner I can also set my alarm in the morning and then head out into Central Park to get away from it all.”

New York City’s status as a truly global financial centre makes it an attractive prospect for talented professionals and therefore it’s no surprise that it’s the US destination of choice for more than 100 CAs.

Gemma Bell CA arrived in the city eight months ago and works for KPMG as a senior associate in the firm’s credit risk team. “New York is such a melting pot of different cultures that it’s impossible not to be inspired by the variety of people that live here and the things you can learn from them. It’s really opened up my view on the world,” she says.

The challenges of relocating

Nevertheless, making the move from Edinburgh has not been without its challenges.

Gemma explains: “The most challenging thing has been adapting into a new role, in an industry I hadn’t worked in before, which, particularly since the financial crisis, has been vilified and receives a lot of hard press. I can justify my participation in the industry to myself because the work is interesting and the firm I work for has high professional and ethical standards.”

Judith Crawford CA highlights the difficulties of effectively “starting out from scratch” and notes, “how many words and phrases are different between the two countries despite English being a common language.” She came to the US just over four years ago and is now CEO of transit division and executive vice-president of commercial development with National Express.

Although skills gained as a CA in the UK will stand you in good stead, for those considering going into practice in America it’s important to remember that the CPA (certified public accountant) qualification is not available through reciprocity with CA status. Each state has its own CPA licence that covers practice within that jurisdiction.

Litigation consultant Catherine Cameron CA says: “When I came here 20 years ago no-one knew what a CA was. Until I got a CPA, I essentially had no recognisable accounting qualifications, for the most part. To me the CA exams were much harder than the CPA exams, yet the CPAs I work with are extremely smart and I have the greatest respect for them.”

The presidential race

For CAs and CPAs alike the big talking point at present is of course who will be sitting in the White House in November.

David Brander CA, executive vice-president of operations and finance with Warner Bros Pictures distribution and marketing, has had a front row seat as his studio has scored hits with franchises such as The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter. He said: “If the ultimate president’s policies result in any form of restrictions in trade this could have an effect on our international business, as would any currency fluctuations.”

Many CAs who work in the energy industry are also taking a keen interest in the race. Houston-based Kevin Fyfe CA, controller with the Cameron Group, a subsidiary of oilfield services company Schlumberger, says: “Politics will certainly have an influence over energy policy that ultimately has a consequence on capital deployment and how we conduct business. It’s hard to tell what the consequences would be of one versus the other at the moment, given that the normal playbook has been thrown away.”

Whether Trump, Clinton or Sanders emerges victorious, ICAS members can nevertheless still take some reassurance from the fact that any career move to the US, permanent or temporary, is likely to be personally and professional very fulfilling.

Gillian Anderson CA, audit senior manager with EY in Houston, says: “I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself and the challenges that I can take on in my life. It’s not easy leaving the life you know and love behind but meeting new people and their perspectives has been a great eye-opener. The weekends by the pool are also hard to beat, especially when family back home are still wrapped up in sweaters and coats!”

The full version of this article appears in the June 2016 edition of CA magazine.


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