Ruth Adams CA and Kirsty Gray CA discuss the important work of SCABA
Since 1919, SCABA has helped CAs overcome life’s many challenges. Chair Ruth Adams CA and Charity Manager Kirsty Gray CA tell Ryan Herman about their drive to make a difference
Although history shows that the Allied Forces won the Great War, for the UK it was an almost pyrrhic victory. In Scotland alone, it was calculated that approximately 135,000 people died in World War I – 14% of the country’s total casualties. Four years of conflict had such a devastating effect on the national economy that many of those who served returned to unemployment and financial hardship.
So, in 1919, ICAS decided to do something for the families of CAs, some of whom never came back from battle. Others suffered serious injuries, struggled to make ends meet or carried the mental scars of battle. “The Scottish Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (SCABA) was founded to support widows and orphans, and ICAS members who had come back from the First World War,” explains Ruth Adams CA, Chair of SCABA. “When you think about some of the personal struggles many were going through at the time, they weren’t given a label back then, but many would have been related to mental health.”
Through the Great Depression, the postwar years, recessions and a global financial crisis, SCABA has continued to help CAs and their families cope with challenging times and life-changing events. Both Adams and Charity Manager Kirsty Gray CA see a certain commonality between the circumstances that led to the charity being founded and the growing financial cost of recent seismic events.
Covid-19 and the fallout of lockdowns, worker shortages, an ageing population, the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation and the challenges some industries are facing as a result of leaving the EU – not to mention the looming expense of confronting the climate crisis – are creating a perfect storm in the UK. “That legacy is important both now and for the future of SCABA,” Adams says. “I feel honoured to be involved in an organisation that has had such a history and legacy. It grounds us – and right now we’re in the midst of a crisis.”
Giving something back
Adams’ decision to join the charity in 2014 came after “a lightbulb moment”, she says. “My career had fitted around my family. After getting my practising certificate, I spent four years in Vancouver, then returned to Scotland, joining Johnston Carmichael, where I ran their business solutions department.
“Suddenly it hit me. I’d reached a point in my career where I thought I needed to give something back, and the help I got from ICAS in getting my practising certificate was invaluable at that time. As a Christian it is my desire to help others – we all need support at some time in our lives. I was reading CA magazine and there was a little article about SCABA, which was looking for new board members. I mentioned this to a colleague who said he’d served on the board. He put a call into the secretary and it went from there.”
By contrast, Gray was all but born into volunteering, growing up in a household where her parents were heavily involved in local community projects. She went from being a girl guide to becoming Chair of the World Board of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from 2003 to 2005. While her professional life can be split into two distinct phases, charity has been the one constant.
“The first half was an accountant in practice,” she says. “Then, 20 years ago, I decided to change course, having always been involved in the charity sector through my clients but also as a volunteer. So for the past 20 years I’ve worked with charities either as a finance director or in an advisory role. I suppose I became a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, insofar as I spent four years with the Scottish charity regulator when it was first established in Dundee back in 2005.
“Two years ago, I was finishing up in a youth charity in Scotland. It was a period of major change driven by the pandemic. So
I decided that it was better for a new person to come in, but I wasn’t ready to hang up my boots and sit looking at the walls, not being allowed to do anything – certainly not in the middle of a pandemic.”
One could say Gray’s experience is probably more valuable now than at any time in her career. She saw an ad in the Scottish charity press for the role of Charity Manager at SCABA. “It was one of those moments where a signpost crops up and you think, ‘Maybe this is exactly the thing for me’. Historically, I’ve been involved in the institute. I’m proud to call myself a CA and member of ICAS. I chaired its Education Committee some years ago, and a lot of my charity expertise had been spent in the youth sector, so I thought, ‘Why not do it for your professional organisation, to help and support members in need and their dependants?’ That’s why I applied – fortunately, Ruth saw fit to appoint me.”
A family dynamic
Ask anyone who has worked for a benevolent fund or a charity that provides financial help and the common theme is that people will often suffer in silence, irrespective of their background or circumstances. They only tend to confront the problem when they hit breaking point. There is a stigma across society around debt, especially if you work in finance. But, as the pandemic starkly revealed, circumstances can shift overnight.
“We’re all human, and no matter if you’re a CA or another professional, you can suddenly get exposed to the same pressures that many others face in life,” says Gray. “The issue isn’t always financial, but given the expectations that surround being a CA, it adds to the pressure when it is. What we also find is that when somebody comes to us, the issue can be more lot complex than it first appears, particularly in relation to their personal lives.
“I have another colleague at SCABA, who is an outreach coordinator. The work she does – and that to some extent I do – is about having a listening ear and allowing somebody to share a problem. We have some elderly beneficiaries and they are extremely grateful, not just for the financial, but also the emotional support and the regular contact. Sometimes that financial support can be quite small, but it may ease the pressure and create some space to be able to rebalance and go forward. We’re an important complementary part of what ICAS is doing in promoting good mental health and wellbeing. I think it’s important that the institute has a charity that can provide this support.”
The support SCABA provides extends to the dependants of CAs – sons, daughters and even grandchildren. SCABA has existed for more than a century through the goodwill of members and donors. Most of its funds come from CAs; as Gray explains, once you qualify, you are joining a global network: “I remember when I became a CA and it felt like you were becoming part of a professional family. That dynamic has been an important driver for me.”
“We’re always extremely grateful for the support we receive,” Adams adds. “You never think anything is going to happen to you financially when you become a CA, but if it did, you would like to think your professional body could provide some support.”
That support can come in many forms. SCABA is currently seeking new board members. “You need empathy and compassion foremost,” Adams continues. “While we are not experts in fields such as mental health we can signpost to people who are. As a board member, the commitment is four to five meetings a year.”
“It is very rewarding when people come out of the other end,” Gray adds. “Our cases come from all over the world because we are a global network. Sometimes you feel you haven’t done a lot, but it can simply be a phone call that makes a difference. It’s about so much more than financial support – it’s also emotional and practical help. For me, it is the satisfaction of supporting an individual and helping them get back on their feet. Seeing that happen is wonderful.”
As Adams concludes, “I never dreamed that I would be in this position, doing this work. And what I can say to anyone reading this is that you will get so much more out of it than you put in.”
Read more about SCABA and donate or apply here