Date posted: 13/09/2021 5 min read

Māori Language Week: The CA couple putting a Māori lens on audit

Auditors Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CA and Cameron Town CA measure the success of Māori business by more than a balance sheet.

In Brief

  • This week marks 49 years since the Māori Language petition calling for te reo to be taught in schools was presented to parliament.
  • Whanganui firm Silks Audit is committed to getting more people from a Māori background involved in accounting and auditing.
  • A challenge for businesses across New Zealand right now is being able to maintain relationships with clients without the benefit of face-to-face interaction.

By Stephen Corby

Living through lockdown isn’t easy for anyone, but if you’re used to spending every minute of every day with your spouse, it does mean your relationship has been stress-tested to handle it.

Cameron Town CA and Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CA are the co-directors of Silks Audit Chartered Accountants in Whanganui, and they’ve been working and living together since 2005. They were brought together “by our passion for auditing”, says Talia.

On the one hand, it means they never have to ask, “How was your day at work?”, but it does mean they tend to “talk about auditing, 24/7”.

“Now we’re back in lockdown, it’s just a continuation of what we normally do. The only difference is we’ve got children running around,” says Talia, laughing.

Auditors Cameron Town CA and Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CAPicture: Cameron Town CA and Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CA.

Attracting Māori to accounting

As a company that’s committed to getting more people from a Māori background involved in accounting and auditing, particularly in regional areas, Silks is celebrating Māori Language Week (13-19 September). In 2021, it marks 49 years since the Māori Language petition calling for te reo to be taught in schools was presented to parliament.

“With our staff, from a Māori perspective, we’re trying to educate graduates coming through about what accounting is and what auditing is,” says Cameron.

“We’ve started some cadetship programs this year providing a pathway to get more auditors in New Zealand, because we’ve seen a massive shortage because of lockdowns and borders being closed. It’s becoming a bit of a crisis situation.”

As a Māori herself, Talia says she tries to take the opportunity to share some of her experiences and cultural knowledge with young recruits.

“We audit a lot of Māori entities, so to encourage more Māori into the business is very important to us,” she says.

“It’s vital to give them an understanding of the concept of Kaupapa Māori [collective vision and purpose] when you’re entering a Māori organisation; what protocols and procedures there are and being mindful of the way they operate their businesses.”

A different audit approach

Auditing Māori organisations requires a different mindset to traditional businesses, because success is measured by far more than a balance sheet. As Talia explains, whether a business is considered worth running is not just about how it performs financially. In the Māori culture, it’s also about societal, cultural and environmental perspectives.

“And it’s equally balanced between all four of those things,” she says. “A business has to make sense in all four of those areas. It has to benefit all aspects of the community. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just financially successful – if it doesn’t work across all four of those areas, Māori are less likely to do it.”

She adds: “It’s a very holistic approach, so as auditors we have to be adaptable. We have to have a holistic approach to the way we audit as well, so we have to look at those core values and perspectives. We are auditing the financial data, of course, but within that we have to encompass the way they approach their businesses as well.

“It’s not just about the bottom line, it’s about the outcomes that business is going to achieve as well. Sometimes the social, cultural and environmental outcomes are far more important than the financial ones,” says Talia.

Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CAPicture: Talia Anderson-Town CA.

“It’s not just about the bottom line, it’s about the outcomes that business is going to achieve as well, and sometimes the social, cultural and environmental outcomes are far more important than the financial ones.”
Talia Anderson-Town CA

Challenges during COVID-19

It’s that unique approach that makes auditing Māori organisations deeply fascinating, as well as occasionally challenging.

The biggest challenge for Cameron and Talia at the moment, as it is for businesses across New Zealand, is being able to maintain relationships with clients, and find ways to work with them, without the benefit of face-to-face interaction.

They both believe people need to adapt to this being “the new normal” – a world in which we will shift in and out of COVID-related lockdowns, sometimes with very little notice. That makes it vital to be adaptable, and to teach your staff to be the same.

“We all need to be able to carry on with life,” Talia says. “I don’t think things will ever go back to normal, and that’s what we’re trying to instil in our staff, that you have to be ready for anything.”

When lockdowns end, as they have before and will again in New Zealand, that creates challenges as well, of course.

“I remember the last time the lockdown ended, everyone was a bit weird for a while, like ‘are we going to shake hands?’ And ‘is it OK to hug people again?’ But of course, in the Māori culture, we greet each other by rubbing noses and, well, that’s not exactly COVID safe, so it might be a while until we can do that again,” Talia chuckles.

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