We asked this CPA about how they balance personal interests and career goals successfully

By Katy Brennan
Feb 28, 2024
Photo credit: Bobo Zhao Photography

Follow Fred in a week of his activity-filled life in this TikTok!

If you’re looking for a career in the world of business or finance, a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation could be the catalyst that propels you toward success. Becoming a CPA can open up a wide range of career options, providing you with the skills needed to work in interesting and varied industries all over the world.

This was the case for Frederick Wong. After studying at the UBC Sauder School of Business, Wong went on to achieve his CPA designation to become senior manager, indirect tax, at BDO Canada.

Outside of work, he instructs accounting part-time at Douglas College, travels frequently, loves to cook, has his own ice-cream-making business, and does a great job balancing his personal interests with career goals.

How does he do it all, you ask? We caught up with Wong to discuss his successful career and get his advice for those considering a similar route.

All photos courtesy of Bobo Zhao Photography

Why did you pursue the CPA designation?

Fred: Back in high school, I did a career aptitude test, and three of my top five results were accounting designations (CA, CMA, and CGA, which merged to form the CPA designation in 2015). I figured that was trying to tell me something, and being a funeral director (fifth on the list) didn’t sound that appealing!

I ended up going to business school, and was sold on pursuing my CPA designation and becoming a tax and business advisor. Through networking with senior students, new graduates starting out in the field, and senior practitioners willing to share their experiences, I knew that I wanted to build a career on the foundation of my knowledge and expertise.

How did you find the experience? Was it challenging?

Fred: Oh yes, this program isn’t exactly a cakewalk. The CPA program is currently comprised of six modules, each with hefty e-learnings and assignments, as well as final exams. The Common Final Exam (CFE) spans three days, and many candidates take months off work before the exam to study.

Juggling your CPA educational requirements alongside your day job, as well as having a social life, can get a bit hectic - it was probably the most challenging part of the program. I’m firmly of the belief that if something is important to you, you’ll make time for it.

So how did you juggle everything while you were pursuing the CPA designation?

Fred: I had a couple of set routines, which involved doing the bulk of the homework on weekend mornings, and then wrapping up and proofreading early in the week so I could submit well in advance of the Friday night deadlines. This scheduling gave me most evenings free to go about pursuing hobbies and personal interests, so I didn’t have to make significant sacrifices.

Can you tell us about some of these hobbies?

Fred: I’m always eager to be hands-on and creative, and pottery, leatherworking, and ikebana (flower arrangement) are in the regular rotation of my hobbies. I gave glassworking a shot recently and had a whole lot of fun, and I’m also looking into blacksmithing.

I try to save Saturdays for bouldering, so you can usually find me displaying my terrible lack of finger strength on weekends. I’ve also been telling myself to try archery for the longest time, but I haven’t managed to get out to a range yet.

I also love cooking, and my dinner parties got pretty elaborate when I was having friends over for homemade ramen three to four nights a week. CPAs have lives outside of work, I promise!

Do you find that your CPA skills complement your personal interests?

Fred: I have always been an inquisitive person by nature. As a kid, I’d never ask my parents, "Are we there yet?" in the car. Instead, I would ask, "Where are we right now?" so I could learn and start recognizing and coming to conclusions myself.

Being a CPA plays very well into who I am as a person - that [feeling of] being inquisitive, curious, and committed to expanding my own knowledge base.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest benefits of becoming a CPA?

Fred: The CPA program does a great job educating about baseline and fundamental accounting and business knowledge, and while many CPAs understandably work as accountants, many also branch off into other areas of business, leveraging their strong working knowledge of business needs, concerns, and requirements to achieve objectives.

While I’ve found an endgame for myself remaining in a public practice tax/advisory role at an accounting firm, the CPA opens many doors, and I think it’s an excellent first step in a new graduate’s career path.

What would be your advice to someone considering the CPA designation?

Fred: From a practical standpoint, for students [who may be] worried about the time management and technical rigour of the CPA program, I’d encourage them to get as much practice as they can with case-based academic exercises.

I’d also encourage them to remember the importance of prioritizing what matters to them and putting conscious effort into those decisions to ensure that they can find some kind of balance and release outside of work and academics.

What are your personal aspirations for the future?

Fred: In the near-term, the plan is to continue to build my practice and to develop greater technical expertise and industry knowledge. I want to be admitted into partnership at my firm and continue to challenge myself with complex tax issues while mentoring and coaching new CPAs and CPA students.

Outside of the office, and on a more sentimental note, I want to spend more time with family and take my parents on some more vacations (yes, Mom and Dad, you have it here in writing!). [That’s] a classic bit of an immigrant child’s gratefulness for their parents’ sacrifices in moving across the ocean for a better life for our family.

I’m currently plotting out our fall 2024 Europe trip, and hopefully there will be many more in the years to come. Besides that, eat, drink, and be merry. Enjoy life for what it is, live in the moment, and have a bit of fun along the way.

What will your success story sound like? Find out more about becoming a CPA.

Originally published by Daily Hive.

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