Celebrating CFE success!

By CPABC in Focus
Jan 7, 2021
Photo credit: fotostok_pdv/iStock/Getty Images

Meet the 10 candidates from BC and Yukon who made the National Honour Roll

Like so many events in 2020, the September 2020 writing of the Common Final Exam (CFE) had to be adapted for the realities of life during a pandemic. Strict physical distancing and sanitization protocols were followed, with candidates writing in individual hotel rooms under the supervision of assigned invigilators.

CPABC was delighted to learn that 1,004 BC candidates and five Yukon candidates were successful on the exam. We would like to congratulate them all and give a special shout out to the 10 writers among them who made the National Honour Roll: BC candidates Omar Dhanani, who earned the regional gold medal for Western Canada, Aron Funk, Lachlan Hicks, Justine Johl, Daniel Kong, Katherine Kuo, Lucas Lo, Ben McDonald, and Jordan McGarry, and Yukon candidate Rene Grewal.

Here’s what each had to say about their CFE experience.

Omar Dhanani – Regional Gold Medallist

Birthplace and current city of residence: Burnaby, BC

Employer: Ernst & Young LLP

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I had originally planned to travel to Southeast Asia at the start of the summer, but COVID put a stop to that. That gave me the opportunity to explore BC, and I couldn’t have had more fun. From learning to surf in Tofino, to relaxing in an oceanfront cabin in Sooke, to flying in a small two-seater plane over the mountains in Revelstoke, I will never forget the amazing memories I made over my CFE summer!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? Hockey has always been an activity that I could rely on to manage my stress. But when group sports were shut down over the summer, I took the opportunity to learn how to play golf as a way to spend time with friends, get out in the sun, and keep my stress levels in check.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I want to thank my study partner, Lachlan Hicks, for keeping me on track and motivated all summer. I also want to thank Cole Christiansen, CPA, for being a great mentor; all my friends and colleagues at EY, for always being supportive and kind; and my family, for giving me the opportunity to succeed.

Any advice for future CFE writers? Don’t be afraid to take unplanned breaks in your study schedule. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you, and take days off when you need to. The summer leading up to the CFE is a long one, and avoiding burnout should be a priority.

 

Aron Funk

Birthplace and current city of residence: Prince Rupert, BC; Victoria, BC

Employer: Dusanj & Wirk Chartered Professional Accountants Inc.

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The five-minute warning on day three. My hands were shaking so much from all the adrenaline rushing through my body that I could barely type my conclusion to the last AO [assessment opportunity]. The realization that I was about to finally complete the CFE was surreal.

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? Playing lots of golf! The sun and fresh air really helped me decompress after long days of writing and debriefing cases.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? First of all, I’d like to thank my partner Brienne for her continuous support and belief in me. Her reassurance during tough study and exam days was the reminder I needed to have confidence in myself.

I would also like to thank my study group partners Zach Sourisseau and Katrina Sekhon. Marking and debriefing cases together definitely contributed to my success as a case writer and made the studying experience more enjoyable.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Jas Dusanj, CPA, CA; Kris Wirk, CPA, CA; and the rest of the Dusanj & Wirk CPA team. I’ve really appreciated their mentorship and encouragement throughout the CPA program.

Any advice for future CFE writers? Trust the process, no matter how difficult it seems at times! Make a CFE study plan and stick to it. Write all cases in exam conditions and make sure to thoroughly debrief them. Address the areas where your technical skills need improvement so you can become a well-rounded case writer. Most importantly, make sure to take breaks to keep your brain fresh—downtime is just as important as time spent studying.

 

Rene Grewal

Birthplace and current city of residence: Whitehorse, YT

Employer: BDO Canada LLP

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? Experiencing the pandemic and the CFE at the same time is something I will never forget. In particular, the feeling of walking into my hotel room on day one—I was quite nervous, because the process was so different from the module exams.

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I was careful to work relaxation into my study schedule. I read books, went on walks, and spent time at the lake with family.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d like to thank my CFE mentor Maria Roberge, CPA, for her support throughout CPA PEP. Her study tips were vital to my success on the CFE, and without her guidance, I wouldn’t have made the honour roll. I’d also like to thank my best friend and study partner Erica Mayede for holding me accountable to our schedule, discussing the practice cases over numerous video calls, and sharing this entire experience with me.

To my parents, sisters, boyfriend, and grandpa: Thank you for your emotional support and for believing in me even when I lost confidence. Thank you also to all the friends, co-workers, and fellow CPA candidates who cheered me on along the way.

Any advice for future CFE writers? It’s so important to debrief! Debriefing every case in depth can help you understand where you went wrong and where you went right. It’s also important to pick a study partner and a CFE mentor who match your learning style—people you trust and are comfortable with, so you can ask questions and discuss issues freely. Lastly, try to plan your study schedule so that you’re writing cases at the same time of day as the CFE—it will make it easier to transition to “case-writing mode” during the real exam.

 

Lachlan Hicks

Birthplace and current city of residence: Revelstoke, BC; Vancouver, BC

Employer: Ernst & Young LLP

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? This year’s “COVID CFE summer” certainly had its advantages and disadvantages. Although we didn’t get to experience the rush of being greeted by our friends and co-workers after finishing the exam, we were lucky in many other ways. For example, I’ll always remember arriving at my hotel room an hour before the exam and watching Netflix in bed to keep my stress level under control!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I was an early-morning studier, which meant I had all afternoon to get outside and do other things. By the time I went to sleep every night, I always felt like I’d accomplished much more in my day than just studying, and it helped energize me to get back into it the next morning.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I was so lucky to be in a study group with Omar Dhanani, who is not only one of the smartest guys I know but also one of my best friends. We really pushed each other throughout the summer and made it a memorable experience. I also want to thank my CFE mentor and friend Cole Christiansen, CPA, for his support and encouragement. Finally, thanks to all my colleagues at EY who enforced the “studying comes first” policy over the last two years, giving me the flexibility to work through my modules while balancing a busy work schedule.

Any advice for future CFE writers? Be flexible. It’s important to have a well-planned study schedule, but it shouldn’t be set in stone. As long as you’re achieving your goals on a weekly basis, you can trust that everything will come together in the weeks leading up to the CFE.

 

Justine Johl

Birthplace and current city of residence: Surrey, BC

Employer: Deloitte LLP

Job title: Staff Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I’ll always remember the private suite on the 18th floor that I had the luxury of writing in. And of course, I’ll never be able to forget the revenue recognition criteria!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I found it hard to shake the CFE stress—it’s the type of stress that never really leaves you—but the larger challenge was trying to find distractions from stress and lead a balanced life during a pandemic. Still, I made it a habit to stop studying before dinner every evening so I could go to spin class and binge-watch Netflix.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? My CFE experience would not have been the same were it not for some truly incredible people in my life.

To the Deloitte team: Thank you for the top-tier programs and supports you provided. Thank you to each person who offered encouragement, inspiration and kind words. A special thank you to my CFE coach, who believed in me from the start!

To the University of Saskatchewan MPAcc team: Thank you for helping me develop a strong base. I appreciate the support of amazing professors who went above and beyond.

To my family: Thank you for the love, support, and understanding you’ve given me through all of my endeavours.

Finally, a big thank-you to my study buddies—you know who you are!

Any advice for future CFE writers? The CFE is a beast, but it’s a beast that can be conquered.

State of mind and mental game are a huge part of the CFE. Leave bad days, bombed questions, and failed cases in the past. Learn from losses and carry forward only the wins. Be confident in your hard work and preparation!

 

Daniel Kong

Birthplace and current city of residence: Richmond, BC

Employer: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Job title: Senior Associate

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and relief I felt as I leaned back in my seat at the end of day three of the exam, with the biggest smile on my face. I was also lucky enough to write the exam in a corner room with a waterfront view, which was a great way to kick off each morning!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I found that physical activity was the best way for me to mentally reset. And I spent the months leading up to the exam creating an extensive playlist of songs that helped me unwind before and after long days of studying.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d first like to thank my parents for their infinite support throughout my educational and professional career, and for being role models who motivate me to improve myself every day.

I also need to thank my study group for helping me through the entire process: Derrick Tan, for keeping me accountable and making even the longest days enjoyable; and Andrew Lee and Kit Wong for challenging my knowledge and always bringing new perspectives to our study sessions.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my friends and colleagues at PwC for creating an exceptionally supportive environment for the CFE writers.

Any advice for future CFE writers? Be realistic and thorough with your studying, whether you’re working on a technical review or case writing. Also, prioritize taking care of both your mind and your body: Be sure to give yourself a break when you feel that you need it, and maintain a healthy diet to keep your brain alert.

 

Katherine Kuo

Birthplace and current city of residence: Taipei, Taiwan; Vancouver, BC

Employer: KPMG LLP

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I’ll remember the long hours of case writing and fun debriefing sessions I had with my study group, writing the exam in a hotel suite all to myself, and the relief of getting the news that I passed. But the thing I’ll remember most about my CFE experience is the excitement I felt and the fun I had when celebrating virtually with my fellow writers on results day!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I made time to exercise after long hours of studying, and I read at the end of each day to relax.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d like to first thank my study group—Elaine Li and Angel Guo—for not only providing motivation and valuable feedback, but for also sharing many laughs despite the rigorous study process. I’d also like to thank my CFE mentor Diane Byun, CPA, for giving me valuable insight, advice, and reassurance throughout the entire process. Finally, I’d like to thank all my friends for their encouragement and for being my support system—I could not have done it without you all!

Any advice for future CFE writers? Find a study group or partner who can provide comic relief but also keep you disciplined—you’ll need to strike a balance between the two. Discipline includes having a study schedule and sticking to it. Also, write all your practice cases under exam-like conditions and take the time to debrief them. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t perform well on a practice case—it’s part of the learning experience. Finally, if you learn how to navigate the CPA Handbook and nail down the case-writing process, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever the CFE throws at you!

 

Lucas Lo

Birthplace and current city of residence: Vancouver, BC

Employer: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Job title: Senior Associate

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? I’ll remember the rush of emotions I experienced watching the clock count down during the final minute of day three. It felt bittersweet knowing that this could be the last exam I ever write, and I gained a greater appreciation for my CFE journey.

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? Catching up with friends through socially distanced picnics and video calls helped me clear my head. To stay active, I took my dog for walks and played hockey in my backyard. When it rained, watching the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine kept me in good spirits.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d like to thank my parents, Daniel and Fiona Lo, CPA, CGA, and my siblings, Valerie and Ernest, for their support. During my study leave, they made sacrifices to create an environment that allowed me to focus on studying.

Special thanks goes to my girlfriend and study buddy Chelsea Choi for challenging me with tough technical questions, helping me stay focused, and believing in me.

I’d also like to thank my other study buddy Kimberly Lin for the detailed feedback on my practice exams—it pushed me to study harder. Furthermore, I’m grateful for the support of my CFE mentor Jonathan Li, CPA: thank you for the valuable study tips and the snack-filled exam care package.

Lastly, a shout-out to my dog Suki for keeping me company during late-night study sessions!

Any advice for future CFE writers? Stick to the study style that works best for you, even if it means working at a different pace than others. On exam day, trust that you’re prepared and write with confidence—you’ve succeeded on past exams and you can succeed on the CFE too!

 

Ben McDonald

Birthplace and current city of residence: Kelowna, BC

Employer: MNP LLP

Job title: Senior Accountant

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The most rewarding part of this experience was the sense of accomplishment I felt after completing day three of the exam and after finding out I made the CFE Honour Roll. Both were surreal moments that I’ll always remember!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? I started running and golfing this summer, which allowed me to clear my mind after long study days. I also spent a lot of time checking out breweries and enjoying social-distanced hangouts with my friends.

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? I’d like to thank my parents, as well as my brother and sister, for their support throughout the entire summer and through my entire schooling process. I’d also like to thank my study partner and great friend Michael Bitcon for pushing me all summer. Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone at MNP LLP for their help and support throughout the years—especially my mentors Kyla Stewart, CPA, and Daniel Larkin, CPA, for the extra support and guidance they provided me over the summer. I wouldn’t have gotten this result without all of you.

Any advice for future CFE writers? Honestly, just trust the process and work hard all summer, but make sure to give yourself breaks to avoid burning out. Stay positive and focused and you’ll be successful.

 

Jordan McGarry

Birthplace and current city of residence: Vancouver, BC

Employer: Strand

Job title: Senior Analyst

What will you remember most about your CFE experience? The moment on day three when I typed my last few words—it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It was incredible to realize that I’d just finished an exam I had spent two years preparing for!

Any hobbies that helped you manage stress during your studies? Given the pandemic, I spent most of my free time with my wife and dog, either watching movies and eating takeout or playing fetch at the local park. Getting enough sleep was also incredibly important—after a full day of studying I was out like a light as soon as my head hit the pillow!

Who would you like to thank for providing support during your studies? Firstly, I’d like to thank my wife Erika for her undying support and for being so accommodating with my hectic work and study schedule. I’d also like to thank my parents and sister for believing in me throughout the many twists and turns of this journey.

To my study buddies Denzel Laguerta and Jeffrey Koster: Thank you for spending those last few days systematically going through the CPA Handbook and for challenging me throughout the summer.

Lastly, to my various mentors and supervisors thus far—Kevin Johnston, CPA, CA; Nolan Blackie, CPA, CA; Rob Chalhoub; Helen Zhu, CPA, CA; and Harsimran Sangha: Thank you for pushing me to new limits, believing in me, and inspiring me to work hard and remain focused.

Any advice for future CFE writers? I’d advise all writers to adopt a questioning mindset and apply their knowledge to different scenarios. And for those who aren’t able to take a significant amount of time off to prepare for the CFE, I’d say start studying early and be sure to create a solid, non-negotiable study schedule.


Originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of CPABC in Focus.

Photos of Omar Dhanani, Lachlan Hicks, Katherine Kuo, Lucas Lo, and Jordan McGarry by Kent Kallberg Studios. Photo of Aron Funk by Jesse Hlady Studios. Photo of Rene Grewal by Erik Pinkerton Photography. Photo of Justine Johl by Artona. Photo of Daniel Kong by Alastair Bird. Photo of Ben McDonald by Shawn Talbot Photography.