When Andrea Ragoo FCCA launched ATR Business Solutions in 2019, it was the start of her fulfilling a long-cherished dream. As a trainee auditor in Trinidad and Tobago, she had once been asked about her long-term career objectives and admitted that, ultimately, her goal was to work for herself. ‘Years later, I reflected on that,’ she recalls, ‘and I said to myself, why aren't you doing it?’
At the time of the launch, she was also working as a project accountant for the National Insurance Property Development Company (NIPDEC), the subsidiary of a government-owned entity. NIPDEC oversees construction projects on behalf of the Trinidad and Tobago government and Ragoo’s role was to ensure that public funds were used appropriately, as well as provide financial reporting.
Initially, Ragoo worked part time on her business, in the evenings and at weekends. ‘It left no free time,’ she says, ‘because my free time was when I was trying to push my business.’ But her model worked because she ended up attracting clients who were very similar to herself: entrepreneurial types who juggled employee roles with running their own side-hustles. She also secured business from full-time entrepreneurs who appreciated her out-of-hours availability.
‘It’s that CFO-level expertise that says “Okay, let's look at your business through a strategic lens"’
Board director, RHAND Credit Union Co-operative Society, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Founder and CEO, ATR Business Solutions, Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago
Project accountant, National Insurance Property Development Company, Port of Spain
Board director, RHAND Credit Union Co-operative Society
Accounts manager, Exeqtech, Port of Spain
Accountant, Caribbean Packaging Industries, San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago
Junior clerk, RHAND Credit Union Co-operative Society
As her client base increased, Ragoo decided she was ready for the next step. So, in June this year, she finally left NIPDEC to focus fully on growing her accountancy firm. ‘Small and micro businesses need a lot of help in the finance space,’ she says. ‘My service gives talented entrepreneurs access to a qualified accountant who can bring them corporate learning and the discipline to make good financial decisions.’
She is particularly proud to offer what she describes as ‘financial services with a strategic slant’. She explains: ‘It’s that CFO-level expertise that says “Okay, let's look at your business through a strategic lens. Where are you now and where would you like to go?” I came to realise that a lot of them weren't having that conversation. They were just getting someone to file their taxes.’
A particular focus area for her at the moment is helping her clients adjust to post-pandemic life. ‘Some want to go back to how they existed before Covid,’ she says. ‘But the problem is, that time does not exist anymore.’
From CAT to ACCA
Ragoo’s journey to entrepreneurship effectively began when she was still a child. While growing up, her stepfather was studying for the ACCA Qualification so there were always accountancy books in the house. Meanwhile, at high school, she found that working with numbers came naturally to her – which is why she decided to pursue the ACCA Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) Qualification immediately after leaving.
At school, she had received a scholarship from co-operative society RHAND Credit Union. So, when she left, she took up the opportunity of a summer internship. The internship turned into a permanent position, and she ended up spending nearly four years with the organisation. During this time, she had contact with virtually every department – from the postroom to the bank tellers – while studying.
Once she had her CAT Qualification under her belt, Ragoo’s next target was the ACCA Qualification itself. ‘In Trinidad and Tobago, ACCA is the recognised qualification if you want to think about becoming an accountant,’ she says. ‘It’s so highly respected and so international; I knew it would open doors for me.’
To gain the qualifying experience she needed, Ragoo decided to train as an auditor with PwC. In total, she spent eight years at the Big Four firm – combining her work with her studies – and enjoyed getting exposure to accounting and finance issues in different companies.
In the end, however, she decided that auditing was not the space she wanted to be in, and she resolved to ‘try my hand at the other side of the table’.
So, she left PwC and joined the finance department of Caribbean Packaging Industries. Three years after that, she moved again – this time to engineering firm Exeqtech, where she set up the in-house accounting function. From there, she moved to NIPDEC.
‘As finance professionals, we need to help demystify the jargon'
Number of clients
Size of team
Number of offices
In the boardroom
It’s not just her skills as a finance professional that Ragoo has been honing over the years. She has also gained experience as a board member – with the very organisation that gave her that vital initial step on the career ladder, RHAND Credit Union. She first put herself up for election to the board of directors in 2016, serving for four years. After taking a short break, she was elected for a further one-year term in May.
‘RHAND will always have a special place for me, because of the history I have, going back to my schooldays,’ she explains. ‘I will always want to see it prosper as an institution.’
While her own personal connection to RHAND is strong, Ragoo believes that serving on a board can bring professional benefits to any accountant who wants to progress. ‘As a finance professional, these are the opportunities that can give your career depth,’ she says. ‘And I was able to get it in a space that felt like home.’
Something else that is close to her heart is financial literacy. ‘As finance professionals, we need to help demystify the jargon,’ she says. ‘If we could make financial terms easier for people to understand, they would be able to make better decisions for their personal finances and live better lives.’
Ragoo has given back to the profession locally in Trinidad and Tobago by volunteering with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Trinidad and Tobago (ICATT), serving on its Members and Students Relations Committee from 2019 to 2021. ICATT is the local accountancy body regulating the profession on the islands.
In terms of her own life, Ragoo is balancing several major commitments. Alongside her business and her board work, she is the co-founder of charity Gift Less Give More – which encourages people to ask their friends and family to donate to a social cause on their birthday rather than buy them a gift.
It’s a lot to juggle and Ragoo admits that being a 'solopreneur' can be demanding and bewildering at times, not least because she’s responsible for every aspect of her business. Nevertheless, she values the independence and financial advantages that self-employment brings.
‘I'm a really hard worker,’ she explains. ‘I want the choice to spend my time in worthwhile ways and have the sense that I’m the one who is being rewarded for my efforts.’
'Networking is your best friend. By building your network, you gain access to other people and their experiences, which can help you when you need technical expertise.'
'Be diverse and don't pigeonhole yourself into traditional accounting roles. If you’ve been working in the same company for several years, boost your experience by pursuing other certifications and qualifications, or even just volunteer to work on something outside of your normal role. You need to be able to show a level of diversity in order to be seen as a leader.'
'Develop your thought leadership skills. This could involve blogging, lecturing or volunteering to mentor trainee accountants. LinkedIn is a great place to start if you want to put your thoughts out there.'
'Develop analytical skills to go beyond the numbers. Don’t just report the numbers: know how to apply them to organisational strategy.'
'Be agile and stay up to date with technology. That way, when changes happen within the profession, you will be able to roll with them.'