I made my decision to go through the Chartered Accountancy program after packing in law school. At that time, the CA program was run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba (ICAM) (now called CPA Manitoba). What that meant was that courses were offered by the Institute the completion of which would allow you to write the Uniform Final Exam (UFE) administered by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. Passing the UFE was the prerequisite to qualifying for your CA designation (you had to pass the exam and complete your articling period). The courses offered by ICAM were non-credit courses, so if you didn’t pass the UFE there was no second prize. The University of Manitoba would not recognize these courses as fulfilling the requirements for a B.Comm degree (credit courses) granted by the University. It was a big risk!
Eyes wide shut
There was a second prerequisite for entering the ICAM CA program. You had to have a job with a member firm. It’s called slave labor. But at least you got paid!
The program was brutal. I only managed to get two credits out of the many accounting, audit and law courses I had to take. It would take me just under four years. And because my undergraduate degree was in Economics, I had a four-year articling period.
You had to work while you studied, and study while you worked. And in the end, when you finished the education program you had a one out of three chance of passing the UFE. And if you failed three times, you were out! It was a lot of pressure for everyone involved.
I joined a local CA firm, low pay, zero training and low-level accounting work. But it allowed me to enter the program. It didn’t take long, however, to look for greener grass. My marks were high, my work was good and I wanted to get what normally comes with working with one of the major accounting firms. So I packed my pencils and left!
So for the first time in a long time, my new job was at least somewhat aligned with my ongoing career aspirations – investment banking. Working for one of the major accounting firms would lend more punch to my resume.
But it wasn’t enough for me. The blue-chip firm in town was Clarkson Gordon (a predecessor firm of Ernst & Young). And after some effort, I was offered a position with the most prestigious CA firm in Canada. I packed my pencils one more time. My resume was getting longer than a roll of toilet paper.
One thing for sure. I couldn’t have been any further away from London, England if I tried to be. Back in a small Canadian city, working for a major accounting firm there, and studying accounting. Oh boy, I wasn’t happy but I was committed to finishing this no matter what!
It was a long, long four years. Studying weekends, working evenings, attending classes in the summer and spending months preparing for the UFE when I finally got a chance to write. It was awful! Studying in the summer when no one is at school requires a lot of commitment. Hot summer nights studying at the office with my colleagues who were also in the CA program. We helped each other, supported each other when we wanted to give up, worked together.
After four long years, I made it! I qualified for the CA designation and completed my articling period. I was now a Chartered Accountant.
Moving and a change to tax
After I qualified, I was going to be promoted to the position of Manager sometime soon. In those days, the accounting firms’ organization charts were much flatter. Students, managers, maybe a senior manager and partners. Now, well there is no need to discuss it.
As to my work, I loved auditing. Many find it boring, but I just loved my work! For the first time, I had what I felt was a great job.
At the same time, there was something going on at the office. They were looking for an additional staff member in the tax department, a junior manager. I approached the tax guys who were interested in having me join them. I thought that tax would be my ticket to greater things. I had a choice. After thinking about it a lot, I I decided to join the tax department. As time passed by I found that I hated it! What a colossal mistake!
One more lesson
I was young, stupid and inexperienced. I didn’t understand that if you are happy in your position and the firm allows you to make a change, DON’T DO IT! I’ll come back to this point later when I made the same mistake again but for different reasons.
But if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it! If you move into a new area, you need to prove yourself all over again. I was doing well in audit, the managers liked me and the partners liked me. There was nothing to gain by changing roles and everything to lose. I just didn’t know it! I thought that the firm would appreciate my willingness to take on more. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any goodwill that I had previously created with the firm was impaired by the change in roles.