Date posted: 20/07/2021 5 min read

Specialist shares why risk experts are in demand

The Chartered Accountants ANZ Risk Specialisation Program was a way for Westpac’s Chithroobi Gunaratnam CA to consolidate her knowledge in an increasingly complex field.

Gunaratnam started working in audit and assurance early in her accounting career and found it to be a great foundation and learning experience. The risk and compliance professional says she enjoyed being able to problem-solve and work closely with her business partners to understand how they can help customers in a safe way. 

“When you become an accountant, you can go two ways,” she said. “You can go down the traditional accounting path, but I enjoyed the audit and assurance side of things. So, I stayed in that field.” 

A new field of specialisation

Gunaratnam’s work is focussed on operational risk and compliance so she was immediately interested when Chartered Accountants ANZ launched a new Risk Specialisation Program in late 2020. 

“I had looked, from time to time, for courses to do,” she said. “But what I really wanted was a proper accreditation to support the work I was doing. I also knew how the CA Program had put me in good stead, so it all seemed to tie in.”

She was one of 30 CAs to complete the inaugural program in November last year. “It was a way to consolidate my practical application with a formalised education, which I think is really important,” she comments.

Gunaratnam says risk and compliance advisory work is becoming increasingly complex, making a specialisation like this all the more important. “We’ve had to think and problem solve in different ways to manage and adhere to the changing regulatory and compliance environment. Also, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in many organisations which brings different set of risk considerations”.

She says that the accreditation has assisted with the skills to help lead the conversation in this complex and growing field.

“There's an opportunity to influence how risk challenges are dealt with; to influence the business partners and corporates we work with in how they manage these risks.”

Risk management can be subjective, so when you can interact and network with other people, you broaden your knowledge.
Chithroobi Gunaratnam CA

A key skill for every business

The specialisation program was co-designed with the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of NSW. It’s relevant for CAs who are in practice at mid-tier or big four accounting firms, in corporate (particularly in financial institutions such as banks, insurance and wealth) and in government. The program covers everything from governance, enterprise risk management and strategic risk, to financial and non-financial risk. 

Gunaratnam says it was great to interact with other CAs and risk professionals, especially because they weren’t all from the financial services sector. “It was great to hear different perspectives. There were breakout sessions and problem-solving activities on specific topics. Getting that different lens was really beneficial and provided diversity in thought.

“The financial services sectors tend to have large risk management functions – from internal audit functions to second line of defence comprising of operational risk, compliance and assurance advisors and first line of defence risk and compliance functions. Interacting with people who do risk management in sectors like Aviation or FMCG gives you a different perspective on how they tackle things.

“Risk management can be subjective, so when you can interact and network with other people, you broaden your knowledge.”

She recommends the program to anyone involved in managing their organisation’s risks.

“Whatever role you choose, you need to be able to understand and manage your risks within an organisation's appetite,” she said. “The specialisation is a good way to learn that skill set. By having an appreciation and understanding of it, you can start thinking about it in your day-to-day professional work.”

She says it is important to identify, manage and mitigate risks across the whole organisation. 

“That's what I enjoy – the problem solving together with my business stakeholders, to ensure we collectively get the right outcomes for our customers, staff and organisation.”

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