Rosie Clark CA shares her personal experience moving to live and work in Switzerland
Rosie Clark CA talks to Rachel Ingram about life and work in post-Brexit Zurich and the surprising Swiss rules that have obliged her to think differently about her work-life balance
Zurich may be one of the most important financial capitals in the world but there’s more to the city than banks and accounting firms. Known as Switzerland’s “little big city”, Zurich has an intimate small-town feel with an energising international appeal. In fact, the government takes its commitment to balance so seriously that for most people it is illegal to work on Sundays. When not in the office, employees are encouraged to make the most of everything the area has to offer, from ski resorts just two hours from the city to lakeside hiking right on the doorstep.
It’s not surprising that some 40,000 UK nationals have taken up residence in Switzerland. However, after Brexit, the Swiss government implemented an annual quota, making the move more complex – in 2022, just 2,100 residence permits, plus a further 1,400 short-term ones, were made available across the whole country. In addition, changes in regulations mean there are now extra hurdles to overcome in terms of recognised accounting certificates.
But Rosie Clark CA, originally from Scotland, who moved to Zurich in spring 2019, says it’s worth the effort. Currently Vice President and Accounting Manager at Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, she has recently taken up the position of ICAS Ambassador for the Zurich/Zug area. As she begins this new role, Clark reflects on her journey and reveals why her feet are planted firmly in Swiss soil.
Rosie Clark CA - Vice President & Accounting Manager, Swiss Re
I got my first taste of living abroad while studying accounting and French at the University of Aberdeen. I studied abroad for a year in Grenoble and loved living in a different country and getting to know a new culture. When I finished my studies, I got a graduate position in the audit department of KPMG in Edinburgh. I did my CA with them and, a few years after qualifying, started to think about where I could go next.
A colleague had already transferred to KPMG Zurich. She put me in touch with key contacts in the Zurich office. Very quickly I received a job offer and went for it. I’d never been to Zurich before, but I’d heard great things and I had loved Switzerland when I’d been. So I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve been here more than three and a half years now and I’m very settled.
After about 18 months at KPMG Zurich I started to think about other options. I wanted to stay in the city because I loved life here, so when an opportunity came up at Swiss Re, I made the move into the insurance industry. I was a senior accountant in the external reporting team for almost two years before being promoted to Vice President and Accounting Manager in the accounting policies team.
Coming from a Big Four firm to work in insurance, particularly for a Swiss company, was eye-opening. The environment and working culture are completely different. At Swiss Re, you’re expected to manage your own time. You’re given respect without having to earn it by putting in long hours. You simply get given your responsibilities and they trust you to do it – there’s no micromanaging. They’re also very flexible about when you do your work, as long as you get it done.
There are a number of rules around working conditions, which filter down into the company culture. For example, there are restrictions on the number of working hours and the ban on working on Sundays means you have a proper work-life balance. And the quality of life here is great. Zurich has got the financial side but then right in the city centre, you have the lake and the old town. It’s very relaxing, especially on the weekends. On a Sunday, everything is closed. It’s even illegal to do your recycling on a Sunday – they can fine you if you do!
That takes a while to get used to. Initially, I’d forget to go shopping and then realise I had nothing for dinner. But you learn to shuffle your week around, so Sunday is a day to relax.
People go to the lake and go for walks or go cycling or get the train to the mountains for some fresh air. The weekends feel like a holiday, and you feel so energised on a Monday because you’ve been forced to chill out.
Zurich is expensive, but it’s all relative. Yes, the cost of living here is higher than in Scotland, but you are well remunerated for it. If you had the same title in the same company, you’d be a lot better off in Switzerland than back home.
I live out here with my boyfriend – he’s also a CA from the UK – and he loves it here, too. Being an international city, there’s a lot going on all the time. Zurich is just two hours away from a lot of ski resorts. You can just pop on the train and go for the day. Also, the transport system here is incredible. We don’t have a car – you don’t need one as the trains go everywhere and they’re so frequent and reliable. This adds to the quality of life.
In Zurich, a high percentage of the population is international. It is very easy to meet new people because, in many cases, they are from outside the country too, so they’re open to making new friends. In fact, it’s harder to meet Swiss people if you’re not working with them, because a lot of them live outside the cities.
One class of people you won’t struggle to find, though, is CAs! There are lots living and working in Zurich. I met some other ICAS members at an event this summer hosted by Clive Bellingham CA, the former Zurich Ambassador and now VP of ICAS. People thrive out here, including those who don’t speak German or Swiss German. The business language is English, so you can progress well in your career without having to be fluent in another tongue. I’m looking forward to organising events and connecting other ICAS members out here in the Zurich area.
I’m so glad I made the decision to move to Zurich – it is certainly the best thing that I’ve ever done, both professionally and personally. I can’t think of another country that would give me a better way of life. I still love Scotland and would think about moving back eventually, but not in the short to medium term. To other CAs considering a move here, I would say do it – take the risk. Working with people from different places and cultures opens your eyes and is so beneficial. Even if you opt to move back after six months, you have to give it a go.
Brexit may have an impact on permits as there is now an annual quota on the number of people who can move over here.
Also, the CA qualification is currently not transferable to the Swiss CPA. With a CA, you used to be able to do one pretty simple Swiss law exam in English, which would allow you to transfer to the Swiss CPA, but Brexit has meant that is currently not an option. If you don’t have the Swiss CPA, you’re not allowed to sign accounts in Switzerland, which might affect those more senior in their careers. It doesn’t affect me in my kind of work because I’m in industry, but it might if you work in an international accounting firm. But the authorities are working on that, and I think there is a plan to get a solution – so watch this space.
Connect with your local community of members at home and abroad