James was born and raised in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. While he showed a particular aptitude for science at secondary school, he didn’t get an engineering placement at Sabah University, his dad’s first choice. Instead, he took a three-year degree in Commerce (Hons) Accounting at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman.
‘After graduation, I worked as an intern and then continued as an audit associate,’ explains James.
However, personal doubts started to creep in.
‘I was pessimistic about the future of accounting,’ he says. ‘I believed that a career in accounting would cease to exist in a few years' time. I believed that accounting jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence, and there wouldn’t be a future for myself.’
James decided to leave accountancy and venture into other industries, starting with e-commerce as a merchandiser at Shoppu, then as a sales consultant at AXP, multiple administrative roles at Nirvana and a building manager at a condominium.
The people he met through these jobs, though – particularly in building management – opened James’s eyes to the huge benefits of having a professional qualification.
‘I was exposed to various professionals including electrical engineers, valuers, lawyers and property managers, as well as dealing with authorities and condominium owners,’ says James. ‘I realised the importance of professionals in public interest, as well as their depth of knowledge in their respective fields.
‘I also got married two years ago and recently had my first child. Being in a “quarter-life crisis”, I started to think carefully about my career path and concluded that my next role should be related to some sort of professional licence.
‘With the guidance of family and friends, the common suggestion was to continue studying for the ACCA Qualification, using my degree in accounting as a foundation.’
Global career mobility
As for professional bodies, he adds: ‘ACCA shows proven value in providing equal education for all, regardless of race, religion, etc. Besides, the global recognition of the ACCA brand allows for easy career mobility, which provides the chance to explore future opportunities overseas.’
James is currently employed at Baker Tilly Monteiro Heng Malaysia.
‘I passed my first Strategic Professional exam, Strategic Business Leader (SBL), in the June 2022 session. I enjoyed the syllabus very much in the way it prepares students for real-life business, providing logical reasoning behind certain solutions, and pairing the solution with commercial acumen.
‘I believe that being exposed to multiple industries and roles in my previous role helped me significantly in passing this exam. Currently, I am studying for the Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) exam, with its heavy focus on the technical and logics of the IFRS,’ he says.
For James, the history that attracted him to the subject in the first place is also key to him being successful at the job.
‘The development of accounting is heavily driven by law, while law is heavily driven by principles and history,’ he says. ‘Therefore, understanding the history is important in understanding why certain accounting rules have been created. Understanding the purpose and principles behind an accounting standard is vital, rather than using tick-box approach methodology.’
As for the future, James is very happy at Baker Tilly Malaysia.
‘The culture is friendly and managers are willing to guide the juniors,’ he says. ‘I hope to be able to master accountancy and, at the same time, be able to influence certain important decisions by becoming an ACCA Council member.’
He believes that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of his wife, Khareeza, his extended family and Baker Tilly, ‘for giving me a chance, despite being away from the industry for six years’.
As for the threat of AI, James has a new opinion: ‘My thoughts now are that the accountancy profession has instead thrived, rather than died out. The profession has evolved to be more analytical – to interpret what the numbers in the financial report mean, rather than merely focusing on producing the numbers in the previous year.
‘Hence, the profession has become a sort of financial "doctor", rather than financial "producer", which I think is awesome.’