ICAS President, Clive Bellingham CA: The benefits of working abroad
Nothing prepares you better for success in our hyper-connected, multicultural world than living and working abroad, says President Clive Bellingham CA
This month’s column is brought to you from Sydney, Australia – which is apt, both because the city has more CAs than anywhere outside the UK and because I want to talk about how the CA facilitates the opportunity to work in different countries and experience different cultures. As I said last month, I was born in Germany because my father was serving there in the army. He was married and had children, so rather than live in barracks, we all lived with a German family, which I guess was a good way to get Britons and Germans reacquainted on friendlier terms. We then moved to several locations in the UK before eventually settling in Scotland. So, for me, travel was in the blood.
There are, of course, many reasons, be they personal or professional, why a CA would prefer to stay closer to home. But even the most devoted homebody doesn’t know what is around the corner. Circumstances change, and there may come a point in life where the idea of working abroad suddenly becomes attractive. The CA qualification gives you the flexibility to take your career around the world – and that’s a very important message to convey when we talk about how we attract new people into the profession.
Thinking back to my first overseas posting, in Saudi Arabia, the idea of experiencing a different way of life and work was exciting. Subsequently, having meetings with colleagues and clients all over the world has truly enriched my life and career. But it also made me conscious of the need to listen and learn.
We often talk about equality, diversity and inclusion all in one breath. But the inclusion part is itself quite special – and can be challenging. I regularly found myself in a foreign country, trying to build a team that was diverse and inclusive and making sure everybody in that team had equal opportunities – because people are often more inclined to contribute when they’re placed in a team environment.
You want to ensure everyone feels they can speak up and add value to the discussion. I remember being in a meeting in India, where there was one woman in the room – a partner. She said to me, “You know, the rest of the room believes what you have to say because you’re a white male.”
Her point, which was made constructively, was that I needed to make more of an effort to allow them, and her, to contribute to the discussion – and to encourage them to challenge me because I didn’t have all the answers. Building an inclusive environment and team isn’t easy. That person was willing to call me out at that time because clearly she didn’t think I had succeeded in creating the right environment. Perhaps I wasn’t displaying the level of vulnerability needed. And she made her point positively because she felt comfortable enough to tell me that.
I always say that the value is in the discussion. Put a bunch of people in a room and they may all have conflicting opinions, but at the end of that discussion you should be able to come out with a more informed, more meaningful and more valuable way forward.
As CAs, we also talk a lot about the importance of ethics – and operating in different territories exposes you to many different working practices and gives you a broader understanding of ethics. What falls within the regulations of one country may not apply elsewhere. Ethical standards are evolving at a different pace in different territories, so what looks and works okay today may not do so five years down the line. Your experiences in other countries can give you a more holistic view of good business practices as well as affording you insight on the direction of travel.
When you’re serving clients, as many CAs do in one form or another, you want to bring together the best possible team. Having that wider exposure, with people who can bring a diverse range of knowledge, skills and talents, gives you a better chance of ensuring that team is successful.
Learn more about working abroad