With a booming economy and leading role in international commerce, it comes as no surprise that thousands of Australians flock to the grey skies and green parks of London every year. More career opportunities with typically more cosmopolitan clientele than Australia means that London professional experience is highly valued in expatriates. One such expat is twenty-five year old Monique Neumann, a Technical Accountant from Brisbane, who, following a professional secondment to the UK has recently made the transition from her postgraduate role as Senior Accountant with leading public practice firm, BDO, to London publishing house, Penguin Random House UK. Monique discusses her experience within the finance industry and how she finds working in the world’s business capital.
What did you study at university?
A Bachelor of Business at QUT Brisbane. I did a Professional Account Extended Major and graduated in 2009.
And have you done any postgraduate or professional development study?
Yes, a Graduate Diploma of Chartered Accountancy with the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia (ICAA) and I graduated in 2013.
How did you come to work for BDO?
Following my second year at university, I completed three vacation programs with various mid-tier accounting firms, including BDO, where I was placed in the audit department for two weeks. I enjoyed my time there and valued the team environment so when I was offered a 2010 graduate position it was an easy choice.
Describe your work at BDO, including your secondment to London.
I was in the audit department in Brisbane. We weren’t split into divisions or industries within audit as are some other firms so I had a variety of clients of numerous sizes and sectors, most predominantly financial services, mining, manufacturing, and Not-For-Profit. I generally performed statutory audits of public and private companies; however, I was also involved in compliance, trust, and grant audit. As I gained more experience, I was given more responsibility by running jobs and was the senior on the majority of my projects.
In my third year at BDO, I was granted a secondment to their branch in London. I was placed in the real estate and property development sector as a senior on the majority of jobs within their audit department. As the firm is much larger than Brisbane, they split us into teams according to industry. Real estate as an industry was quite foreign to me but I was given much more time to complete jobs than I was in Brisbane and the managers were very supportive.
What made you decide to move back to London long term?
I loved my time here on secondment but at the end of five months I felt like my time in the city wasn’t complete; there was so much to see in London and around Europe. Aside from enjoying the lifestyle and wanting to experience that more, I sought more of a challenge. Secondment was an amazing opportunity in that BDO provided flights, accommodation, support, and an immediate network of friends but I did want to attempt London more independently and try something different to Brisbane.
How did you find job hunting?
Before I arrived, I had all my recruitment meetings scheduled for after my travels. My meetings were over two days with nine recruiters, so I was very much weary of talking about myself, my experiences, and what I was after! Though, I did learn a lot about how recruitment agencies operate. My qualifications were all easily transferable for the UK market. One hurdle I faced was not scoring a position I was very interested in due to lack of commercial experience. I lost out to another Australian who had a year of contracting experience outside public practice. Otherwise, London has a lot of positions targeted at newly-qualified accountants. I got my position at Penguin Random House through Randstad Financial & Professional recruitment agency.
Illustrate a day in the life of an auditor.
Every morning, I check the bank accounts and their daily movements. I am responsible for monitoring several of the head entities’ cash flow and ensuring we have sufficient funds for the upcoming month. This has been good in teaching me to manage cash expectations and build my judgement around this. Then, depending on the time of year, we have various forms of financial reporting to our ultimate parent company in Germany. This involves the reconciling of figures and correspondence with the related entities around the world, which I really enjoy. Additionally, I have a lot of ad hoc jobs. In 2013, Penguin and Random House merged, so there are a lot of on-going projects I’m involved in to assist in the integration, mainly formulating and reviewing the new finance policies and authority limits in our new systems.
What I miss is the large team environment, which is quite unique in audit, and being able to help teach and train juniors. However, I realise I’m new to commercial accounting and you need to start somewhere!
How is working in the finance industry in London different to Brisbane?
For BDO audit, the actual work completed, clients, and environment is reasonably similar between the two. The opportunities to explore working in finance within a range of industries are much greater in London than Brisbane, which was one of my main reasons for traveling here.
Interestingly, the main difference I’ve found is how people approach others when they need something done. For the most part, Australians are more straight-forward in their correspondence. When I first came to London on secondment I was given an etiquette style talk on how to decode English emails!
What are your career aspirations?
My current role is financial accounting based so I hope my next role in London will have more of a management accounting focus in order to obtain more knowledge and exposure to the operational side of a business, as I would ultimately like a position that had both financial and operational aspects. I have always been interested in the mining sector, which is fairly prominent in Brisbane, though working in publishing has shown me that I am flexible and happy to work in various industries.
What advice would you give to other finance professionals in Asia Pacific?
Having audit experience has been invaluable, especially when breaking into the commercial market. I saw a lot of job specifications that listed audit experience as a requirement.