Reborn in the USA

WHAT CAREER BENEFITS can accountants reap from secondments with overseas firms? Amanda Kay speaks first-hand about accounting on the other side of the Atlantic – and how it made her a more rounded individual

I’d spoken to colleagues who’d been all over the world through Hurst’s International Employee Exchange Programme – everyone had come back with glowing reports about how much they had learnt and enjoyed the opportunity.

My colleague Tamara had recently returned from a spell at Moore Coulson in Atlanta and had nothing but praise for the firm and its people. She’d learnt so much she could put into practice back in Manchester and I’d hoped at the time that a similar opportunity would come my way.

Before joining Hurst, I’d spent one summer working in the finance department of a firm of solicitors, but that was as far as my accountancy experience went. I started at Hurst on the graduate scheme, fresh out of university where I’d studied history. A lot of historians seem to end up working with numbers – it must be the love of all things numerical, even dates!

Hurst is the only accountancy firm I had ever worked in, so I had no idea what it would be like to work at another, never mind one in another country. I hoped the scheme would provide the opportunity to have a taste of life elsewhere without having to leave a company where I was happy.

At my appraisal I expressed an interest in the US secondment and, after checking my work schedule, my mentor put me forward for the scheme. Soon after that initial conversation I was packing to jet off to McKonly & Asbury, Harrisberg, Pennsylvania, USA.

Like Hurst, McKonly and Asbury is part of IGAF Polaris, an international association of independent accountancy firms. Both embrace the idea of expanding the horizons of team members through employee exchange schemes. Hurst is doing an increasing amount of international work so opportunities like this have significant benefits.

McKonly & Asbury has a similar business ethos to Hurst and a similar client base, so in terms of company culture I fitted in well. Before the trip I made sure I researched the company and familiarised myself with the firm’s clients I had seen on its website. I also spoke to members of the team to introduce myself and find out more about what I’d be doing on the placement.

A taste of life elsewhere

In America, the approach to audits tends to be more analytical than in the UK – and this isn’t a bad thing.

Other differences between us and our US counterparts’ approach to audit, is the client-adviser workload. In America, the clients have everything ready for the meeting and, as the accountant, you literally just have to turn up. An almost polar opposite to how we approach the issue here.

In the UK we prepare by pulling invoices together and conducting background research prior to meeting with our clients. However, our customers don’t need to worry, it’s unlikely we’ll be adopting the US approach to put the onus of paperwork on the client – at least not in the short term!

However, there are plans to take a more analytical approach similar to our counterparts. Currently I’m a member of the Best Practice Committee at Hurst where employees are invited to suggest ideas we can adopt and improvements we can make to our processes. As a result of my trip, we are now approaching certain areas of our work more analytically and are standardising work programs.

Lost in translation

Something that surprised me during my placement with fellow English speakers was the language barrier. Even simple questions like “is there a bin I can put my rubbish in?” was lost in translation. It took some getting used to coming to terms with the idea that the word bin did not exist in the US only trash can!

Looking back, it was such a positive experience. The biggest challenge was the portion sizes; let’s just say I came back a more ‘well-rounded’ individual!

In all honesty the only negative part of the experience was that it lasted just six weeks. My colleagues made me feel so welcome and, on a personal level, I made some great new friends – who took me on trips to Washington and New York. Thanks to Facebook I stay in touch with many of the people I met and I look forward to returning the favour when we welcome a member of the McKonly & Asbury team to Manchester in the near future.

My time in America was certainly the highlight of my career to date. For anyone considering a similar move, I’d say don’t let opportunities pass you by – it’s a big world out there.

Amanda Kay is an audit senior at Hurst

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