How does an Accountant handle the Crisis? College Tour with Inge Gerrits from PwC

On Monday the 14th of September, the first Accountancy Evening of the year was held. Inge Gerrits of PwC spoke about her experiences in the field of Accountancy and how she was nominated for the Talent Top 30 in Elsevier. In an interactive College Tour where the participants asked a lot of questions, Inge told us everything we wanted to know about her journey and her job as an accountant.

First of all, why did you choose to become an accountant? And what was the reason to choose for PwC?

I attended an information meeting about the accountancy world and thought it would fit me perfectly. I was intrigued by it so much, I decided to apply for the study Accountancy & Controlling here at the University of Groningen. I had no problem with studying and passed my courses. I even did a board year at Risk in my student time, which was really fun and I learned a lot from it. Then I got a thesis internship at PwC, which I can recommend to all. Every day you went to the office and worked on your thesis. You get the feeling that you already work there, and therefore have to make a judgement: is this where I would like to work later?

Most of the accountancy firms are a lot alike, so an internship can really be an eyeopener for you. Furthermore, you don’t have any distractions in comparison with working from home, and you can really get a lot of work done. And you actually learn a whole lot from it. You get to know your colleagues and the system that they work with, which was really good to get to know.

And how is the guidance in the first few weeks?

You kind of roll into it. Two weeks after you start working, you will have an introduction weekend with all the starters. Unfortunately, this year the introduction weekend was fully online, but I hope that it will go back to normal next year. On my first day I had no clue what I was supposed to do and in the first weeks you really get to understand the firm, the systems they work with and all the people within the organization, so that’s really nice to ease into the company.

How did you manage the whole Covid-19 situation? Was it difficult to adapt?

Yes, it was quite difficult because in the beginning we all worked at home. Otherwise you would visit all the clients, so it was quite weird. On the other hand, it was kind of pleasant working from home, because you didn’t have to travel every day. The most difficult task to do from home was coaching. Normally you would sit next to someone to help him or her, but online that is a very difficult thing to do. I think that when the situation turns back to normal, people will still work from home one or two days a week and that’s something that we learned from this crisis: that it is possible to do your job at home.

What I read the most about the job of an accountant is that it can be very busy sometimes. Do you have any spare time to do the things you like to do?

Well, you really need to communicate with your team and when there’s good communication, then you have a lot of time to do what you want. For example, if you want to workout in the morning, you will have to inform your colleagues. That way, you can schedule enough time to work together when you’re all available. My opinion is that everyone has to draw their own line in their work life, but it has to be reasonable.  

Did you come across any case of fraudulent behaviour at one of your clients? And what did you do about it?

Well, as an accountant you need to determine and analyse the material fraud. If they are not material, then you don’t have to take any further steps. We don’t look for an employee who took 2 pens to their house, because that has no effect on the financial statements. When there is a material fraud, then you need to analyse it further and calculate the effect on the financial statement. I can’t say that I came across such an incident yet. The first thing to do when you find something you don’t understand, is to go to your manager and ask for an explanation from the company.

How do you see the job as an accountant in the future?

Currently, we are doing a lot of samples to check. We are working more and more with data-analysis to be able to check larger amounts of numbers and I think that’s a good thing to take with us into the future. To work more with data-analysis to be able to check the financial statements on a higher level. Nowadays, we check a lot of samples within a company, which take a lot of time to do. Working with data-analysis more frequently will only increase the correctness of the auditor’s report,  but it is also quicker and more efficient. So I definitely think that data-analysis will have an impact in the future.

Do you want something to change in the field of accountancy?

I want the image of an accountant to change. People have a quite negative image of accountants and that’s not always right. I think it has to do with the risk-aversion most accountants possess and the lack of information they share about their job. Almost as if it is a secret, but some information can be shared. It is almost like accountants think that the less they share, the less they can be criticized. The last few years, I see a little change in the amount of information shared and I think it is a good thing. More transparency will cause a change in the image of accountants and I am glad that people will see us in a more positive light.  

You said that working from home can be quite difficult. Currently you are not able to go to the client. How do you do the inventory check when you’re not physically there?

That’s pretty difficult indeed. Personally I think it’s necessary to do those actions in person, and it can be done with 1,5 meters apart. It is the only way I see how inventory can be checked, because you can’t do such a thing online and the inventory system might differ from reality. I hope that we’ll return to the normal situation as soon as possible and that we can do physical inventory checks over at clients.

How do you look back on the past few years, where you grew within PwC?

I see the first 10 years on the job as a constant learning curve. Every project or assignment, you give and receive feedback from the others in team. That’s really helpful, because when I can do something better or more efficient, I would like to know that. I want to improve as an accountant and to be better at my job, so those feedback moments really help with that. We also had some trainings and workshops with data-analysing tools, which was also really helpful due to the bigger impact it will have in the future.

That brings us to our last question. We have an audience of all young future accountants. What advice would you give them?

Keep doing what you enjoy doing. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially when you just started working. When I was a starter at PwC, I felt like I did not have a clue what was going on half of the time. But the people at PwC know that you just finished your Master Degree and they are there to help you. It can be quite scary to start working, but the more you work, the more you will understand everything in the process.