Date posted: 2/07/2018

Outback accountant: A day in the life of a CA in regional Australia

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Originally from a grazing property north of Bourke, Hamish Cullenward completed a Bachelor of Commerce and Actuarial Studies at ANU in 2010. After moving to Sydney to take up a position with RiceWarner Actuaries, he found himself tiring of city life, so he packed his bags and headed west.

Fast forward to 2018 and Hamish has already become Manager at Boyce Chartered Accountants in Wagga Wagga and is eager to share why the big move has been the best decision of his life so far.

"One of the most rewarding aspects of a regional accounting career is the close relationships you inevitably develop with your clients," Hamish explains. "They're pretty down to earth and great people, so that's awesome."

He understands that some people think accountants are "boring", and is intent on shaking up that perception. "It's a pretty rewarding career and there's a lot more to it than you're generally exposed to," he says.

Even though Wagga Wagga is a small town, Hamish still works with a diverse range of clients - from doctors and cotton growers to farmers and tradies.

"You deal with everything from simple sole traders, like a plumbing business or family running a farm operation, to foreign investors coming in with agricultural properties with more than $100 million in total assets," Hamish explains. "A really diverse mix, and that keeps it fresh every day."

"It's also an educational role, I feel. We've got a lot of clients out there that are hungry for knowledge. We try and show them their true profit, what their true position is, and their net wealth growth each year. I gain a great deal of job satisfaction from genuinely helping people with their businesses."

Daily life in the bush often throws up big surprises for Hamish and his team. Many of his clients live on the homesteads of sprawling farms, and even driving out to visit them can be an adventure - from getting lost on unmarked back roads to navigating with poor phone reception.

"We've got a few cotton growers out on the Murrumbidgee. I love going out and seeing those large-scale operations and the amount of capital improvement that they've done. You see it all come through the books, but actually getting out there and seeing it in person is pretty impressive."

Hamish Cullenward CA
Hamish Cullenward CA

Hamish said that the CA Program gave him the opportunity to hone his soft skills, as well as research case law and legislation, and he now applies this knowledge to his clients' often unique situations.

"I learned a lot of things subconsciously while studying to become a CA," Hamish recalls. "While you mightn't always directly apply them, you are definitely a better accountant having gone through it."

"Things like thinking outside the box, client engagement, interpersonal skills, just getting up and talking to people, making presentations, how to write and frame advice, how to write emails - all of those skills are very helpful in the workplace."

As for his personal life, Hamish has no regrets about his move - the benefits he's been able to reap from his rural position are endless. Apart from a high level of job satisfaction, his five-minute, traffic-free commute to work, and the fact he's been able to buy a home for a third of the price of a Sydney property - it's the sense of community that makes him feel so at home in Wagga.

'You feel you're a part of a community when you're working regionally, whereas having lived in Sydney - I feel like that was a bit of a gap that was missing at times," Hamish confesses. In April, Hamish's team drove to Boorowa for a charity event, and the entire community turned up to support the initiative.

"Another thing I get a lot out of working regionally is the ability to move up the ranks a lot faster," Hamish says. "I feel I was exposed to opportunities a lot quicker than my colleagues in Sydney, or in the bigger firms."

Already in a managerial role with Boyce Chartered Accountants, Hamish believes he is on the fast track to make Director by his late twenties or early thirties. When asked whether he would recommend a treechange for future accountants, he didn't hesitate.

"I absolutely encourage graduates to consider a career in the country. The biggest hurdle is your own perception. People think that you can't live anywhere else but the city, and that's just not true," he said.

"I suppose people can be daunted by the isolation, but with remote access these days and flights from Wagga to Sydney six times a day, and a couple of times a day to Melbourne, you're still pretty connected."

Hamish offers a final piece of advice for people considering a career in the country: "You can definitely have a very well-paid, professional career living in the bush, you don't need to be in Sydney. That is, if you've got the drive to make it happen."