Date posted: 24/06/2020

Future Indigenous financial leader Sam Roberts on the power of resilience

We speak to Sam Roberts, a proud Gunai man, accountant at WorkPac and recipient of the 2019 CA ANZ Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander scholarship, about the challenges he faced to become a CA and how he hopes his personal and professional stories will help him reach his goal of becoming an Indigenous finance leader.

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Sam Roberts was facing an uncertain future in 2014. In his own words, he was heading for jail time if he didn’t start making better decisions, fast. So how did a self-described troubled young man turn his life around? He focused on what the future could look like and was inspired to make smarter choices in the present.

“I have people asking how did you get there and what did you do to better yourself? And I suppose it was just determination and motivation. I chose finance because a lot of people are focusing on the health side of Indigenous communities, but no one was there for their financial support,” Roberts says.

“It's a well-known issue throughout the Indigenous community, and I thought how can I make the biggest impact on the Australian economy as a whole, but even greater, the Indigenous community as a whole?”

“Once I actually started seeing the results and the impact that university had on me and my immediate family it really solidified what I wanted to do in the future, which was to be an Indigenous finance leader,” Roberts says.

His future plans were clarified when he gained a cadetship at Gidarjil Development Corporation. Not only did the role propel him on his professional journey, it also taught him more about personal resilience.

“Working at Gidarjil Development Corporation helped me connect back to culture. It helped me trace my stolen generation as I had struggled with that in the past. It was that persistence of, ‘ah, here's a roadblock, don't give up, keep pushing through’,” Roberts says.

“So that really connected me back to culture. Going back to my elders, being able to relate, being able to see what their point of view is of finances. It's amazing, the last three years of my life I’ve discovered, it’s not about trying to dictate finances, it's more than finances. It's about learning other people's opinion on finances. The only way that I'm going to be able to be an Australian leader and push people in the right direction is if I continue to relate the knowledge of the community now,” he says.

"Once I actually started seeing the results and seeing the impact that higher education had on me and my immediate family it really solidified what I wanted to do in the future, which was to be an Indigenous finance leader."
Sam Roberts, Financial Accountant at WorkPac and recipient of the CA ANZ 2019 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship

Roberts’ strong work ethic and commitment to financial literacy were instrumental in winning him the CA ANZ 2019 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship. The scholarship has funded his CA Program studies, but for Roberts the networking opportunities have been the most valuable element.

Future Indigenous financial leader Sam Roberts on the power of resilience

“It's the fact that Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has invested their money, their time into an Indigenous person and the recognition that brings. By having that scholarship, I have now been given access to avenues that I never even thought of,” Roberts says.

In 2020 he was hired by staffing and recruitment organisation WorkPac Group where, rather than slowing down, the pace of his professional learning has only accelerated. The duties of his financial accounting role include bank reconciliations, wage imports and associated tasks, general finance queries and assisting AP with invoice processing and payment, as well as working to establish an outsourced team.  

“I create procedures, policies, rules, and videos, and provide them access to all the needed material to do the work. I didn't see it as my job or my duty, I have seen it as a skill and a strength that I could learn to manage people. So I devoted the time to make the policies, make the procedures, make sure they are correct in accordance with our internal procedures before releasing them to our head of finance and then being approved,” Roberts says.

“I've been here for 12 months and I have evolved in this role further than I have in the last four years - the knowledge, the skills and the involvement with decision making is phenomenal,” he says.

The next step in Roberts’ career plan is undertaking a Masters of Financial Planning. He hopes the combination of life experiences and financial education will equip him to be a better leader in the future.

“I feel I will reach a whole new level of the community if I can show them that everybody is capable of turning their life around. That's why I'm choosing the degrees that I've chosen, the position that I've chosen. I know what I want to do in 10 years,” Roberts says.