- Ensuring chartered accountants remain relevant in the rapidly changing world of technology is a key focus for Crowley.
- The accounting profession needs to evolve to keep up with the pace of the global and digital world.
- Don't be afraid to push the boundaries and challenge expectations to create an environment that is dynamic.
Photography by Mike Clare.
Cassandra Crowley FCA has chosen the theme “evolve” for her year-long term as President of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ). She’s focusing on evolution to ensure that chartered accountants – and their professional body – remain relevant, saying the skills chartered accountants have are enduring and can be applied across a rapidly changing business environment which is becoming increasingly global and digital.
“The world around us is changing so quickly that if the pace of what we do as a profession, of who we are, of how we manage our practices and our businesses, doesn’t change at a pace at least equal to what’s going on outside, we’ll be left behind,” she says.
“Every now and then we have to evolve a little bit further to stay ahead of what’s happening, to support our clients, to add value to our communities."
Crowley is not afraid to push boundaries and challenge expectations to ensure the profession continues to evolve. Her appointment as president challenges any preconceptions a president needs to be a man with decades of experience at a Big Four firm.
While serving her presidential term, Crowley will continue to work in her fulltime role where she also challenges expectations. Based in Taranaki, on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, she is kaitumuaki (chief executive) of Te Korowai o Ngāruahine Trust. She is responsible for managing settlement money received by Ngāruahine, a Māori iwi (tribe) for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document between Māori and the British Crown. Some of the tribe were surprised to see a non-Māori, or Pakeha, person appointed to the chief executive role.
“Chartered Accountants ANZ is a dynamic organisation that is future focused – it responds to the needs of business today.”However, others welcomed the selection of someone with the skill set that was required at that point in time.
Crowley, who also holds a number of governance roles, says the job appealed because of the opportunity to make a difference that is not only measured by increases in shareholder value and profit, but by an increase in social wellbeing.
A non-traditional accountant
Crowley decided to study accountancy because of the business grounding it offered. She also studied law and IT and is a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. While there is accountancy in her blood, she insists that didn’t influence her decision. Her mother is an accountant – “which was a reason I swore never to be one”, she laughs.
“I’m a non-traditional accountant – I haven’t ever worked in a Big 4 and I have had roles that have utilised, in a practical day-to-day sense, both my legal and accounting backgrounds.
”These roles include CEO of Local Government Online, head of compliance and markets policy at NZX (New Zealand’s stock exchange), and senior analyst and management accountant at the Ministry of Economic Development.
Crowley has always sought positions that are non-traditional but have advancement opportunities and admits it has taken courage to make non-linear career choices. The eldest of three siblings, she credits her bravery to the love, support and encouragement of her family.
“When you have that base of unconditional love and support you have the bravery to attempt things, knowing that if you fail, there’s a solid base to return to."
Path to presidency
Crowley’s path to presidency began when she won NZICA’s Outstanding New Member of the Year award in 2010. She was encouraged to join an NZICA Local Leadership Team, then NZICA’s Council, and was part of the working group that considered the trans-Tasman amalgamation. She was subsequently selected as a councillor of CA ANZ.
Crowley pursued this path because she wanted to give back to the profession and believed she had an opportunity and an obligation to provide a different voice and perspective.
“Someone younger, someone outside of traditional practice areas.”
While every president is the steward of the profession, being young means she is more concerned with future generations than some past presidents might have been, she says.
“That focus is very much on understanding and looking to see where the profession will be tomorrow. I don’t think that’s radically different from the concerns other presidents have had, but I think it’s probably a sharper focus.”
She hopes her appointment will address outdated stereotypes of chartered accountants.
“Some people will perceive chartered accountants as a bunch of old fuddy-duddies – very staid. Chartered Accountants ANZ is a dynamic organisation that is future focused – it responds to the needs of business today.”
She says the organisation’s members are varied and diverse but have a common foundation – a great qualification supported by continued professional development and they are business literate.
The organisation’s members are varied and diverse but have a common foundation – a great qualification supported by continued professional development.
“Being a member of Chartered Accountants ANZ isn’t an exclusive club. It means that we are professionally connected in the interests of serving our communities, whether they be business communities, not-for-profits, policy setting, taxation, and that service, ethics and skill are what make us a profession.”
Women in business
Crowley is familiar with being a minority in business environments that are often male dominated, but she perseveres as a trailblazer. In 2016 she won a Prime Minister’s business scholarship, the only female of the nine recipients.
When considering the challenges professional women face in the workplace, Crowley believes these often concern perceived complications around families, and the hesitancy of women to put themselves forward for opportunities.
“Neither of which need to stop women at all.”
She says in the war for talent, companies are now required to develop more sophisticated ways of populating their workforce, which includes offering greater flexibility in working arrangements. She is supportive, saying a happy employee is a productive employee.
“The more that can be done to create business models and lifestyles that mean people are productive at work, and we have access to greater talent pools, the more successful those enterprises will be.”
As president, Crowley wants to help advance the thinking around the evolution of the profession and the organisation so younger members, and potential members, can better see themselves reflected. She hopes the chartered accountant designation will continue to be a passport to the business world.
When asked what she is most looking forward to in the role, Crowley says engagement with members and collegiality with fellow accounting bodies, including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
While 2017 will be busy with lots of travel, Crowley applauds CA ANZ’s practice of having a Vice President for Australia and one for New Zealand.“Each of us has various roles that we carry out in supporting the profession,” she says.
And she doesn’t see any particular advantages for the country from which the president hails, as both Council and the Board are well represented by both countries.
“The accent changes, but the model we have is really great at ensuring that those needs and voices are heard all the time.”
Cassandra Crowley FCA will open the CA ANZ Business Forum in Sydney and Auckland. This article was first published in the April/May 2017 issue of Acuity Magazine and can be read in full online for free here.