Ireland has enjoyed a strong run in ACCA Council representation in recent years, a story that continued in 2022 as Cathal Cusack FCCA joined the fold. Given he has been a member of ACCA since 1987, though, Cusack wryly notes that his fresh face at the table may also figure as one of the elders around it. Experience has, however, been instrumental in bringing him to this point.
‘Public roles in general haven’t greatly interested me in the past’, he says, adding that his comfort zone instead has been in technical committees, where he could see his insights deliver real value to members.
‘I see a value in being a voice for SMPs’
Over the years, he has represented ACCA in the CRO’s Accountants Forum and on the technical coordinating committee of CCABI (the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies – Ireland). In 2016, he was named ACCA Accountant of the Year, with his professional and personal approach credited as ‘providing big firm advice in a small firm environment’. He says the award ‘came as a complete surprise and I never remotely expected to get it’. It was a surprise at the right time, though, as he adds: ‘I think if I had received it when I was younger I might not have appreciated it as much!’
If joining Council represents a step change from his previous technical focus, Cusack points out that it was motivated by much of what drove him to contribute in the past: a belief he may have something to offer and an audience who might benefit from this. ‘ACCA Council has a genuine input into how the organisation is run. It is also very diverse and inclusive. And while I don’t see myself as having a particular constituency within it, I do see a value in being a voice for SMPs.
‘Globally, the ability to respond to technological and regulatory change can be tougher for these firms than other organisations. When you balance that against the very important role SMPs play in training the next generation of accountants, it’s clear why theirs is a distinct perspective. Effectively, I ran for election with the belief I could offer this in Council.’
‘SMPs have the ability to give an emerging accountant a broader, rounder skillset’
ACCA’s pioneering role around inclusivity is something of an inspiration here, he adds. ‘ACCA opened the door of the profession to people who didn’t have university or wealth behind them. The training element of the qualification was, and remains, a very important part of that.
‘SMPs have the ability to give an emerging accountant a broader, rounder skillset that isn’t sector- or industry-specific. The requirement to specialise early isn’t as intense, and there is something uniquely valuable in that, which maybe isn’t always recognised.’
ACCA’s focus on connecting its membership through mentoring and networking initiatives is also something he values highly. ‘The mentoring programme is fantastic, and I can only wish it had been available when I was starting out. ACCA also does a lot of good work in terms of bringing the membership together. This can mean a lot to someone who might be the only ACCA person in their workplace.’
Cusack’s relationship with ACCA began in London, after he’d taken the emigration boat, like many thousands of his peers, in the 1980s. There, he joined Sloane, an accountancy firm specialising in the entertainment industry, and worked closely with David Sloane, regarded as one of London’s premier ‘showbiz accountants’.
‘I learned not to have a fixed attitude in how to deal with people or to solve problems’
Partner, Cusack & Co, Dublin
Director, Atrium Wealth Management
Manager, Sloane & Co, London
Accountant, Dixon Wilson, London
Cusack remembers his years there fondly. ‘It was a very dynamic environment and obviously there was a lot of excitement generated by having rock stars and opera singers in the office. But what I really valued was the training I got there and how it helped shaped my approach and work practices as I was starting out. I learned not to have a fixed attitude in how to deal with people or to solve problems. People turned up with myriad different issues, and resolving them required a client-centric approach.’
Cusack had more than a passing interest in the entertainment industry, having played guitar in his first band when he was 15. Years later, his continued commitment is reflected in his role since 2020 as a board member of Music Network, an organisation that seeks to make high-quality live music available in communities and to support musicians in their career development.
He says: ‘Music Network has also helped lift music education from almost zero to something approaching what it should be in a country like ours. The commitment you see among musicians is jaw-dropping, and it’s something I’m inspired by and very proud to be associated with.’
‘It was always the dream: returning to Ireland, using the skills I had gained’
While the formative years with Sloane offered obvious potential for a lucrative career in London, Cusack was never in any doubt as to what his ultimate ambition was.
Today, Cusack & Co provides the range of services you might expect from an ambitious SMP, with the charity, hospitality, property and of course entertainment world all represented in its client base. ‘I came back to Ireland to set up in practice. That was always the dream: returning here, using the skills I had gained in London. So perhaps I could have been the Edge, but I know I made the right choice in being an accountant.’