Postcard from Overseas - Louise O’Donnell, ACA Dubai.

Mar 12, 2015

As I look back on my career to date and look at all of the things that I have been lucky to achieve both personally and professionally,  it got me thinking about the value of being a Chartered Accountant and also the benefits I have as a result of gaining this professional qualification. It also got me thinking about how I got here, where I am now sitting.

Old School
Not many will admit it but I will – I loved Accounting when I was in school, primarily due to the fact that I had a teacher that made it fun to learn but also it was a very logical subject. It was easy to decide what I wanted to do for my degree which was Accounting and Finance. Once that was done like most of us that end up doing the CA route, we join a firm. I chose a small/medium size practice which was a great choice for me, as it gave me the option to work on various areas within Finance & Accounting. We learned the basics from bottom up with wonderful support and training from the partners who owned the firm. 

I had always wanted to travel and even during my 3.5 years of training and studying I knew that I wanted to set my sights on working overseas. This was not because I did not want to live in Ireland but I always knew I wanted to have an adventure by using my professional education. However at that time I did not realize the benefit of being a Chartered Accountant was but now I do. When I set my sights on leaving Ireland I was drawn to a job which was a 100% Internal Audit role in Financial Services, they were looking for Qualified Accountants. I remember when I started the job search saying to the recruiter that I did not want an audit role nor a financial services role but I ended up with the role that I didn’t exactly want – The learning that I got from that was don’t always be so quick to say what you don’t want as you may chose that exact option, which I did. 

Internal Audit
It was honestly one of the best choices that I could have made. Thanks to that role I got to travel with work and see approximately 30+ countries. This opportunity gave me the time to develop myself personally, mainly learning how to adapt very quickly, the ability to work with many varied nationalities and personalities. Something that you cannot read /learn from a book and sit an exam on. I also learned a good work ethic of work hard and play even harder, all within a team environment. We only had a limited time in a place to get an assignment done but likewise we only had a limited time to see the place we were working in. So we balanced it with work hard /play hard and always got the job done. This is an important lesson that we all need to learn at an early stage in our careers that you do have to work hard but likewise we still need to make time for our own personal life. The role of an Internal Auditor has given me a great opportunity to learn about Risk, Controls and Procedures within an organization. It is also a very varied role as no one audit is the same. You get to know an organization very well. It gives you a wonderful outlook and opportunity to broaden your horizon into other areas other than a finance department. 

London Calling
Thanks to the role in Internal Audit I took up my next position in Operational Risk Management. ERM is an area that has received a lot of focus since the crisis in 2008, however accountants and auditors have always been involved in risk management likewise the industry which I work in are the original risk managers. This role came with less travel and was based in London. London was not a city I would have chosen initially but working in London which is possibly one of the greatest cities in the world, brought new challenges, particularly as I did not have a wide network of friends which of course changed in a very short space in time. 

It was in London where I saw significant value in being a CA and realized the network of other CA’s that existed in London. Through our membership and professional qualification we are opened up to a network of other likeminded professionals through the various links that the Irish Institute has with the other institutes, there is also the Irish /London Society who hold frequent events. The links that the Institute has, still continue to support me now in my current role and this is something I can see assisting me for the future. What we don’t realize is the network that being a qualified Chartered Accountant opens us up to when we are training. It is a network that continues to grow year on year and will certainly be there to support you throughout your career no matter where in the world you are. 

My current role is now back in Internal Audit where I have the opportunity to live and work in Dubai. Dubai was always a place that intrigued me from my first visit here in 2008. When the opportunity to work here arose I was immediately excited but sad to leave London. Dubai is a total contrast to London. London is an old and historical city versus Dubai which is a new city built in a very short time with a great vision by its leaders, and has been able to put itself on the world map as being a city where things happen and is certainly an innovative and growing Logistical and Financial Hub of the Millennium years. However there are similarities. Dubai and London are definitely multicultural cities, where you have the opportunity to work with many nationalities from across the world. This is one of the benefits of working overseas as we get the opportunity to learn other cultures and ways of working.  We also learn to adapt to the day to day challenges that any big city throws at you.   

Moving to Dubai also made me reach out to the Institute, as I needed to build a team. Thanks to the Recruitment Service in the Institute, I was able to quickly organize a call to Karin Lanigan and the team, advertise the role immediately and had potential candidates and interviews lined up within a short space of time.  This was critical for me as we needed to get the team built fast. I did end up recruiting another Irish Chartered Accountant thanks to the leads Karin gave me. He too made the jump from Ireland and is enjoying living and working here. Another wonderful thing about being a Chartered Accountant is that you are more inclined to hire a fellow member because you know the training that you have to go through to get there. The majority of my team are qualified Chartered Accountants not all Irish, I am lucky to work with some fantastic Indian Chartered Accountants. The Indian Institute has a strong network of Chartered Accountants here in Dubai.

Louise O'Donnell ACA Parachute Dubai


Just Do It
If I were to look at the tips that are needed when considering a move overseas – 1) You will miss your friends and family but they are at the other end of a phone/skype so you can talk to them 2) If you have a family you certainly need to consider the cost of education /childcare as these are relatively expensive in both of the cities I have lived in. 3) Children probably fit in quicker to places than adults but it is fun when you get to start meeting new adults who are in a similar situation to you. 4) Living in both of these cities has thought me that the cost of living can be high so it might be an obvious one but do your research on where you want to live and prices before you say yes to the job 5) The most important thing to remember though is to just have fun and jump at the opportunity after you have weighed up the options but don’t, overthink things. We end up sometimes losing out on fantastic opportunities. In today’s world life moves fast – hence we have to learn to keep up with it. If you want to move overseas then JUST DO IT.

So in a nutshell the Value /Benefits of being a Chartered Accountant –
•         It does open up doors to you.
•         It allows you to work anywhere in the world in total last count of countries I have been to 64 countries.
•         It allows you to have a network no matter where in the world you are with other CA Institutes.  
•         It allows you to work in many various industries as you always need an accountant no  matter what industry you are in. 
•         It is a career that is challenging and allows you to develop professionally and personally.   

Remember you do have the support of the team within the Institute who are always a phone call away. They can help you with recruitment and building a team as well as advising you in relation to a potential mentor. They can also help you keep up with you CPD through online training, your weekly newsletters to keep you up to date with what is happening in Ireland within the Finance World. These are just a few of many offerings that the Institute has provided me with whilst living overseas.  It does take a special kind of person to decide to seek a career in accounting but once you’re in that group the world really is your Oyster – Last time I checked, I don’t know of many other Qualifications that can offer that.

Louise O’Donnell, ACA is Head of Internal Audit at Oman Insurance Company PSC and is based in Dubai, UAE.

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