- Solo dad Aaron McGregor was awarded the Ngā Raumanako Māori Scholarship to assist him as he retrains as an accountant after a redundancy.
- Young accounting student Fiona Pahl has been given a head start as this year’s Suzanne Spencer Memorial Māori Scholarship winner.
- Both scholarships offer support to the next generation of Māori accounting students who are passionate about contributing to Māori economic wellbeing.
By Story Helen Corrigan
Not so much a family of accountants, but certainly a family of budgeters,” is how 2018 Ngā Raumanako Māori Scholarship winner Aaron McGregor (Ngā Rauru, Ngati Raukawa ki te Tonga) describes his whānau.McGregor is the youngest of 13 children, his mother is the middle child of 12, and his father one of 20 kids. McGregor says watching the dollars was a way of life in his family, and financial literacy a necessity.
Being made redundant from a managerial role several years ago coincided with finding himself bringing up three children on his own.
He says he looked on redundancy as the chance for a career reset, and an opportunity to follow an interest in accounting that he had first sensed at school, but then lost.
There wasn’t always a lot of help there at the time, to be honest. I found I had more of an interest in the subject than my teachers.
He ended up drifting away from an accounting path and into managerial roles, but in 2016 he decided to retrain as an accountant.
Balancing the dual demands of supporting three teenagers and full-time study has been tough, but he’s now in the final stages of completing the New Zealand Diploma in Business (he has taken on both the management and accounting streams) at Whanganui Universal College of Learning.
“Early on, through my lecturers and mentors, I realised the CA program was the path I should take in terms of better opportunities, and as a sought-after qualification.
“I’m also fortunate to be working and training under the guidance of Balance Chartered Accountants in Whanganui. I have a CA mentor there who helps direct my training and provides some work opportunities for me.
“Through the program I have gained a greater appreciation for the work involved behind the scenes and the level of professionalism needed.”
Although more study will be a challenge financially and on the home front, “the advice from the firms I’ve been involved with has been for me to do an accounting degree; to get the ticket. Winning the scholarship will help me continue studying.”
McGregor says he’s seeing more Māori of all ages considering careers in accounting.
“That’s just great, and what I tell them is there are fantastic careers to be had; careers that are evolving with new technologies to have a more visionary, project-based focus on where business and clients can go in the future.
“It’s wonderful to be able to gain the trust of clients and work with them to achieve their personal and business goals.
“So I say to [other people], if you’re thinking of accounting, go for it.”
“There are fantastic careers to be had; careers that are evolving with new technologies to have a more visionary, project-based focus.”
Māori women in accounting
It’s a sentiment that resonates with Fiona Pahl (Ngāi Tahu) from Lincoln University, Christchurch, this year’s Suzanne Spencer Memorial Māori Scholarship winner.
Halfway through a four-year Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture and Professional Accounting), self-described “Southland outdoorsy girl” Pahl says the NZ$6000 scholarship will help offset her NZ$3500 per semester course fees.
“The scholarship will help me get through my degree financially, as university isn’t cheap and it’s important to have the resources recommended, like textbooks, without having to focus on trying to find additional work.”
And the scholarship brings other opportunities, too. “I get to meet so many amazing Māori professionals with different perspectives, and there are several networking events I can go to. This is super important because I believe networking is important in any career.”
Nineteen-year-old Pahl says her mother, who is a chartered accountant, suggested she try accounting when she needed to fill a spare elective while studying at Southland Girls High School in Invercargill.
“I found I loved it, which in hindsight is not too surprising as I’d always liked numbers. It’s all kind of taken off from there.”She is glad to be part of the chartered accountant program because she says it has a good reputation among employers, and “as a professional in today’s world, you need something that makes you stand out”.
“The modules to be completed to become a CA are diverse and people who have completed the program are sought after,” she adds.
And as a Māori Southlander from a farming family, she’s also pleased her degree has a rural spin. “In some way or another all New Zealand is connected to the primary industries, so being able to understand how that all works will be a benefit not just to me but also, I hope, my country,” she says.
“It’s also beneficial in an agricultural field to have knowledge about holistic M?ori views on sustainability. I may be able to help farmers understand these ways of thinking and integrate them into their systems so they can farm profitably and sustainably.”
Pahl says trying to integrate agriculture and accounting has been the most challenging part of her course so far.
“That’s because at times they can be completely different, so you almost have to put on two different hats, like when thinking about rural taxation.”
The most rewarding part of the scholarship experience, she says, has been the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant on classes she’s already passed. “I enjoy being able to share my knowledge with other students and see them do well.”
“In some way or another all New Zealand is connected to the primary industries, so being able to understand how that all works will be a benefit not just to me but also, I hope, my country.”
Pahl applied for the scholarship after seeing a post on Lincoln’s Māori Students Association Facebook page, and says she has noticed more Māori students enrolling in business courses – five or six in her course alone. She’d advise other young Māori to “give accounting a go”.
“Because accounting’s not just numbers – it’s building relationships with people, talking to them, and helping them make important decisions about their families and businesses,” she says.
Next steps may include postgraduate study – possibly a Masters in Accounting.
“I’d like to stay in the agriculture accounting space, perhaps as a rural accountant or in a rural consultant role of some sort,” Pahl says.
But one thing she knows for sure; she’s not leaving accounting anytime soon.
Supporting Māori accountants
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) and Ngā Kaitatau Māori o Aotearoa (NKMoA) (National Māori Accountants Network) offer two scholarships to support the next generation of Māori studying accounting.
CA ANZ Māori sector manager, Kateriina Selwyn, says the NZ$5000 Ngā Raumanako Māori Scholarship (NZ$2500 per annum over two years) is awarded to Māori students able to articulate how the award will help achieve their aspirations, and contribute to Maāori economic and financial wellbeing.
The NZ$6000 Suzanne Spencer Memorial Māori Scholarship (NZ$3000 per annum over two years) honours Suzanne Spencer, NKMoA’s first deputy chair, a visionary Māori chartered accountant with Dunedin firm Polson Higgs.
“This scholarship is open to all wāhine (women) Māori accounting students with a focus on achievement for themselves, their whānau (family), and the community,” Selwyn says.