- CA ANZ President Stephen Walker FCA sets out his agenda for 2019.
- His career highlights include being involved in the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board and six years at the International Federation of Accountants.
- He sees the need for accountants increasing.
New CA ANZ President Stephen Walker FCA has an agenda to make a difference, particularly to raise the profile of public sector and not-for-profit members, lifting the focus on ethics and doing more to help small and medium-sized accounting firms.
The Executive Director (essentially CEO) of Audit New Zealand has total faith in the future of the accounting profession. It will be different, but Chartered Accountants’ abilities as translators, advisors, critics and providers of independent assurance, supported by their ethics, judgement, knowledge and skills, means they will remain as essential as ever.
1. Tell us a little about yourself?
I enjoy engaging with people, whether they be my colleagues and staff, our clients, friends and family, and listening to what’s going on in their lives as well as talking about things that are important to me.
Life is pretty full at the moment, so making sure I give enough time to everything is requiring me to be a bit more planned. One of the things I need is to make time for my daily exercise. I’ve been a runner (some might say jogger these days) for about 35 years and still aim to get out five days a week, with a couple of days for swimming or cycling. My wife and kids are all active people, covering lots of different activities. As you might imagine on our family holidays we’re not the “sit at the beach and read a book” family and this year we’re heading to a new camping spot up at Rotorua’s Blue Lake (Tikitapu).
2. Okay, tell us about your career as an accountant.
I’ve worked in roles in public sector auditing, standard setting, or the accountancy profession for over 30 years. I’ve been really fortunate with the opportunities those roles have given me in New Zealand and around the world.
There are lots of career highlights. One was being involved in the establishment of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board’s standard setting programme from 1997. There were lots of challenges and many who said it couldn’t be done.
Another was being able to reflect at the end of 2008 on my 6½ years as Director of Operations of the International Federation of Accountants. There were a few lows, but mostly real high points where I could say that the team made a really positive difference.
Finally, receiving my Fellowship at the end of 2014 and the Fellowship dinner in 2015 where I got to share the experience with my family, friends and colleagues.
“As an employer of lots of accountants and someone who sees our members in operation every day, if anything I just see the need for the accountancy profession increasing.”
3. You were employed while you studied for your accounting degree. How did this work out for you?
In the New Zealand public sector at the time (1987), various government departments offered positions as Bursars. Effectively you were employed from the start of your university study, but only worked in the longer summer holiday. You received an allowance for studying and were also bonded following university.
It was my mum who had seen the advertisement to become an Audit Office bursar. Back then the Audit Office was a department, but is now independent of government and the Auditor-General is an Officer of Parliament. So I started my degree at Victoria University of Wellington gainfully employed.
I can remember friends at the time questioning why I would commit myself to an organisation at the start of university. However, four years later the effects of the recession in the late 1980s and the significant New Zealand public sector reforms, meant I really landed on my feet.
4. By this time next year, what difference would you like to make as president?
First of all I will keep the overarching theme of being ‘professional connected for the public interest’ I have inherited from past presidents.
Among my personal objectives is lifting the profession’s focus on ethical leadership.
We are grounded not only in our professional skills, expertise, our knowledge and experience, but also in our ethics, continuous learning and competence. I want to boost the profile of the ethics side of things.
Another personal objective – this one comes from being in various public service roles – is to raise the profile of members who serve in the public and not-for-profit sectors. Sometimes the value, and the great career opportunities on offer, get overlooked. I also want to ensure that our profession's education offerings better reflect the needs of our members in the public and not-for-profit sectors.
Finally, I’d like to see CA ANZ do more to support small and medium-sized accounting firms evolve into practices of the future. Some face existential challenges brought on by digital technology and client demands for a broader range of services.
5. What would you say was the CA difference?There’s a couple of things. First it’s the core of what it means to be part of the accountancy profession – our ethics foundation, our professional standards, our development commitment and our willingness to hold ourselves accountable through quality reviews and conduct/disciplinary processes.
The other is the people – past, present and future. I’m fortunate that I get to see the legacy left by many of our older members, the great work being done by our current and established members and the amazing energy and enthusiasm of our young CAs and provisional members to make a difference.
6. Where do you see the profession going in the near future?
I read a lot about all the disruption factors that are impacting the accountancy and other professions and how things will need to be different in the future. Some of what’s said and written is negative about the prospects of the accounting profession.
I have to say I don’t see it that way. As an employer of lots of accountants and someone who sees our members in operation every day, if anything I just see the need for the accountancy profession increasing. There is no doubt the skills, expertise and experience and the way we operate will change over time. However, at its core our roles of translating, advising, critiquing, exercising judgement, and providing independent assurance, while drawing on our ethical foundation and professional knowledge and skills, will remain essential.
7. What’s the most helpful thing you have for getting the job done?
Those that know me would probably say an expresso machine. I do like a good coffee (and a good craft beer for that matter).
Joking aside, while I rely heavily on my electronic devices for helping me stay on track and getting things done, the real thing that helps me get the job done is having good people around me.
8. What is your favourite quote?
I’m not all that big into quotes, but there are a couple that stick with me. The first connects to my running background and is the now famous Nike quote “Just Do It”. It’s a great motivator when you are trying to get out for a run at 5.30am on a cold winter’s morning.
The other is from Henry Kissinger, “Each success only buys admission to the next more difficult problem". I read this two ways – make sure you celebrate your successes, but make sure you keep challenging yourself.
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