Interview: Graeme Cosh CA and his route to the US via the Caribbean
Andrea Murad speaks to Graeme Cosh CA, head of Accounting and Regulatory Policy at Liberty Mutual Investments.
Graeme chose a career in accounting over law because that was the fastest route to working overseas, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Now, he’s based in the Boston area after arriving in the US from Scotland via the Cayman Islands. His first overseas stint was in the Caribbean after qualifying as a CA with EY.
Why did you decide to move to the Cayman Islands?
That was the early 1990s and my first exposure to financial services, where I’ve spent the majority of my career.
The Cayman Islands were close to the US, and it was very easy to transfer there with the firm. While working there, I gained exposure to both UK and US clients and also exposure to US GAAP accounting standards and obtained my CPA license. When I moved to the States, it was quite easy to transition because I had the US qualification.
Where did you move to next?
My wife is from the States and originally from Indianapolis — that’s where I started. I spent about 12 years there and had the opportunity to come to the East Coast with Deloitte and have been here about 10 years.
What is your area of expertise? What interested you in that?
When I left Scotland, I was more focused on doing something different and it happened that the place I ended up had a financial services speciality. Today, I work in asset management for Liberty Mutual Investments, the asset management arm of Liberty Mutual Insurance. We manage an $80 billion portfolio of the company’s money.
The ICAS network has been great for bouncing technical questions in particular industries, manoeuvring through business opportunities and connecting with industry experts in various parts of the country.
I head the technical accounting and regulatory advisory group within Liberty Mutual Investment. I provide transaction services and technical consultations on complex accounting issues related to the company’s investment portfolio. Since we invest in so many spaces, there’s an incredibly wide range of issues to deal with and the work is always interesting.
In particular, we assess the accounting impact of issues related to consolidation, acquisitions and industry specific investment accounting issues for oil and gas, private equity, commodities and real estate. As we are in a regulated industry, we also assess the impact that particular investments will have on Liberty Mutual’s capital position.
How did you transition to this area of accounting?
Basically, I spent a lot of time in financial services on the audit side of things at EY and Deloitte — my specialty over the last 20 years. It’s a very interesting field with a combination of regulation, accounting standards and financial products that are always changing.
Where’s the opportunity within your field?
The job market for accountants is really buoyant right now. There’s high demand for technical accounting experts because there are a number of new accounting standards coming out in the next few years in the US and with IFRS. We’ve got changes to revenue recognition, leases, financial instruments, credit impairment, derivatives and hedging, and insurance contracts.
Companies are looking for people who understand the standards and how their financial reporting processes need to change to account for these. There’s definitely a lot going on right now in this area.
How has ICAS helped?
Our company operates all over the world — we have a Lloyd’s syndicate in London and big European, South American and Asian operations. We’ve used ICAS technical resources for UK accounting and reporting and I look to ICAS for thought leadership in areas such as tax and ethics.
The other thing that’s been useful is being able to network with ICAS members on the East Coast. Anton Colella has really done a lot of work trying to pull the overseas community together over the past 10 years and is succeeding.
The ICAS network has been great for bouncing technical questions in particular industries, manoeuvring through business opportunities and connecting with industry experts in various parts of the country. We do a lot of oil and gas investing and have been able to connect with members — a network like this is very useful.
What helped you to become a leader at your current firm?
I think that the breadth of experience was a crucial factor. International experience has been really helpful too. Our company’s in 25 countries around the world and we provide accounting guidance to these offices. I’ve worked overseas and dealt with US GAAP and international standards. I have a technical accounting specialisation within financial services.
What advice do you have for new CAs?
For people starting out, a public practice within the Big Four provides so many opportunities because you can see a lot of different industries and get an idea of where you’d like to work. After working in a public practice, you’ll be better able to figure out where you want to specialise four or five years into your career.
What do you like most about the states?
It’s a great place to live and work. It can be a bit confounding sometimes coming from Europe, but there’s a lot of opportunity. The profession here is very strong and, in the Boston area, the big companies in financial services are in insurance, asset managers, mutual funds and hedge funds with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on our doorstep. Software, technology and biotechnology are also big areas here. Overall for accountants, there’s strong demand for people in all industries all over the East Coast.
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