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The Beach

Okay, I’d better be honest with you from the start, because that’s the kind of person I am. I agreed to produce this article describing my experience as an auditor in Cayman over the last 8 months for my friends at CML in exchange for a lot of beer. I would much rather be spending my weekend in the usual fashion on the beach at Royal Palms or Calico Jacks with my mates.

Once I’d gotten the exams out of the way (first time passes by the way!) I’d already started to think about what I wanted to do at the end of my three years of working for a mid tier audit firm in the UK. The idea of working abroad for a period appealed strongly as I’d missed out on having a GAP year between the end of University and the start of my working life.

I’d started doing internet research on potential places that my newly minted CA certificate would take me. The prerequisites were that being English with no natural grasp of any other language than my own, it would have to be an English speaking country (ruled out much of Europe and Asia), somewhere always warm, relatively safe and somewhere I could use my hard earned CA qualification.

I was left with a choice of Australia, Dubai, California, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda. Australia was too far away,  and some of the shine seemed to be rubbing off Dubai, especially given some of the stories I’d read in the media at the time. The U.S. visa process sounded completely off putting, and then finally there was Cayman and Bermuda.

Cayman and Bermuda seemed to become more perfect the more I looked into them. The audit firms there were actively looking for people with exactly my background to come and do exactly what I’d been trained to do for the last three years, while being on an extended paid exotic vacation. Yes please.

So far my audit experience had been within the manufacturing sector in the UK, but I was starting to lean more towards working in the financial services sector. Call me mercenary, but if I worked as an accountant within hedge funds or mutual funds in London, I could be earning over 100grand before I was 30 years old!  The only problem was how to get into the industry in the first place. This was the point which I became sold on Cayman and Bermuda .

Cut to May of 2011, the friendly staff at CML :), who I have since gotten to know personally in some of the bars and restaurants of Cayman (it’s very easy to make friends here by the way) arranged interviews with 2 audit firms for me one in Bermuda and one in Cayman. I won’t divulge the names of the companies here.

I had two telephone interviews with both audit companies. The interviews weren’t very technical at all. The interviewers explained what a two year contract with them would entail, and both companies sounded great. They would give me the exposure to the financial services sector that I wanted, I would be paid more money than I was earning in the UK (and it would all be tax-free), they would take care of moving me from the UK, and because I would be part of a large intake of auditors, I would have a ready-made group of friends.  All of this made me more eager to get the ball rolling, it seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Fortunately I was offered both audit positions. I would like to say that I went through some mental agony in making the decision about which company to accept, but in reality it was a close call because although there were more beaches in Bermuda, but the temperature of the water in the Caymans was warmer…

Cut to a fine Wednesday in September 2011, on the direct British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Grand Cayman. Flights and visas had been taken care of by my new employer, and the plane landed at the smallest international airport I have ever seen.  I was still gob-smacked by the aerial view of my paradise home in the Caribbean for the next two years when I was approached by the “buddy” assigned to me my firm, and rounded up along with two others who had (unbeknownst to me) shared the flight from the U.K. (they were to become some of my best friends and house mates incidentally).

We were deposited at the Sunshine Suites, the last three arrivals of the group of 19 other auditors who made up the September 2011 intake. 22 excited auditors from all over the world (UK, US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Malaysia, and Argentina to be exact) aged between 23 and 28, newly arrived in paradise, nothing to do until 5 days hence when we began our new careers, staying in a hotel where everything’s been pretty much paid for for the next few weeks. After dumping my bags, the first thing I did was to head for the nearest beach bar (across the road) with my new found friends to discuss why this was all too good to be true because we were clearly the luckiest 22 people in the world!

We started work on the following Monday with an orientation session and breakfast where we were introduced to the partners and senior managers. One of the first things I noticed was that a lot of the senior people in the firm were a lot younger than I was used to seeing, and strangest of all, they actually seemed to have a sense of humour (I have since found out that a sense of humour is required to get you through the busy season, that and the time in lieu you accumulate to go travelling in the quiet summer months).

Week one focused on technical training. We were given an overview of the different financial services sectors that we would become experts on; Hedge funds, insurance, and SPVs. By the end of the week I was chock full of information on funds, insurance, SPVs, Anti-Money Laundering, IT security, Audit methodology etc. For the group of 22, our evenings were still sociable, and there was still time to catch some of the fading rays on the beach or by the pool after a day at the office to rehash our days.

My Patio

I’d become particularly friendly with the two people who had arrived on the same flight as myself, and so we started to look around for a property to share. We’d been provided with 2 weeks accommodation by our employer, but three days after we started our search we came across an apartment in a complex on South Sound beach (5 minute drive to work!) complete with beach, swimming pool and tennis court at a price that we could afford. As the apartment was immediately available, we decided to sacrifice the outstanding free accommodation provided to us by the firm, wave goodbye to our group of friends and strike out on our own in the real world.

The real world of work also began. We were all booked on a 12 month audit schedule which would entails working with different managers on different types of companies. On day one of my first assignment the manager came to find me on the audit floor, briefed me on the company I was to audit, walked me through the previous year’s file in detail and we began to work on the audit plan. The responsibility for the entire audit file was mine; planning , execution, and delivery of the final product. I was also expected to manage the relationships with the clients, and all the other stakeholders, something that only the senior managers and partners got involved in at my audit firm in the UK.

From September to December I was very much involved in audit planning for the busy season which falls from January to July each year. It was a nice easy way to break into the work, and start to build an understanding of the hedge fund and insurance sector. The 2011 intake was also sent on technical courses in October and November hosted by the Cayman Island Society of Professional Accountants (CISPA). These helped to give me the CPD credits required for completing the dreaded Institute annual returns but also developed my understanding of the offshore financial services industry. I also got to meet the other audit intakes from the other firms too, although I’d already met a significant portion of them at some of the islands most popular drinking establishments.

Paddleboarding in East End ( and no, that's not me...)

In my spare time, I joined a 5-a-side football team, and played tennis again for the first time in 10 years. I tried a flag football season for the very first time, earned my diving certification, and learnt to paddleboard – it’s harder than it looks! I’ve also had the opportunity to make friends with people from all over the world, and travel to the USA, Cuba, Honduras and Costa Rica.

At the firm, there are lots of opportunities to get involved with new initiatives and projects, and I was good at volunteering whether for the social committee or to help roll out a new internal IT system, and I was rewarded for my efforts with a promotion one year after joining the audit firm.

I recognize that I have been lucky in many ways to have had this opportunity especially now that the end of my two year contract is in sight. To my surprise the audit work I have really enjoyed most is in insurance, and this where I may specialize. I hope to be able to get a secondment with one of my insurance clients this summer which should help me confirm whether this is the direction I want my career to take.

Some of my friends from the 2011 intake will be leaving to continue their adventures around the world (armed with strong financial services experience and good old CA certificates). A few will stay on the audit track at the audit firm where they may well make partner in the next 10 years (not unheard of!), and despite the recession a large proportion of us will probably stay on in Cayman where, because of our audit experience we have an excellent chance of finding jobs within the financial services sector. I should be well on my way to earning over a 100 grand before I’m thirty.


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