Each year, CPAWSB presents its Exemplary New Professional Award to a single recent CPAWSB graduate in one of the four western provinces or three territories. In 2021, Lauren Holland, CPA was awarded with the KBH Exemplary New Professional Award.
The Exemplary New Professional Award recognizes a recent CPAWSB graduate who demonstrates the defining qualities of a Chartered Professional Accountant: professionalism, integrity and sound judgment, and commitment to the profession and the community.
Samantha Taylor: Hello and welcome Lauren Holland, and congratulations on receiving the 2021 KBH Exemplary New Professional Award from the CPA Western School of Business.
Lauren Holland: Hi Samantha! Thank you for having me.
ST: Thank you so much. We are looking forward to getting to know a bit more about you and your path to becoming this great award winner. We want to know how did you get here and absolutely recognize and celebrate what future CPAs and current CPA candidates might see in their future.
First off, I want to know why did you become a CPA?
LH: My journey to becoming a CPA was a little unconventional.
I actually originally studied psychology at the University College Dublin in Ireland. Initially when I was choosing what I wanted to do with my career, people were a priority. I always knew that I wanted to work with people and I guess at the time I fell for that misconception that being an accountant meant that you worked alone and you were a little bit miserable. I had the image of Angela from The Office in my head.
It was only after that I graduated and I took a year or two out of the university that I went back to thinking "What do I want to do?". And accounting became an option because I had studied accounting in secondary school.
I had done pretty well enough and then I started learning more and more about the program and the opportunities that come out and becoming a CPA and pursuing that option. It sounded like something that I would be interested in, so I gave it a shot and here we are.
ST: Here we are realizing that you do deal with people if you want. If you want a career you don't have to deal with people, that's that's there too.
LH: That's true. Lots of different varieties.
ST: Absolutely! All right, so, a little bit more so take me from when you decided you wanted to be a CPA and tell me a bit more about your path to becoming designated.
LH: So I studied at UBC here in Vancouver. I did the DAP program. So it was quite an accelerated program that you take at night. It's a really great program if you've decided that you want to become a CPA. Because it basically serves as a very quick way to be immersed in the programs, each accounting course that you need to take, and you're surrounded by people who have all finished a previous degree and have kind of taken a 180. In some cases they've and decided that "OK, CPA is for me", So a lot of people are very focused.
I started in January 2017 and I finished in April 2018. I think there's 14 prerequisite courses that are required before you can start the CPA program and you just you plough through them. Some people can do it in eight months if you're really dedicated. That was a little too intense for me. It's a really great program.
Following the DAP program, I started working at BDO Canada in Vancouver. I started in the Audit and Assurance Department as a junior and I'm still here now as a senior. Then started each module and Capstone 1, Capstone 2 and I wrote my CFE in September 2020.
ST: So when you finish the DAP program and again a surrounded with like minded people. When was it a part of your process that you decided you wanted to work with BDO and they they felt similar?
LH: First met people from BDO quite early into the DAP program. It was maybe 4 or 5 months. I don't know how it works out east, but here there's a recruitment phase that happens with accounting firms, you go through a series of interviews and everyone gets offers about the same time. So I went through recruit in June 2017.
Honestly, the people that I met from BDO. It was very clear path for me just from people that I met through recruit. I liked the idea of working for a mid size firm as well because we have that international presence that a big firm have, but also a small knit, smaller knit community, and I felt like starting at a group of 15 versus starting in a group with 80 was better suited to me, and to my growth and development.
So I really like that idea and it's worked out pretty well.
ST: It's worked out in a number of ways of both that they supported you and you supported them and grew with them during your CPA studies. Now you are a senior and you are in the opportunity to give back so you are selling your career while helping other people build in their career. People, people, people.
So what has surprised you most about the CPA program?
LH: I found that the difference between the courses you take in university and the CPA program content- the biggest difference was the need to apply communication skills and critical thinking to each case and watch pattern that you are given. Because in University of course you learn technical skills, but it's mostly focused on isolated problems; whereas CPA program, it's case based. So you need to apply this technical knowledge that you learned to a specific set of circumstances. For me that was a new experience.
Something that was really beneficial because ties quite well into what you do in your work day. To recognize what or who you're speaking to, what they're like needs of that person or what they're actually asking you.
ST: Completely, and I hear it from my students and candidates entering the program as well. That they almost think "OK, this is a graduate level program, so the material is going to get harder". And no, not yeah. It's it's challenging, but it's because it's not necessarily just what you say, but it's also how do you say it, and using that filter as you suggested,
Who is my user?
What is my role?
What is appropriate to communicate with this technical accounting knowledge?
LH: Memorizing the handbook won't get you very far. It's a totally different way of studying and learning. It's really just practicing more so than sitting down and like learning something really complicated.Yeah, so it's I really like it. It's definitely a positive part of CPA program.
ST: Yes, absolutely. And it's almost if people know this and hopefully they will from watching the video. It's kind of like ohh OK, they can kind of be prepared and maybe it's not as daunting because we all communicate everyday. And you know when you say OK, it's going to be practice communicating most of what you already know. Or finding what you know and then you know really focusing on that application. It almost makes it more tangible because you're like, oh, it's just right there, and you get better and better with practice. That also parallels your career, so it's kind of like a win win.
LH: Yeah 100% and you kind of... I guess for me you... I started as a junior in your job and you work your way up, and you develop these skills of communicating and applying technical knowledge. And you're kind of doing that at the same time at the CPA program as you are with work. So really at the end of the two years or three years or however long you really do grow quite a lot.
ST: This is a little bit of a side question. I know for myself when I went through it was a lot, you know, as much as it wasn't new technical per say, it was applying it. You're doing it while you're working, oftentimes and so you're balancing like a little bit of a life school work and trying to trying to make it all work. That I found I didn't realize the parallels and the amount of growth I was going through.
So just a question to yourself, did you realize it when you were going through? Or was it something that you kind of noticed later as it kind of came up throughout your your professional life afterwards?
LH: No, it 100% took a long time to hit me that I had grown or even made anything to be honest. Because like you say you're so immersed in this program and you're so focused just getting through each module trying to juggle your job and family, your life. You don't have time to catch your breath and look at how far you've come along the way.
I think when you sit down to write the CFE, you're kind of hit with this, "Oh my God, I'm actually able to sit for three days".
ST: I know things! Yeah!
LH: "I know things like when did this happen?"
When you compare what you know at the end of the program to what you knew going in, like they're two completely different worlds, right? And that's similar to your job. I find that you're starting new, you know very little, and it's there's a steep learning curve. Whatever industry or public practice or job you're in. But then after year, for me, it was when I went to train someone new starting and they're working on something that I've worked on previous year. Sometimes they're looking at my work. When I'm teaching someone, I actually know things and it's times like that that you realize. But on a day to day I didn't. I didn't take it all in, I would say.
ST: Good point studying for the CFE or like my equivalent UFE and like oh I know things are oh I see this and you can start to you know see it all come together and I can write a three day case. I can do this and then little pockets here and there in my career afterwards. Post CFE I was like "Oh my gosh I can solve these problems" and I started treating clients like users, and they loved it and I thought oh I stumbled upon a secret when really it's a defined process. As long as, you know, buy in and and do your best. You know you're not special in the sense that it won't not work for you like it's there like you will. You will learn and grow. Try not to.
LH: That's very true.
ST: OK, so I want to know Lauren, what advice would you have for somebody starting the CPA program.
LH: So my advice would actually be to of course work hard. You should definitely work hard. But to give yourself credit for how far you've come at every point along the road, not just at the end and celebrate every mini milestone that you pass. Of course, it's really challenging and really rewarding. But like it's such a great accomplishment to get through. I found the best way to get through is to, celebrate little victories along the way.
ST: So, for example, getting into the program like hey, you have your prereqs like celebrate that!
LH: A 100% or every module that you got through. Maybe it's just a bad week. Related to that, I would say reach out to your peers as well. They're your best resource, even just for keeping you sane. Because everyone's going through this same process together. Knowing that you're not alone feeling stressed or like. Thinking you can't do it, but you definitely can do it, but it's easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes. And just having someone beside you feeling the same thing. You can kind of talk yourself down a bit.
ST: Yeah, completely. What advice would you have for somebody to find a peer group that perhaps is working in industry or is working at a small firm and doesn't have a you know, a bunch of other CPA candidates?
Would you have any advice for them to find a peer?
LH: I think CPA BC offer programs to connect writers and people going through the PEP courses correct?
ST: Yes, I believe so as well. You know, discussion boards, you know, module workshops, virtual or in person. Yeah, and like you said, people will to connect because you're all in it together and your peers are your greatest resources. So find a peer and that's an opportunity to connect.
LH: Yes, we all need to balance the best, but as well as the module workshops they were good for connecting with other people from whether it's industry or public practice. Hearing different stories and what everyone's going through.
ST: Regardless, your background, regardless of where you're working, you're all in this similar similar challenge.
I don't know about you, but for myself, sometimes my friends or people that weren't familiar with the program outside of the program, it was hard to relate on a number of different aspects. So it's really great to have that peer group, and to know that you're not alone.
LH: Yeah 100%!
ST: Alright Lauren, what might we find you doing when you're not working for BDO in Vancouver?
LH: You can normally find me outdoors. I moved to Vancouver about seven years ago. It was really the outdoor lifestyle that attracted me here and kept me here. Knowing that you can go skiing in the winter. Hiking in the summer. I like to run, sometimes, mostly for sanity purposes or bike rides. Yeah, keeping fit and keeping active. Definitely my favorite things. I like to travel as well. Obviously over the last two years there hasn't been much of that, but hopefully in the future.
I also volunteer with a not-for-profit and here in Vancouver and in the Downtown East side. it's called the Dugout drop-in society and I volunteer on their Finance Committee. What the Dugout do is they provide, what's kind of in the name it's a drop-in center. The idea is to provide a safe space to members of the community that they can go and spend time. Not feeling judged by the rest of society and that it's a safe space.
Essentially, it's been in the community for over 50 years and has provided that same service almost everyday since.
ST: Is that an organization you got involved in during your CPA studies or after your CPA studies?
LH: I got involved actually just after I wrote my CFE and the opportunity presented itself just through a friend of mine who also volunteers on the board and at the time I really didn't think that I could really add much value. As I've just learned these things. I'm still very much finding my place, but it was one of those points where I realized that the value that being financially literate actually has or being able to identify internal controls in a business or an organization. Of course, I'm still still learning, but it was a really good opportunity to show those things that I've learned.
ST: Absolutely, just take the skill set that you've developed and are still developing. We have continuing professional development as a part of our designation for a reason.
We'll never stop learning, but it's great to be able to kind of use those skills that continue to develop and do good with your CPA. Add to your community, your overall community and the well being and living a life of purpose with your CPA as one of the tools to help you do that and give back. Fabulous!