CAs in public sector roles: Joyce Low FCA
Joyce Low FCA, NSW Public Service Commission CFO, says a public sector finance role is about more than doing the accounts.
- Joyce Low FCA is seeing improvements in service delivery by the NSW public sector.
- A highlight in her 20-year public sector career was the rollout of a SAP finance system to help NSW public schools better manage and understand their budgets.
- In the public sector, your job is to solve the financial questions so organisations succeed, Low says.
By Stuart Ridley
In her more than 20 years working in the public sector, Joyce Low FCA has had an incredible variety of roles.
From positions in the New South Wales Audit Office to senior finance roles at Housing NSW and the Ministry for Police & Emergency Services, and now CFO and Director Corporate of the NSW Public Service Commission, she has put her finance, policy, technology and leadership talents to good use.
After hearing her mother say countless times that “accountants are very useful”, Low chose to do a commerce degree at Macquarie University. Her mum was right, of course: Low's career is proof that accountants are useful and can be a force for good.
“Actually, ‘accountant’ is an antiquated term,” says Low. “I always say I’m in finance. It’s not that I’m ashamed to be an accountant, but we do a lot more than accounts.
“We still look at numbers but it’s really about understanding the numbers, being able to analyse them and explain them.
“Your job is to find the opportunities; to solve the financial questions so organisations succeed. If you want to be a change agent, you need to be credible with finances and a great communicator.”
“If you want to be a change agent, you need to be credible with finances and a great communicator.”
A change agent in the public sector
Picture: Joyce Low CA.
As CFO and Director Corporate at the NSW Public Service Commission (PSC) since 2019, Low is seeing significant improvements in service delivery by the NSW public sector, including faster and more efficient service centres combined with online resources to streamline the customer experience. There is also a focus on promoting contemporary flexible working practices.
The PSC builds ‘best practice’ models for workforce management in the NSW public sector. Its goal is to create a world-class public service with best practices in digital capability, productivity and diversity. Low is in charge of the organisation’s ICT facilities, project management, financial management and procurement, and corporate governance.
Low’s skill at analysing and reporting finances has put her at the centre of several innovative public sector programs. A highlight, she says, was the 2017-18 digital transformation of the NSW Department of Education, when she oversaw the rollout of a SAP finance system to help 2207 public schools in NSW manage their budgets.
Training was delivered to more than 5000 principals and school administration officers via webinar and video conference. It was a substantial improvement on face-to-face sessions, which typically only administration officers plus a principal from each school could attend.
“We also challenged the status quo when we showed the schools the SAP screens,” she says. “They initially said ‘I’m not an accountant. I don’t want to see all the numbers’, but then after some training they saw its value and they're managing and understanding their budgets better.”
Diversity is important, too
But numbers are only one aspect of the job. Promoting equity, diversity and fairness across the public sector workforce is just as important, Low says, because ultimately the public sector is accountable to every citizen.
Diversity goals for the NSW Public Service include 50% of senior leadership roles being held by women, recruiting more Aboriginal people in senior leadership, and 5.6% of government sector roles to be held by people with a disability by 2025.
That focus on diversity is one reason why the NSW Government Graduate program was recognised as Australia's Most Popular Government and Defence Employer by The Australian Financial Review for the second year in a row in 2019 – and ranked fourth overall in the publication’s Top 100 Graduate Programs.
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