Finance. Accounting. What’s the difference? It’s all maths, aint it? But, oh boy. How wrong of us to think that – everything that we heard or know, it’s all but a myth.
GARY REUS: Hello Mei. It’s lovely to have you here today and I hope you are doing really well. So, tell me a little bit about yourself.
PAK MEI YOKE: Hi Gary. Thanks for your invite. Life is indeed a journey. Originally from Penang, moved to Johor and then finally settled down in Kuala Lumpur. I thought that I could wind down after retiring from senior management positions but on the contrary, life starts at 50!
GARY REUS: You’ve been in a couple of fields – education, marketing and communications before settling on accounting. As a matter of fact, you are currently a Consultant of a Training Consultancy with skill-building projects from the government and also the Country Representative for AAT – a UK based professional body for Accounting Technicians. What’s the story behind it?
PAK MEI YOKE: My early vocation was actually in tax, accounting and internal audit. Education was accidental. To supplement my full-time salary, I lectured part-time in a commercial college. One thing led to another. The college recognised my abilities and offered me management positions. I developed my acumen in marketing and business development and found these areas exciting and challenging. I love travelling, meeting people and clinching deals.
My most memorable moments were when I was the COO of a leading security printing concern. Protecting high-valued documents from fraud required application of high security printing technology and know-how. We would be called in to assist with cheque fraud investigations. However, in spite of these exciting epics, I cannot ignore the key driving factor behind the company; managing and controlling your finances are important.
I was a bit annoyed and frustrated at the lack of qualified accounting staff that time. My friend invited me to join him, to offer professional accounting courses to working adults. We offered classes on a part-time basis but later on, got myself so immersed. I quit my last position as CEO to concentrate on the training consultancy which grew exponentially.
GARY REUS: What challenges do individuals face when transitioning to a career in accounting from different backgrounds?
PAK MEI YOKE: Fear of the unknown is always a challenge. People usually view accounting as being maths-centric and a concept that is hard to grasp or master. This is a myth. You just need a logical mind and observe how businesses work and generate their income. We do budgeting personally and in some way, record our own spending and income. Bring that to a higher level and there you go, that is accounting.
The other challenge is facing up to our own insecurity besides lacking in technical knowledge. Build confidence by attending recognised and work-simulated accounting qualifications. Research and learn up terminologies related to work.
Making errors initially are common but do not give up. Press on and learn.
GARY REUS: Accountancy is the fourth most in-demand profession in Malaysia. Why is it one of the most sought after?
PAK MEI YOKE: Every business needs accounting. Cash flow is one of the key factors for business sustainability. If businesses do not track their expenses and if excessive, this can lead to liquidity issues. Financial performance is one of the measurements of business success. Besides, accounting offers most of the financial data necessary for future growth and strategic decisions.
GARY REUS: What unique criteria are the current employers looking for in accountants?
PAK MEI YOKE: Accountants have to be flexible and more business-minded. Do not be too rigid. Accountants need to have the communication skills to interact well with clients, peers and management. It is not just relaying numbers but giving a comprehensive and analytical report from different perspectives. Management likes to hear from the accountants their take on projects, new business developments, etc.
GARY REUS: What are the distinctions between the AAT pathway and a commonly known course like ACCA?
PAK MEI YOKE: AAT is a level lower than ACCA. AAT is a qualification for ‘middle-tiered accountants’. Accounting technicians are like the paralegals, nurses, and technicians; whereas ACCA is akin to lawyers, doctors and engineers. Individuals taking up AAT will qualify as Accounting Technicians. Accounting technicians can be found in different roles and positions including tax, audit, accounting, credit recovery, treasury etc. They not only deal with routine accounting tasks but also higher level tasks like reporting, analysing, interpreting, forecasting and budgeting, credit management, depending on where they work. They support the Chartered Accountants (with qualifications like the ACCA, CIMA, and ICAEW), freeing CA to concentrate on strategic directions of the business.
GARY REUS: Accounting or finance?
PAK MEI YOKE: Accounting is rather different from finance, but in some ways similar. Accounting is narrower in scope involving recording, analysing and interpreting financial reports, forecasting, costing, etc. Finance on the hand is wider ranging and covers investments, risk, portfolios; economics and banking. Both functions are important.
GARY REUS: How does AAT’s courses help in strengthening the accounting industry through the pandemic as well as Malaysia’s businesses moving ahead in the post-pandemic era?
PAK MEI YOKE: AAT courses range from basic bookkeeping to higher levels of accounting qualification. Businesses have to deal with increasing costs vis-à-vis revenues generated. Outsourcing accounting services may be a solution to drive costs lower but as business transactions grow; there is a need for full-time qualified accounting specialists. In times like a pandemic, it is more cost-effective to engage Accounting Technicians rather than accountants who demand higher salaries.
A lean yet effective management is a criterion for SMEs to forge ahead in the post-pandemic era.
GARY REUS: Any advice for the individuals that’re planning to transition their careers?
PAK MEI YOKE: Employability is important. Consider the life changes and the skills that you need to have, to secure the desired job. Persevering as you transition to a new career is stressful and challenging. You may need to go back to ‘school’. Don’t forget to network, network and network.