As part of our mentor series we sat down with Stephen Connors, Director at Deloitte Australia.
Stephen's career in professional services has taken him from Canberra to Bermuda, the Netherlands, and back to Sydney.
Initially, what led you to a career in accounting?
To be honest, I did not set out on my studies planning to join this field, but I do feel fortunate that this is where it led me. Back at the time, I think studying commerce and economics was a choice to provide me with more options in the future. Having now experienced it though, I believe accounting is sometimes unfairly perceived as a boring or unattractive industry. I can’t think of many other professions that can open up such a wide range of opportunities as accounting.
Most of the people I work with have either travelled abroad for work or are from overseas. There is also flexibility to change between industry lines, service lines, or even switch between professional services and commerce.
What is your specialisation? Why did you choose that?
I specialise primarily in the insurance sector, including brokers, life and general insurers. I have been in assurance and advisory for about 12 years, though specifically in this sector from 2006 when I was working in Bermuda, the Netherlands and now Sydney. I really enjoy this part of the market - it is a traditional sector that is currently going through quite a lot of change which is exciting.
When you are making a hiring decision, what are the most important qualities you look for in a candidate?
I look for someone who could be seen as a future leader. This includes an ability to work well with a team, has a professional demeanour, communicates well with the team and clients, and has problem solving capacity and a passion for learning. In terms of qualifications, for me, a resume is more about proof of a person’s ability to learn and less about their experience to date.
In your experience, what makes a good manager and what makes a good partner?
When you are running a business there are always pressures when it comes to performance. I think good managers and partners are able to provide a divide between the burdens that are being pushed down and the team around them. They are effectively able to balance these challenges to get the best performance from the team.
I also believe it is important for management to empower their teams and encourage individual thinking. The best managers and partners I have worked with are both fully aware and empathetic to the personal challenges of each member of the team.
What do you believe is the biggest difference between working in professional services and commerce?
The variety of challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis in professional services is huge. Each day is different, working with new clients, new team members, new problems to solve, and a few other surprises thrown in as well!
What are the biggest changes in the accounting profession you’ve seen in your career so far?
External audits have evolved a long way from just being a one-page opinion to a true partnership with your clients. Fully understanding their business and helping them on their journey is also far more rewarding than the pure “ticking and bashing” of the past.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the profession in the next ten years? Are there opportunities that come from these challenges?
It’s about the ability to adapt in a changing market. Whether it’s technological change from our clients, ever increasing expectations on service and quality, or regulatory change, the challenge will be to continually upskill our people to improve the value of our service to the client. The opportunities will come for those that can offer unique solutions and adapt the fastest.
I recently wrote an article about the acquisition spree of the Big Four and their push into parallel industries. Do you believe tech expertise is now a prerequisite for the best accounting jobs?
It’s not a prerequisite yet, but having some base tech experience definitely helps on the job. As you have noted, audit firms and the clients we serve are increasingly using technology in their day-to-day operations. However, because technology and the tools we use are changing so rapidly it would be a challenge to come into the profession “fully qualified” in this area.
And in any case, what you have learnt studying would also be outdated in a short period. The same could also be said for aspects of what you learn at university in commerce and the subsequent professional programs - I remember originally learning accounting pre-IFRS, which is no longer relevant.
The main thing is that the individual has the desire to learn and a proven ability to pick up new skills quickly.