The Chartered Star driving financial literacy this International Women's Day

Mar 05, 2021

Dr. Caroline McGroary, a Chartered Accountant and Lecturer with Dublin City University (DCU) was recently awarded the Chartered Star by Chartered Accountants Ireland, and will represent the profession at this year’s One Young World Conference in 2021. Here she hopes to contribute to discussions around the role of education in preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, with a particular focus on the challenges regarding accessibility, affordability and the need to keep gender equality at the forefront of the education agenda.

Having trained with Deloitte, Caroline wanted to use her qualification to get into lecturing and was delighted to join DCU in 2010. In 2013, DCU signed a partnership with an all-female Saudi university and Caroline, along with three colleagues, travelled to Saudi Arabia to set up a division of DCU Business School. The original remit was acting as Programme Director teaching business, accounting and finance modules through English, as well as training Saudi lecturers, but it quickly became so much more. Caroline became involved in many impactful projects over her time here, one of which was centred around developing the financial literacy skills of her students and women in the wider community. Caroline is now based between Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and her home in Donegal. 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Caroline outlines her experiences of being a Chartered Accountant and her work in Saudi Arabia, and how she will #ChooseToChallenge for this year’s International Women’s Day. 

What inspired you to make the move to Saudi Arabia? 

I have always been very passionate about the role of education in transforming lives. Through my own experiences both as a Chartered Accountant and Lecturer, I have experienced first-hand the value of a good education. Mindful that education is not something afforded to everyone, which can lead to gross inequality and exclusion in many societies, this was a real driving force behind my decision to move to Saudi Arabia in 2013. 

How do you feel being a Chartered Accountant has helped you in your journey? 

The Chartered Accountancy qualification is often branded as a “passport” to one’s future career as it is globally recognised and is considered the “gold standard” in accountancy education and training. I completely endorse this view, as being a member of Chartered Accountants Ireland has not only provided me with a set of skills and values which I can apply in many settings, but it has also provided me with an international platform to pursue a very meaningful career. In particular, the global mobility of the qualification has opened many doors during my time in the Middle East, including providing opportunities to work with other Chartered Accountants, working alongside the Irish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia to establish the Irish Business Network, and working with other high-profile organisations including the Saudi government. 

On a personal level, being a member of Chartered Accountants Ireland has allowed me the opportunity to meet many inspirational people and to be part of impactful community projects and groups, including the FinBiz2030 Taskforce. It also inspired me to pursue my passion for education and to complete a PhD in the area of professional accountancy education. These experiences have given me a different perspective on how I can use the qualification to achieve positive impact both from a personal and career perspective. 

Is there a strong network of Chartered Accountants in Saudi and in other places you have been?

I’m grateful to have met many Chartered Accountants while travelling abroad over the years. I’ve also had the opportunity to use the strength of this network in both my role as a lecturer and in the wider business community. A perfect example of the power of this network is demonstrated through a financial literacy initiative developed in 2019. This project helped develop the financial literacy levels of our students, as well as women in the local community, with an awareness campaign reaching over 1 million social media users. Some students described this initiative as “a life changing experience”, with others referring to the knowledge gained as “a life skill which I can apply in business and in my personal life”. 

This initiative was borne out of an initial conversation with a former colleague in Deloitte, who then connected me with their fellow partner in Deloitte in Saudi Arabia. The Deloitte team worked with us over a few months to develop an educational experience for both staff and students. 

Other Chartered Accountants also engaged with us, from both Ireland and the UK, and by the end of the semester the initiative had gained the support of Chartered Accountants Worldwide, along with other key partners including the Saudi Ambassador to the US. This example is a great reminder of the power of the Chartered Accountant network and, most importantly, what can be achieved when Chartered Accountants come together to work on meaningful and impactful projects.

How have you seen Saudi Arabia change since you first arrived in 2013? 

Over the last number of years Saudi Arabia has been undergoing an economic and social revolution. As a result there has been progress in many areas, particularly regarding the empowerment of women in Saudi society including changes to guardianship rules and allowing women to drive. However, the reforms that have been of most interest to me are those around the education of women, including the commitment of the Saudi government to increasing female economic participation. I believe these reforms will fundamentally change the future of the country and it has been a privilege to help my students in this way. 

How have you seen your students develop over the course of the programmes you teach?

It is always a source of pride to observe the development of our students over the course of their degree programmes and their achievements upon graduation. For example, the employment rate of our Saudi graduates stands at approximately 90%, with many of these graduates also going on to pursue further education. This is significant, as it demonstrates the appetite for change regarding the employment and empowerment of women. At an individual level, I also see marked increases in the confidence and social awareness of our students as they progress through their degrees. This is noteworthy, as many student projects were based on addressing global issues yet were applied in their local communities, including the financial literacy initiative outlined above.

In your own words, why do you believe financial literacy is key?

Financial literacy refers to knowledge, behaviours and attitudes regarding financial decisions and long-term financial well-being. In the absence of such skills, individuals may lack the ability to make sound financial decisions in their professional and personal life, risking their future financial security and that of their family. It is also an essential skill in addressing the gender divide, as in many countries women are considered to be at higher risk of financial exclusion than their male counterparts. Therefore, I believe that financial literacy is an essential life skill and should be taught at all levels of our education system.

From your experiences, what would be your advice for anyone thinking of studying Chartered Accountancy?

My advice would be that if you want a meaningful career, a globally recognised qualification that provides you with strong technical and business skills across a variety of roles and industries, then Chartered Accountancy is definitely for you. 

I would also advise prospective members to talk to other Chartered Accountants, as well as engaging with the Chartered Accountants Ireland “Chartered Career Chat” series, to learn about members’ experiences and perspectives of the qualification. 

Finally, as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, how will you embrace this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge?

Over the last number of years I have gained a deeper appreciation regarding the importance of education in reducing inequalities in society. Given that I have the opportunity to represent Chartered Accountants Ireland at the 2021 One Young World summit, I #ChooseToChallenge and contribute to the conversation regarding the role of education in preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, with a particular focus on the challenges regarding accessibility, affordability and the need to keep gender equality at the forefront of the education agenda.