|Careers in finance & financial services: finding inspiration in the world of accountancy
|Working as an accountant has provided Ber Carroll with the perfect background for writing novels on the world of international business, where the walls have ears, you're only as good as your next deal and perspective can easily be lost. However, with writing now her main focus,having just published her second book 'Just Business', the corporate world is now her inspiration rather than a daily battle.
|Q. What is your educational background?
A. I'm a fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants.
Q. What is your career background?
A. I started off in a small practice preparing sole trader accounts and tax returns. After my finals, I moved to the IT industry and took a relatively low level job just to get my foot in the door. Once I was in, career progression was easy and my next role was a revenue analyst (my first introduction to the corporate politics that surround revenue recognition). I migrated to Australia and stayed in the IT industry, taking on my first major managerial position. I stayed with the company for four years, my role broadening over time to take on inventory, procurement and sales administration. In 1999, I traded breadth for size and moved to a larger company as financial controller, responsible for the traditional areas of finance, tax and treasury. The company was expanding rapidly and I was involved in the acquisition of a number of other entities, many of them in the outsourcing arena. I became somewhat of a specialist on the finance side of outsourcing and a few years later I was promoted to finance director for business process outsourcing, a major division of the company.
Q. What did you like most about being a finance director?
Developing an understanding of the operational side of the business and achieving the best balance between operational excellence and financial results.
Q. What aspects of the job did you like least?
Being on call twenty four hours a day (particularly with conference calls to the US which could be at all hours of the night).
Q. How did working in Australia compare to working in Ireland?
The Australians and Irish have a similar attitude to work. They work hard but don't take themselves too seriously. On the finance side, things are quite similar except for the expected differences in tax. However, Australian income tax is similar to the Irish legislation and is easy to get a handle on. There is, however, a very comprehensive but easy-to-understand fringe benefits tax that has a significant impact on remuneration planning and OPEX.
Q. Did you have to get new qualifications to work as a finance director in Australia?
ACCA or any other Irish recognised qualification is acceptable if you intend to work in commerce. Irish accountants have an excellent reputation here and experience no difficulties in securing senior finance roles.
Q. Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to write a novel but I never imagined it would get published and I would become a writer. When I'm filling in forms and asked for my occupation, I'm still inclined to write 'accountant' rather than 'author'.
Q. When and why did you decide to give up the day job?
Poolbeg offered me a three-book deal, one of the most exciting moments of my life. However, the contract had specific timelines around the delivery of the second two books and I was already struggling with working full time and being a mother. For a while I tried to juggle the job, the kids and the writing. Last January I realised I couldn't have it all and something had to give and I took a career break.
Q. How do the characters in your books relate to people you have encountered at work?
All of my characters are based on people I've met through work but never in their entirety. I mix and match specific characteristics until I've created a brand new person. Over the years I met a huge diversity of people from across the globe - one benefit of having a career that was mostly based in multi-national companies - and there is an endless pot of characters I can draw on. Sometimes a throw-away-line that somebody used would stick in my head and create a subplot all on its own.
Q. Why do you think the business world makes an interesting topic for fictional novels?
The office environment is an enclosed space where individuals spend the majority of their day. People can easily lose their sense of perspective: they can get caught up in the adrenalin of chasing after a new deal, they can be wooed by the intimacy of working closely with another colleague, they can do foolish things when they experience the release of a few drinks after work. Everyday situations will arise that will test their patience, their ethics, their coping abilities. The walls have ears, gossip thrives and is often based on truth. But more than anything else, the business world is about change. Nothing stays the same. There is always some new initiative regarding profitability, cost reduction, headcount. And there are always casualties.
Q. What writers do you admire most and why?
Joseph O'Connor, for being able to successfully write both popular fiction and works of modern literature. Marian Keyes, for having the unique ability to tackle serious issues in a light-hearted way.
Q. What people in finance do you admire most and why?
This is a hard one - there is nobody in particular that I hold on a pedestal. I guess that anybody who is fair, ethical, able to think outside-the-box, willing to get their hands dirty and has earned the respect of their team, is worthy of admiration. I particularly admire women who successfully combine demanding careers with children. A part of me still feels guilty for opting out!
Ber Carroll is a former accountant and the author of 'Just Business' and 'An Executive Affair'.