Date posted: 23/01/2018

No red tape: How working in the public sector can give Chartered Accountants a seat at the table

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The public service is changing. The days of the pencil-pushing bureaucrat, with one job for life navigating a jungle of red tape are long gone. Instead, government employees are increasingly given a broad mandate to modernise their department - and Chartered Accountants are taking a leading role.

William Yan recently took on a role as the Director Finance Business Partner for the Department of Justice's Courts and Tribunals division. There, he works with senior stakeholders across the Department as the Strategic Finance Adviser, helping the division make decisions on the most effective use of its budget. Prior to joining the Department of Justice, William was the Chief Financial Officer at TAFE NSW - Northern Sydney.

"As a business partner, I see my role being effective when the business realises the value add, and the benefit of having a business partner from a finance perspective there in the decision-making process," William explains.

"Bringing me into discussions and meetings, being at the table as their trusted advisor for any critical decisions they need to make, that's where I would see me being able to achieve successful outcomes."

With a broad range of reforms sweeping through the government sector, and increased pressure to operate under constrained budgets, William's position at the Department of Justice is a dynamic one.

"Everyone has to work much more effectively in a tight fiscal environment, and the government is rolling out many reforms, which are creating a greater need to be efficient. There are a lot of savings that need to be realised from existing business activities," he explains.

"The value-add is where I come in to help the business determine efficiencies in certain operational areas or look at ways of managing their finances, so they get more benefit out of their finite resources."

Straight after graduating from the University of Technology Sydney, William took up a Graduate position at the Audit office, where he soon had the chance to pursue a professional qualification. After speaking to many colleagues, he settled on the Chartered Accountants Program.

"The people I saw coming out of Chartered Accountants were adaptable, resilient, technical and had a broad mindset" he recalls.

"They had the ability to communicate, and they had those soft skills to become more of an advisor rather than just an accountant who's out there in the back-office."

"When I finished at the audit office, I went to the UK during the global financial crisis. I found that having a CA designation, I was highly sort after and able to pick up a job very quickly because they recognised the value of Chartered Accountants. People hold it in high regard in Australian and overseas," he explains.

"I stepped foot into the UK, and I was able to find a job within two weeks. I managed to secure a role without an interview, during a recession. It was really surprising."

As expected, the CA qualification soon yielded a position for William in the commercial sphere when he was back in Australia working for one of the Big 4 chartered firms.

Now, back in the public sector once again, William is encouraging Chartered Accountants to look at working in the public sector. He believes that working in government gives recent graduates the opportunity to be involved in reforms and projects that only are possible in the public service environment.

"I think graduates really should consider a career in government; there are lots of opportunities, particularly as a young CA," he says.

"You get involved in supporting the delivery of important public services that you wouldn't be able to touch upon in commercial organisations. Government is doing a lot of reform, especially around infrastructure. You wouldn't get projects of that size - for that amount of dollars - in many other organisations."

Ultimately, working at the Department of Justice is exciting for William because it allows him to be part of projects that really matter.

"People say there's a lot of red tape, you can't change things, you can't move people on, you can't develop people - but I did not have those issues. I'm not sure the general public realises, but there are a lot of opportunities in the government space to do good things," he says.

"Now more than ever it's about moving accountants from being transactional to being decisions makers and advisors. Accountants are no longer going to be known as 'the accountant'; they're are becoming business advisors."