Meet four CAs who emigrated to live and work in Australia, taking their CA qualification with them
Having reopened its borders after two long years, Australia is regaining its status as a place to work, live and raise a family. Rachel Ingram meets four local CAs to learn why the country is a land of opportunity
The CA qualification can take you all over the world. And with its booming financial market and year-round good weather, Australia is a popular choice for many financial professionals. As the country finally reopens its borders to international visitors, and its government discusses making skilled-worker visas easier to acquire, four CAs who have emigrated to the other side of the world share insights on working and living in the Lucky Country.
Shona Crighton CA
Financial Controller, GrainCorp
People in Australia work very hard but flexibility has become a key focus in the workplace"
Every CFO or CEO I’ve met has great stories of working and travelling abroad. I’d gone from school and university in Glasgow to mid-sized firms in Edinburgh and I kept thinking I needed to travel, too. So, in 2015, I moved to Australia on a two-year visa contract with BDO.
I immediately loved the country and the culture. Downtime in Australia is completely different to the UK. The weather is much better for most of the year, so you spend a lot of time outside. It is diverse and multicultural, from the food to the people, who come from all over the world. The working culture is similar to the UK. People work very hard but flexibility has become a key focus in the workplace.
After a few years with BDO, I moved into industry with GrainCorp. Working in the agriculture sector gives me a connection to back home in Scotland – my parents both grew up on farms. It’s been a tough couple of years here with the bush fires, followed by Covid-19 and extreme flooding. At GrainCorp, we were given the status of an essential provider, so operations were able to continue throughout the pandemic and we were lucky not to have to suffer any job losses. Now, post-Covid, everyone is optimistic and the country and the economy are recovering very well – there’s a positive outlook for 2022.
When I first arrived in Australia, being a CA opened so many doors. The qualification is highly sought after and it’s certainly the reason I was able to gain a sponsorship visa. As a result, there’s a great community of CAs in the country. I’ve just taken over as Chair of the Sydney Area Network. I’m so passionate about the committee and organising events for local members. They’re a great opportunity to meet people and feel that connection to home – and I’d encourage CAs to get involved.
Abbas Alibhai CA
CFO, NSW Health
I can’t speak highly enough of the CA qualification. It helped me significantly – it’s a great differentiator and comes with a powerful international reputation"
I moved from the UK to Sydney with Jaguar Land Rover in 2010. My wife is Australian and I fell in love with the country when we visited. I grew up in Tanzania, a warm African country, so I appreciate Australia’s wealth of big open spaces and that kids can play in the yard.
There’s also a sense of opportunity here, especially with the proximity to Asia. Working life in Australia is very similar to the UK – you work very hard. But in my experience, the roles are wider-ranging, and you end up doing many different things.
NSW Health is the equivalent of the NHS for the state of New South Wales. The pandemic was very intense. Our remit was initially around preventative measures, then later on it was about risk management and tackling the burden on the healthcare system.
It then moved on to vaccinations and setting up clinics and vaccination centres. I joined in January 2020 and by March we were working remotely, so we had to figure out how to work with large teams digitally and connect with people through a screen.
The lifestyle, and the hospitality industry in particular, took a hit during the pandemic. Now, we’ve gone full circle and there are no restrictions, but we’re better equipped than we were two years ago.
I’m indebted to the CA qualification. I can’t speak of it highly enough. It helped me significantly – it’s a great differentiator and comes with a powerful international reputation.
Joanne Smith CA
CFO, Little Birdie
The government is looking to make it easier to get visas in certain specialities, so now is a good time to move"
I had always planned to move abroad – one of the main reasons that I chose to qualify as a CA is because I knew it would open up doors internationally. In 2013, KPMG sent me on what was intended to be a two-year secondment to Melbourne, but after eight months I was hired by a client, the ecommerce site Kogan.com, and I stayed.
They were in a big growth phase and I thought, “I am built for this”. I stayed with the firm for more than five years, during which time we listed on the Australian stock exchange. I then went to school management system Compass Education as CFO, before coming back to ecommerce at Little Birdie, an affiliate marketing company.
When I moved to Melbourne, perhaps the biggest thing I noticed was the dining scene. There’s such good food here and the culture is all about going out for meals and being social.
The wine regions are so close and I’ve been right across the country, visiting almost all of them. The culture is similar to the UK in some ways, but Australians are quite casual and relaxed, particularly at work. It was a bit of a shock leaving KPMG and joining the start-up world.
The pandemic hit Australia very hard. Melbourne was ranked as the most locked-down city in the world. At Compass, we had to revisit and constantly keep on top of our financial forecasts. Luckily, we were in a very good position and we were able to support our schools through remote learning.
At the moment, it’s a very competitive market for hiring in Australia. There’s such high demand for good staff – skills are highly sought after and accordingly salaries are high. The government is looking to make it easier to get visas in certain specialities, so now is a good time to move. There’s a lot happening, a lot of exciting activity, particularly in the start-up and scale-up world.
Meg Zalwski CA
General Manager, Merchandise Planning, Super Retail Group
Senior leaderships here hold the CA qualification in high regard, which makes job hunting easier"
My father was a tax specialist and my mother a pattern designer, so linking finance with products always appealed to me. I trained in London with PwC, first in audit, then transactions, performing due diligence of consumer-goods companies. That’s where I fell in love with retail. I got a job at Burberry, working in finance for four years, then moved into merchandising, where I spent a further 10 years bringing collections to life.
My husband is Australian, so there was always a pull to come here. He took a new job in Sydney and moved in summer 2020. I stayed with our two young kids until I finished work, arriving in October. I took six months off for the transition, then returned to work, joining Super Retail Group.
Being married to an Australian meant cultural assimilation was a bit easier. The working culture is not too different from the UK. It’s more laidback in Sydney, but equally hard-working, with a pressure to perform.
Senior leadership teams here hold the CA qualification in high regard, which made job hunting easier. While moving here may have initially been about my husband’s career, it has presented a significant opportunity for mine.
It’s given me an understanding of the Australian consumer’s mindset, which is very different from the UK. Lockdowns have driven significant changes in retail, particularly from a digital perspective – so this sector is an exciting place to be at the moment.