Accountants without borders

Students crack tax code in Brazil and audit business in South Africa

When two University of Washington Foster School of Business Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc) students chose to prepare for accounting careers, they never imagined working abroad after graduating with BA degrees.

That’s exactly what Jonathan Qu (BA 2011), audit master’s student, and Erin Hoff (BA 2011), tax master’s student, did. They were two of an elite group of 25 interns chosen from a national pool of 2,000 for Deloitte’s first global internship program. Normally, only managers at the Big 4 accounting firm work abroad, so their experience was unprecedented.

Auditor gauges risks locally and globally
Jonathan Qu Qu spent several weeks auditing a large firm in Johannesburg, South Africa, working 40-50 hours per week and squeezing in travel on the weekends.

He enjoys the human interaction part of auditing and spent a lot of time in South Africa talking with clients as an accounting intern. “The math isn’t complicated. It’s moving beyond what computers can’t do and working with clients to gauge and prevent risk.”

He verified work Deloitte’s clients did and helped build transparency into financial reporting. Talking with controllers and verifying assets mirror auditing procedures Qu will tackle as an auditor in Seattle. “The rules and regulations are different [in South Africa] but the principles are the same.”

Qu felt the Foster School prepared him far better for his internship experience than students from other universities he met in South Africa. He had already handled complexities and client interactions. “You get a lot of hands-on experience at Foster.”

As an accounting graduate student, he and his team presented an audit plan to Microsoft and Deloitte managers for an in-class case competition, gaining presentation and strategic thinking skills.

All those skills are what attracted him to a business degree focused on accounting. “Business is dynamic and constantly changing. You can do a lot with accounting … you understand financial statements better. Financial statements are the DNA of a company.”

To Qu, numbers are not always black and white. He likes the challenge of clarifying gray areas and tracking down answers and believes he learned how to use resources wisely at Foster.

“MPAcc goes deeper in specific areas like Sarbanes-Oxley… with lectures from partners of global accounting firms,” says Qu. “It helps you figure out how accounting issues fit in a bigger hierarchy.” As an MPAcc student, he’ll spend winter quarter interning for Deloitte, stationed at Microsoft.

Qu also had personal reasons to become an auditor. As a child, Qu watched as his father, an Enron employee, lost his job and retirement savings in that company’s financial scandal. Qu experienced the Enron effects first-hand and also worked at Washington Mutual during its failure, saying “I definitely learned a lot from both experiences.” Auditors can uncover inaccuracies, keep companies honest and expose fraud—a bit of detective work. While Qu’s father eventually found another job, Qu himself learned a lesson in ethics and developed a passion for accuracy and accountability nurtured at the Foster School.

Tax accountant learns locally, gains experience globally
Erin HoffErin Hoff (BA 2011) hit the Brazilian ground crunching numbers during her Deloitte international internship. Hoff spent 4 of her 8-week Deloitte internship deciphering Brazilian tax code, translating accounting documents, visiting Deloitte’s Brazil business clients, and tracking and organizing tax documents to improve tax records and savings. While Brazilian government pushes for better accounting practices, Hoff helped Deloitte’s clients comply.

The language barrier was a challenge, but she worked methodically while only knowing key accounting phrases in Portuguese.

Hoff also participated in a multi-country intern team project on social media while in Brazil. Beyond accounting, she gained experience researching how firms leverage social media to develop new business opportunities and presented findings to a Deloitte consultant.

Watching her mother work as a Boeing executive, Hoff decided to study business well before college. After her first Foster School accounting class, she was hooked. “I’ve always liked numbers, but I just loved accounting.”

Digits and detail have been part of her college experience. Hoff worked part time for a year at local financial firm Pacific Capital Resource Group, then spent a whirlwind summer after her junior year gaining leadership and cultural experience, attending a Deloitte national leadership conference, a local KPMG leadership conference and studying Shakespeare and architecture in London. She also served as professional activities VP for accounting club Beta Alpha Psi for a year, arranging guest speakers such as Boeing Commercial’s CFO, accounting professionals and entrepreneurs.

Given all her experience, why earn a master’s in accounting?

“Tax is complex. I learned how things fit together as there are so many different types of tax,” says Hoff. Through MPAcc, she not only strengthened her accounting knowledge, she learned to solve issues independently and crack the tax code herself. Hoff says, “I can use the code now instead of staring at it in awe.”

Qu and Hoff both start jobs at Deloitte in fall of 2012 after they finish their master’s degrees and pass the CPA exam. Not much down time after back-to-back accounting degrees and global experiences. Qu says, “Our last leisurely summer.”