Date posted: 01/11/2017 7 min read

Looking ahead to life after CA

What can baby boomer CAs do to turn a career in chartered accounting into a new working life?

In Brief

  • Options for CAs include retiring, starting a business, finding a similar job or a different job, volunteer or charity work, or a complete career change.
  • Reverse mentoring can be valuable, where young people teach older CAs about technology, new business culture and new ways of doing business.
  • CAs must understand a clear personal business plan and brand to their skill set and new work models based on team collaboration.

Much has been written about generational change in the workforce, the younger employees assuming the reins of power and implications for the way organisations are run.

Rarely covered is the question of what becomes of the baby boomer CAs who find themselves unemployed, with 20 to 30 years to live. Older CAs, statistically many of whom are men, are competing for jobs where technology and robots are replacing humans. Recruitment targets for young, female, diverse and technology-conversant candidates limit opportunities for older CAs. It’s not as bad as 18,000 people applying for NASA’s 12 astronaut places in 2017, but sometimes it seems like that.

Mal Walker, chair of the Brisbane-based Australasian Interim Executive Association, and CEO of recruitment firm GreyHair Alchemy, helps CAs find new positions. “Older CAs coming off powerful, high-paid jobs shouldn’t be too fussy. It’s important to get back in the game when an opportunity presents itself,” Walker says.  “Experienced CAs can have difficulty humbling themselves before gatekeepers.”


It’s important CAs don’t suffer alone and seek help if required, even if it is just talking to a mentor
Dr Kerry Bennett CEO of Graduate Union of Melbourne University


Older CAs typically view recruitment consultants like aliens, describing them to Walker as “20-something girls, with whom I have nothing in common, and who know nothing about me, or what I can do”. 

This view is at the heart of the challenge. The style of work today can be opposite to what boomers knew. Command and control has gone. It’s about culture, team work, social purpose and collaboration. CAs must understand the new model, and its players, not the other way around.

Dean of Education and Professor of Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Lesley Farrell, says there can be real tension and pressure on baby boomers to leave organisations and hand over the reins to younger team members. “Then comes the pressure of not being a so-called drain on society,” Farrell says.

“Mental health can be an issue at this time of major change,” says Dr Kerry Bennett, CEO of Graduate Union of Melbourne University. “It’s important CAs don’t suffer alone and seek help if required, even if it is just talking to a mentor.”

Related: CA Wellbeing

CA Wellbeing is here to support mental health and wellbeing for our members.

Wayne Williams CA, a former partner at PwC, landed the CEO position at Alliance Health Plus in Auckland in his sixties. “To be relevant to the market, it’s about rebranding oneself. CFOs can be poor at selling themselves,” Williams says.

“By that I mean, as one of 15 on the shortlist, they find it difficult to articulate their value proposition and why they are different or better. Saying ‘I do more than numbers’ just won’t cut it at an interview anymore.”

Soft interpersonal skills and good judgement are what it is all about today, he says. “I find few CAs can write a business case on just one page – to board standard. Similarly, they lack an attractive and differentiated elevator pitch about themselves. Employers ask ‘if they cannot differentiate themselves, how well they will talk about us?” says Williams.

Options abound

Options for CAs include complete retirement, finding another similar job, finding a different job, volunteer or charity work, a complete career change, or even starting a new business. Retraining and re-education are also options, as is a break. But this runs the risk of losing momentum. 

“It’s important that baby boomers realise that it does not have to be a stark choice between option A or B. It can be A and B,” says Melbourne Graduate School’s Farrell. “For example, part-time work and volunteering for a charity, or part-time work and mentoring young people, or volunteer work and retraining or starting a business.

“Melbourne University is aware of the need for ‘non-traditional’ programmes outside degrees to cater for baby boomers looking to retrain or start new careers. “We are looking at a range of blended programmes, course times and durations, as well as delivery mechanisms that use technology in clever ways.”

For example, for some baby boomers, having to read screeds of material is not realistic, so there is a need to deliver via multi platforms and customisable programmes, Farrell says.

Play to your strengths

Baby boomer CAs must play to their strengths, says Williams. “There is no substitute for grey hair. Experience can be made to count,” he says.

Chartered accountants have analytical and financial skills that can serve them well in many different careers. Consultant Paul Kennedy CA, who transitioned from corporate finance roles through business development and marketing, to helping organisations find their perfect customers, says it’s critical that CAs add a clear personal business plan and brand to their skill set.

“Do whatever you can to get more control of your career. Most importantly, do it ahead of time, one or two years before you think you might need it,” Kennedy says. He recommends reverse engineering.

“Work out who is likely to need your services and where they can be found. Then set about mixing with and getting in front of them and their advisers on a regular basis.” 

Williams has a reverse engineering idea too. “Get into reverse mentoring where young people teach you about technology, their business culture and new ways of doing business.”

Tips for transitioning in your career

Prepare two or more years in advance. Make sure you’re ready when change comes, because it may not be when you choose.

Activities may include:

  • self (with partner) evaluation, brainstorming and research
  • reverse engineering backwards from where you want to be
  • upskilling or studying for a new qualification
  • building and testing a business plan
  • talking to and securing business partners.

Networking, including volunteering for not-for-profit boards and acting as a mentor, can help focus your mind and provide unexpected opportunities. The arts and charity sectors are where many influential people can be found.

Start or invest in a business (don’t forget the internet) that can be ramped up later. Look after your health and adjust your spending to reflect likely initial lower income during a career transition.

Listen: It’s time to get excited about retirement

Financial advisor Claire Mackay CA gives some advice on making your dream retirement a reality. Listen to our Acuity podcast:.