Three CAs who emigrated to Canada reveal why it is a leading destination for finance professionals
Canada is one of the most popular locations for CAs settling abroad. Three who have moved there tell Rachel Ingram why they have made the country their new home
Mountains, lakes, ice hockey, maple syrup, indefatigable horse-riding police officers… there are many things for which Canada is duly famous. But it seems it’s also a hotspot for CAs. Nearly 300 of ICAS’ current membership have made a new home for themselves in this vast country with a comparatively small population of just 38 million.
We speak to three CAs who have settled in three very different Canadian locations – Vancouver on the west coast, Toronto, the nation’s biggest city and its financial hub, and Calgary, the mountain home of its oil and gas industry – to learn about life on the other side of the Atlantic.
The local ICAS network was a great support to us when we first moved out here… Now my husband and I co-chair the Calgary network"
Susan Simpson CA
CFO, Alexandra Community Health Centre
I always wanted to be an accountant, so I started working at Coopers and Lybrand in Aberdeen after graduating. During my five years there, the firm was quite encouraging of people who were seeking an overseas stint. I wanted to do two years abroad, along with my husband, also an accountant. We discussed our options: I wanted Australia or Canada, he favoured New Zealand or Canada – so Canada won.
In 1995, I transferred to Calgary with Coopers. After six months, we realised we loved the city and we weren’t going to go home. I stayed with the firm, which became PwC, until 2008 and then moved to a small real estate company for 10 years. Since 2021, I’ve been CFO at the Alexandra Community Health Centre. Working at a not-for-profit is very different to what I’ve done before but I love it. I’ve always been involved in volunteering on boards and this opportunity fitted well with my personal ethics and ambition to do something that makes a difference.
When we arrived in Calgary, we fell in love with the open spaces, the access to the mountains and the super-friendly people. Calgary is quite a dynamic city – there’s always lots going on and the scenery is stunning. Some mornings, it feels hard to drive into town when you could drive to the mountains!
The work-life balance is much the same as Scotland and I don’t find working in Calgary significantly different to working in the UK. Professional service firms are quite consistent, although Canada is just a bit more casual in terms of dress.
The local ICAS network was a great support to us when we first moved out here. My husband didn’t have a job at the time, so we reached out through the network and one of our contacts was able to help him find one. Now my husband and I co-chair the Calgary network for ICAS. We took it over just before the pandemic and organised a few successful wine and cheese nights. We’re hoping to start doing more face-to-face events now things are opening up again.
Toronto is a multicultural melting pot and you can find restaurants from every part of the world"
Craig Brice CA
Chief Information Officer, PwC Canada
I grew up in Scotland and moved to England to start working for PwC. I’ve since worked for the firm in Washington DC and Florida in the US, and now Toronto. My journey has been a winding road.
I originally worked in tax technology, and as that grew, I became more interested in technology in general, eventually working full-time on that side of the business. Six years ago I got the opportunity to move from the US to PwC Canada in Toronto as Chief Information Officer.
The vastness of Canada is amazing. In the years before Covid-19, I was doing really well travelling from the east to the west and visiting the sights and cities, but I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface.
There’s a great vibe in Toronto. It’s a multicultural melting pot and you can find restaurants from every part of the world. It’s a big city – the fourth largest in North America – and a lot of people commute. But I live in a downtown condo – cross the street and I’m in the office.
When I went from the UK to the US, the US was always “on”. When you went on vacation, you were expected to take your cellphone and be accessible, whereas in the UK, you’ve got people covering for you. In Canada, it’s in the middle. Canadians love to travel – they are always going skiing in the winter or to the Caribbean, Mexico or the US in the summer – so you have a much better work-life balance.
The pandemic has been challenging. Toronto had the longest lockdown in North America – we couldn’t eat in a restaurant for almost a year. And we’ve still not properly gone back to the office. At PwC, we’ve been re-evaluating how we can support the business in the sense of digitisation. There’s been a lot of reorganisation and restructuring, which can be quite difficult to do when everyone is working at home. Ideally, we’d like to get everybody back in the same room together and get things moving in this new direction we’re going in.
Although people are still a bit reticent about Covid-19, things are slowly beginning to return to normal and I expect by the time summer is here, we’ll be in a much better position. I’m looking forward to restarting our ICAS meet-ups in the Scotland Yard pub in the centre of Toronto.
My advice to anyone moving abroad is to put yourself out there and meet as many people as possible"
Charlotte Avery CA
Manager, Government and Public Sector Consulting, EY
Before joining EY in 2013, I’d worked as an au pair in Paris and Switzerland. I knew I wanted to go abroad again. I trained with EY’s restructuring team but heard of a secondment with the consulting team in Canada. My husband is also a CA. We originally tried to move to Vancouver, but it’s easier to find jobs in Toronto, the financial hub of Canada. So we both transferred and landed in Toronto in 2017.
I love the city. It’s such a fun place – you walk outside and within 15 minutes you’ve got 50 different ways to spend your money. It hosts great sports like ice hockey, basketball and baseball, and it’s got so many cool neighbourhoods. Coming from Manchester, where we lived in the suburbs, Toronto felt like such a big city – adjusting to living downtown was a challenge at first.
We moved to Vancouver in 2019 as I was staffed on a project there and flying across the country each week was becoming tiring. The city is expensive, but the people are welcoming and the outdoor activities are incredible. We go hiking, we cycle to work via the beach – it’s a great quality of life. And the salaries are good, too.
Vancouver also handled the pandemic very well – we only had about 60 days of lockdown and then everything opened up. But with international borders all closed, being away from home was tough – and it was the first time that I’ve ever really begun to feel homesick.
The working culture in Canada is very different from east to west. In Toronto, it was normal to be in the office at 6.30pm on a Friday, whereas on the west coast it’s very laidback and people love to be outside, so you start to wrap up much earlier. I’d compare Toronto to London – it has that hustle and bustle of work and commute. Meanwhile Vancouver feels more like Manchester to me – your colleagues are like your family, you know the IT guys and you all go for drinks on a Friday. It has that smaller, regional feel. But it’s easier to make friends outside of work in Toronto, purely due to the sheer number of people in the city and the fact that Vancouver is quite transient.
We had originally intended to come to Canada for just two years but now we’re applying for citizenship. I’ve been quite lucky as I was promoted during the pandemic. We thought we’d be quieter when Covid-19 hit, but because of the financial supports, people and businesses mostly kept moving. There’s been a real push on digital – organisations are realising you can’t rely on paper any more.
My advice to anyone moving abroad is to put yourself out there and meet as many people as possible. ICAS events are a great place to start. I met some of my best friends through ICAS when I first moved to Toronto – and I keep in touch with them now, even though I’m on the other side of the country.