CPABC is proud of the 981 BC and Yukon candidates who were successful on the May and September 2023 writings of the Common Final Exam (CFE) and would like to give special recognition to BC writers Candace Gordon, Taylor Kuntz, Brett Lukens, Justin Pouliot, Ivy Ren, Thomas Staddon, Dan Toonders, Brenden Toriumi, Alasdair Wilson, and Nathan Yip for making the National CFE Honour Roll. We also congratulate Justin Pouliot for achieving the highest standing in Western Canada on the May 2023 writing, which garnered him a CPA Canada Gold Medal. Here’s what the candidates had to say about the CFE experience.
Justin Pouliot (Regional Gold Medallist - May)
Employer: JYSK Canada (Coquitlam)
Job title: Manager of Financial Reporting
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? Although each exam day lasts between four and five hours, I’ll remember how the time seemed to fly by and how relieved I felt when I finished on the final day.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. I started gaining momentum after completing the Core 2 module. That’s when I truly started to believe that I could complete the program. Up until then, the CFE had always felt far away—especially considering that I had to do six prep courses before even entering the CPA PEP.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I chose to study alone in this process, so I don’t have a specific CFE mentor or study partner to thank, but I would like to thank the great managers I’ve had at JYSK Canada over the past four years for all of their support and for everything they’ve taught me. Specifically, I’d like to thank the CFO and CEO for their guidance. Furthermore, I’d like to thank all of my colleagues in the finance department for coming together and covering for me during the month I took off to study.
I’d also like to give credit to the Gevorg, CPA study program, which helped me focus my studies. It provided me with thorough technical reviews and case writing templates, and I highly recommend it.
Lastly, I would like to thank my family and friends for their support.
Employer: KPMG LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Senior Accountant
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I don’t think I’ll ever forget the stress and exhaustion of preparing for the CFE, but I’ll also always remember the incredible support I received from my coworkers, study group, friends, and family. And when the results were released, the feeling of relief was like no other!
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. I had a breakthrough moment after my CFE mentor encouraged me to spend more time reading each case thoroughly and outlining my responses. Once I committed to this approach, I immediately saw better results on practice cases.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d first like to thank my family for their support, especially my twin sister Caitlin and my mother. Between making meals, calling with words of encouragement, and driving me to the exam, they were there for me every step of the way. I’d also like to thank Michelle Oreta and Alex Black, CPA, for listening with empathy through all the ups and downs of exam prep.
To my CFE mentor, Tyler Andrews, CPA: Your patience and kindness when I was the most stressed helped more than you will ever realize. There was no limit to your generosity as you shared your knowledge and guided me through the exam prep and the wait for results. I can’t thank you enough!
To my study group, Ashna Siddoo and Corbin Beauchemin: I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with you. Thank you for your dedication throughout the summer and all the laughs we shared.
Finally, I’d like to thank my colleagues, along with the partners and managers at KPMG, for the support, encouragement, and many resources they provided.
Employer: Ernst & Young LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Senior Accountant
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The adrenaline rush I experienced after finishing day three. It felt like everything had led to that final moment. Once we all left the exam room, it was awesome to finally get to celebrate the accomplishment with all my coworkers.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. The biggest breakthrough was when I realized that the key to success on these exams is time management. I really started to improve my case writing once I began to understand that I didn’t have the time to make all my answers perfect and I needed to set time limits for each question. Doing well is not about having that perfect answer. It’s about making sure you address all of the assessment opportunities.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d first like to thank my boyfriend Kyle, as well as all of my close friends and family, for their support throughout the CPA PEP program and while I was studying for the CFE over the summer. I couldn’t have done it without their words of encouragement and, most importantly, their patience with me during some stressful moments.
I’d also like to thank Kurtis Halvorson, my study partner since the beginning of CPA PEP. I’m thankful to have had Kurtis to discuss topics, debrief cases, and do flash cards with over the past couple years. Having someone to go through this journey with me definitely contributed to my success.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my CFE mentor Mya Siemans for her guidance and for always reminding me that it would all work out in the end!
Employer: Rossworn Henderson LLP (Enderby)
Job title: Senior Accountant
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I’ll never forget the wave of relief I felt after finishing writing on day three and being able to relax after the stress of studying and writing.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. My breakthrough moment would be learning how to effectively plan for long cases. This included understanding what information I should highlight, what I should note in the margins, and what I should write down on my planning pages. It also involved training myself to move on to the next issue when I got to the end of the time period I had allocated for each assessment opportunity, even if the response wasn’t complete.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d like to thank Chris Henderson, CPA, CA, Loren Hutton, CPA, CA, and Carling Agassiz, CPA, for imparting their knowledge and sharing their experience with me. I’d also like to thank my mom and dad for their continuous encouragement and optimism.
Employer: Deloitte LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Senior Consultant, Finance & Performance
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? Since there aren’t many people from consulting in CPA PEP, this often felt like a solitary journey. Therefore, this summer was extremely memorable because I got to study with my fellow CFE writers from Deloitte. Having a peer group felt validating and comforting.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. I thought I’d have a moment where everything would make sense and I’d start excelling on cases. Truth be told, I was still struggling the week before the exam.
However, the biggest takeaway for me was being comfortable with not knowing all the answers. In the end, I went in with the confidence that no matter what happened, I just needed to focus on what I did know and try my best for the rest.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I received so much incredible support during my CFE experience, and I’d like to give a special thanks to the following people: Jory Dickie, CPA: Thank you for being my CPA coach for all these years. Your wise words will never be forgotten!
Candice Lee: Thank you for being the best study buddy, friend, and confidante during the CFE summer! Marcelo Acerenza: Thank you for being incredibly understanding and supportive of my CPA journey. As a leader, you made it possible for me to balance project delivery with studying. Your confidence in me has been heartening and inspiring.
Ben Feist, CPA, CMA: Thank you for encouraging me to start my CPA journey and sharing your experience with me. Your kindness and empathy have been invaluable. Gabriel Valarao: Thank you for the encouragement and emotional support throughout my CFE leave!
Employer: MNP LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Senior Accountant
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? Leaving the exam hall. I felt a mix of relief from being finished, anxiety about how I performed, anticipation about what would come next, and pride from all the work I’d put in during my studies. It was definitely a lot to process all at once, but I’m glad my colleagues and the other writers were there to share in this experience.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. Prior to the CFE, I was aware that time management would be important; however, I didn’t realize how vital it was until I wrote my first few practice cases. Budgeting my time for each practice case I wrote and actually forcing myself to keep to the limit I set was key to my success on the CFE.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? First and foremost, I’d like to thank my family for their unwavering support throughout my studies.
I’d also like to thank my CFE mentor, Jason Vu, CPA, for always being willing to offer advice and moral support throughout my studies. To my CPA mentor, Tao Ho, CPA, CGA, thank you for setting me up for success on the CFE and beyond. To my study buddies, Natasha Huckabay and Jared Boras: I always looked forward to going over the cases in detail and sharing strategies together.
Lastly I’d like to thank all of my colleagues at MNP for believing in me and investing your time to ensure my success on the exam, with special thanks to Shauna Horkey, [a CPA, CA, in Alberta] for facilitating excellent training sessions and providing resources that were instrumental in putting me on the right track.
Employer: Mowi Canada West (Campbell River)
Job title: RMT North America Controller
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? What I’m going to remember most is the feeling of accomplishment when it was all over. The exam was the culmination of almost four years of work, and I felt a great sense of relief that it was done. I also felt excitement about what would come next.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. While I was taking the prep courses, I read an article about how to cope with the stress of exams and the advice stuck with me. The advice was to stop looking at exams as an evaluation of you and instead think of them as an opportunity to demonstrate everything you’ve learned. Using this approach helped me limit my exam stress and made it much easier for me to focus on the task at hand.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? First off, I’d like to thank my wife Kim for all of her support. My weekend courses and evening study sessions meant that she was often taking care of the kids on her own, and that was probably the harder job! I also want to thank my employer—particularly my colleagues Michelle Stuart and James Mark—for supporting me in my pursuit of the CPA designation. Thank you also to my mentor Andrew Foy, CPA, CMA, for the excellent guidance that he has given me throughout the program. Finally, I’d like to thank all of the course facilitators along the way—their expertise and excellent delivery of the content were key to my understanding.
Employer: Deloitte LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Staff Accountant
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The thing I will remember most about my CFE experience is the stress, anxiety, and fear I had the night before each exam day. I will also never forget the immense relief and euphoria I felt walking out of day three knowing that I did not have to write another case the next day!
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. I tried to approach the CFE with a different mindset than I had during the CPA PEP modules. Since burnout can be such a large factor during the CFE summer, I made sure to take breaks and get out of my house every weekend for the first month. I went camping, took a trip to Calgary, and went to a Taylor Swift concert. I made sure that no matter how good or bad I performed during the week, I would not just sit in my room studying all weekend.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I would like to thank my parents, my girlfriend Savannah, and my dog Bentley for their support throughout the summer. Thank you for being a shoulder to lean on (and cry on sometimes), for encouraging me to keep going, and for supporting me in this journey.
I would also like to give a shout-out to my CFE coach Finn Middleton, and my study partners Brad Gardiner, Shivom Chaudhary, and Mariah Dewar for their encouragement and support throughout the summer.
Employer: KPMG LLP (Victoria)
Job title: Staff Accountant, Enterprise Audit
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? For me, the most memorable moment happened during the CFE itself. About halfway through day three, the fire alarm in the writing centre began to sound. All I can remember was thinking to myself “don’t stop writing!”
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. Before my CFE summer, I had not practised planning my cases. Instead I’d simply dive into the assessment opportunities [AOs] and attempt to answer them within the allotted time. Once I began planning my cases, I noticed considerable improvement in my ability to achieve breadth in my cases, address each AO, and capture all of the case facts and requirements. Overall, I believe that devoting time to planning and time management enabled me to craft higher-quality responses, and contributed to my success on the CFE.
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? First, I’d thank my mom, Cheryl Riddle, CPA, CA, for being someone I’ve been able to look up to throughout the process of working toward my CPA designation. I’d also like to thank my dad, Gary Wilson, and my fiancée, Megan St. John, for their love, support, and encouragement along the way.
Finally, I’d like to thank my CFE mentor, Carmen Atwood, for her guidance and encouragement during my study process, and all my fellow writers at the KPMG Victoria office, who kept me accountable throughout the summer and created such a positive and strong learning environment.
Employer: Smythe LLP (Vancouver)
Job title: Senior Tax Analyst
What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The struggle of balancing personal commitments with work and school. While I knew it was in pursuit of a major career investment, I felt bad having to reschedule plans with friends and family because of studying. With CFE studies behind me now, I’m happy to have that time back with my loved ones.
Tell us about a breakthrough or “aha” moment during your studies. Instead of having a few larger “aha” moments, I seemed to have a continuous chain of smaller “Oh, okay” moments. Looking back at the whole process though, I can say that I’ve appreciated the journey. I’ve gone from thinking “Oh, no—there’s a personal tax calculation question” to “Oh, good—there’s a personal tax calculation question!”
Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’ve received so much support from my partner, my friends, my family, and my firm. It has all been overwhelming in a good way. Two individuals I’d like to thank in particular are my tax group leader, Sindy Wong, CPA, CA, and my mentor, Kevin Tong, CPA.
After many late study nights at the office, Sindy gently encouraged me to focus on maintaining a better work/life balance. I really appreciate how she sets the tone at work, and how she and other partners will often take a few minutes out of their very busy days to check in on their staff. That has always really meant a lot to me.
Similarly, I appreciate Kevin for always being patient with me and taking the time to help me with any career or work-related questions. And his added humour certainly made the learning aspect of the CFE more fun for me.
Photos of Candace Gordon, Taylor Kuntz, Justin Pouliot, Ivy Ren, Thomas Staddon, Brenden Toriumi, and Nathan Yip by Kent Kallberg Studios. Photo of Brett Lukens by Look at the Camera 1 2 3 Photography Inc. Photo of Dan Toonders by Island Life Photographics. Photo of Alasdair Wilson by Peter Wong for KPMG LLP.
These profiles were originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of CPABC in Focus.