Meet a Top 100 Young CA in Canada: Mark McDonald
Mark McDonald CA, Senior Manager of Commercial Banking at Scotiabank in Halifax, Canada spoke with ICAS about his move into commercial banking, volunteering as a Treasurer, and his work as a member of the Private Enterprise Advisory Committee of the Canadian Accounting Standards Board.
Like many CAs, Mark’s interest in accounting was sparked through excellence in mathematics and he gained an appreciation for how integral accounting is to business through extra accounting classes.
Mark studied accounting and finance in university, which led to CA training with KPMG in Edinburgh as part of their financial services audit group, focused on serving large banks, hedge funds and private equity firms.
"In 2009 when the Financial Crisis was starting to happen, I transferred into KPMG’s Corporate Restructuring Group," Mark revealed about his role in helping businesses through the Great Recession.
"Secured Lenders engaged our group to undertake independent business reviews when borrowers had breached lending covenants, to establish a sound basis on which to negotiate and move forward. In some situations, we would be appointed as the liquidator or receiver depending on the situation."
What were some of the challenges of the business reviews, and what did you take away from the experience?
No one ever wants to be in that situation. A company’s staff is hugely impacted – they can lose their jobs. They think you’re the one to blame, but the directors and owners are responsible for the company’s direction and fate in good times and bad times.
When you’re a business owner, a lot of people depend on you.
That was one of the most difficult pieces. When things go bad, it can go really bad and a lot of stakeholders are impacted. Employees lose their jobs, suppliers don’t get paid, and banks can have a big write-off. When you’re a business owner, a lot of people depend on you.
What was your next career move?
Royal Bank of Scotland was one of our clients at KPMG, and they were looking for assistance in their Global Restructuring Group. I went out on secondment in Edinburgh while at KPMG and worked as an Account Manager looking after a portfolio of distressed borrowers.
The group was very busy because of the economic situation. On day one, I had to deliver the message to a borrower that the bank was no longer able to continue lending and was going to appoint a Receiver.
These were difficult conversations, and you have to remain respectful and show some empathy. When a company goes into receivership, there’s a snowball effect and a lot of people are impacted by something that’s out of their control.
What prompted your relocation to Canada?
My wife and I moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 2011. She’s also a CA through ICAS and from Prince Edward Island. We wanted to try something new.
The banks typically hire from within, and many roles aren’t posted.
When I first moved, I joined KPMG’s Advisory Group in Halifax and after about two years, started looking for opportunities in the commercial banking world. Halifax is a small city with about 350,000 people – there aren’t a lot of jobs in the Commercial Banking sector and finding something took time.
The banks typically hire from within, and many roles aren’t posted. I spent a lot of time networking and eventually met some people at Scotiabank. A few months later, they wanted to meet with me about a role that had come up.
What skills and qualities are required at Scotiabank?
I look after a small portfolio of some of the bank’s larger local clients. Those clients borrow between $15m CAD and $100m CAD and typically have sophisticated financial and lending structures. I manage those relationships and structure their lending and day-to-day banking requirements, which can include derivatives, lines of credit, and short- and long-term loans.
When people are seeking financing, I approach it with a holistic point of view and analyse the best and the worst-case scenario to minimize the chance of surprises down the road.
There are pages and pages of scenarios and you don’t have much time to seek out what’s important.
To add to that, the CA background provides a solid base and is a huge asset. The exams and classroom scenarios teach you to take an overall view and to analyse a situation and come to a decision quickly.
That stems from the exams – there are pages and pages of scenarios and you don’t have much time to seek out what’s important. When a client sends a hundred-page document, I’m able to see the big picture fairly quickly.
What are your responsibilities as a member of the Private Enterprise Advisory Committee of the Canadian Accounting Standards Board?
The advisory board has approximately 15 individuals from all over Canada which includes Partners from accounting firms, CFOs who prepare financial statements and users of financial statements (which is my role). When the Committee was looking for members, I applied and was selected to join.
I wanted to be on the committee to help ensure that the financial statements consider the user perspective when there are changes.
The Committee provides input on identifying changes in accounting standards and through the development stage of any new standards. The committee tries to ensure that the accounting standards remain relevant and meet the needs of users and preparers of financial statements.
Everyone’s role is key. I wanted to be on the committee to help ensure that the financial statements consider the user perspective when there are changes.
You were nominated as a Top 100 Young CA; what advice do you have for newly qualified CAs?
If you’re looking at a future role and think you can only do 50% of that role, go for it because if you can only do 50%, you won’t get bored – you’ll have room to grow. You have a long career ahead of you so don’t be scared to try an unconventional route or role.
That’s where you’ll learn new skills. Networking is also important because when you combine the people you know with your skillset, that’s what leads to different opportunities.
Opportunities lead to other opportunities.
You volunteer in your spare time – how has this helped your career or life?
I’m a Treasurer for a local not-for-profit which provides housing for disabled people who, once at a certain age, want to live on their own. They live independently, but there’s also staff to help. I wanted to help out when they were looking for a Treasurer for their board. We have meetings every six weeks, and every time you walk away from those meetings, you realize how lucky you are.
In a smaller city, volunteering is important. You have to do it for the right reason, but you get a lot out of those positions and meet like-minded people – opportunities lead to other opportunities. If you help others out, they’ll help you out one day.
About the author
Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.