Dynamic Vancouver accountants shuck stereotypes

Interpersonal skills are essential in profession that wrestles with image problem

MNP senior associate Trini Chan has been winning medals at jiu-jitsu and has trained in Thailand to get better at the sport | Rob Kruyt

Scan the Internet for accountant jokes and you will find plenty of quips that play on the age-old stereotype that those in the profession are dull.

A typical one goes like this.

“When does a person decide to become an accountant? When they realize that they do not have the charisma to become an undertaker.”

While seemingly all in good fun, the problem with perpetuating this stereotype is not only that it is untrue but also that it deters people from considering accounting as a career option.

“I thought accountants crunched numbers all day long and just stared at spreadsheets,” said PwC audit manager Jessica Rockliff, who has a chartered professional accountant (CPA) designation. She almost passed up on entering the profession because of that misperception.

“The stereotype is completely untrue,” Rockcliff said. “We’re constantly interacting with clients and working in teams, solving complex problems and business issues with our clients – there’s so much more to it than what people expect.”

There’s more to CPAs beyond the office, too. Rockcliff is an example of how many local accountants lead fascinating lives outside work.

She is a competitive ultimate Frisbee enthusiast who is on the Vancouver women’s team that won a national championship two years ago.

That qualified her 20-person team to compete at the world championship in Italy, where they placed fifth out of 32 teams.

MNP senior associate Trini Chan has similarly competitive interests outside work. The CPA and chartered business valuator is devoted to a sport that is not that common for women who stand five feet three inches and weigh less than 118 pounds.

“This past weekend, I won a gold medal in no-gi jiu-jitsu and a silver medal in gi jiu-jitsu for my weight class,” Chan told Business in Vancouver June 18. She explained that the biggest difference between the two kinds of jiu-jitsu is that in gi jiu-jitsu, she wears a kimono, or a gi, and that clothing plays a role in strategically grappling with her opponent.

Chan’s seriousness about jiu-jitsu and Muay Tthai is clear from her vacation destinations. In each of the past two years she has spent more than a month in Phuket, Thailand, training at world-renowned gyms such as Tiger Muay Thai and Sinbi Muay Thai Training Camp.

Like Rockliff, Chan can be frustrated with how people mistakenly pigeonhole accountants as number crunchers.

“Within accounting, there are many service lines,” Chan said. “I have accounting as a fundamental [skill] but I move on to do business evaluation and am more specialized in business as a whole.”

Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia president Richard Rees believes interpersonal skills are as essential as math skills for being a successful accountant.

“You’ve got to be able to communicate what the data means and work with people,” he said.

One key to connecting with people is to have a deep understanding of something that has wide appeal, such as art appreciation.

Walsh King partner Tia Walsh, who is a CPA, has been a director at the Contemporary Art Gallery and takes collecting art more seriously than most.

She has dozens of pieces of art in her collection, including photography from Jeff Wall protege Stephen Waddell, prints by Attila Richard Lukacs and a range of other works.

BIV spoke with Walsh while she was waiting to board a flight to Italy.

“I fell in love with art when I was 20 years old in Florence, and that’s where I’m going now with my two five-year-old daughters,” she said.

“I’ve never gone on a vacation anywhere without going to an art gallery – ever. I travel a fair amount for work and it would be unusual for me to not visit the contemporary art gallery of that city and other galleries.” •