Liz Loxton, journalist

The US and Canadian ACCA private sector advocates of the year for 2023 have been revealed. Liz Loxton spoke with Refat Jiwani and Sandy Chu about their experiences and the importance of being an advocate for ACCA.

Refat Jiwani FCCA

Since stepping away from Canada’s third-largest insurance company and retiring from the role of CFO at the Aga Khan Museum, Refat Jiwani – the 2023 ACCA private sector advocate of the year for Canada – is filling his retirement days with multiple board appointments that provide him with a strong sense of purpose.

These include acting as chair of the standards council of Imagine Canada, an umbrella organisation for the country’s 86,000 charities and not-for-profit organisations, having previously served on its board as treasurer and chair of the finance & audit committee. He is also a board member of Ontario Science Centre and board member of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

In addition, he chairs COSTI Immigrant Services, the go-to agency for immigrants to Canada, having joined the board pre-retirement in 2016 – he is its current treasurer and chairs the finance & audit, and nominations & governance committees.

‘I can draw from my own experience of how I have seen equality, diversity and inclusion develop over the years’

COSTI helps refugees and newcomers to Canada to settle, assisting them with language, jobs, food and shelter. Established some 70 years ago by two Italian immigrants in the post-war period, it operates in 68 languages today. It’s an organisation that Jiwani speaks of with real pride.

‘Whenever the government runs a programme looking after refugees and newcomers, it tends to turn to COSTI,’ he says. ‘It is interesting and very satisfying. You look at the people COSTI is helping to settle and you look at how they progress, and not only is it changing the lives of those individuals, but it is changing the lives of generations thereafter.’

As a real believer in the value of the ACCA Qualification, in particular its international perspective and intellectual rigour, Jiwani is a guest lecturer in accountancy at Humber College, Ontario, and lectures on equality, diversity and inclusion at the University of Toronto.

‘My lectures are not your traditional textbook-based talks,’ he says. ‘They are more based on my own personal experience, being of Indian descent, born in Africa, going to the UK for education and settling in Canada. I can draw from my own experience of how I have seen equality, diversity and inclusion develop over the years and how it has shaped me as the person I am today.’

Heartfelt feeling

In addition, he takes part as a panellist representing ACCA at various conferences and events throughout the year.

‘I look at all the help I was given throughout my years in the UK and in Canada, and how people helped me to progress and achieve over those years’

‘What really stands out for me is the feeling I get in my heart by helping others accomplish what they are capable of accomplishing. Reflecting on my own situation, where if it were not for the opportunities that were provided to me on settling in Canada and even before that having the education that I had with the ACCA, I wonder what life would be. I would have grown up in Africa, not having opportunities to advance or succeed in business.

‘I look at all the help I was given throughout my years in the UK and in Canada, and how people helped me to progress and achieve over those years. And I am now able to see how what I have done has helped others to achieve what they are capable of achieving.’

He is likewise passionate about the ACCA and how it equips financial professionals for their working lives. Jiwani also plays an active role in connecting professional organizations with ACCA Canada to support recruitment and development of those with the ACCA qualification.

‘ACCA has helped me a lot with my career progression, not just because I had FCCA after my name, but because of what I learned and how I was able to relate that to what I was doing,’ he says.

There is still work to be done in terms of advocating for the ACCA and being of service to a younger generation. ‘I find it very satisfying when I see people achieving what they are capable of achieving, and if I can help along the way with the opportunities Canada gives them. I feel immensely proud.’

Sandy Chu FCCA

After more than two decades in global accounting firms spanning three continents, Sandy Chu says she is honoured to be recognised as the ACCA private sector advocate of the year for the US. Following a career in the accounting industry, Chu now focuses her efforts on giving back to the profession and fostering business growth and acceleration.

She now holds a position with an independent state agency in the US state of New Jersey where she is responsible for shaping and leading its efforts to accelerate growth in the financial and professional services sector within the state. She says her ‘steadfast commitment to ACCA’s principles’ integrates with her daily efforts to enhance the value she brings to her work.

‘ACCA… offers an excellent foundation for learning and seamlessly integrating into other skills’

In her professional accounting career, Chu held leadership positions with Grant Thornton and EY in the US and PwC in Hong Kong. Throughout these roles, she was committed to equipping companies for growth. ‘I am very fortunate to have consistently served in strategic consulting, advising companies on complex tax, investment and related business matters,’ she says.

‘Relationship building, which often takes a considerable amount of time, plays a crucial role in this process. Assisting multinational companies in Asia bears a striking resemblance to helping European and US companies overcome challenges and achieve success in their respective markets.’

Chu attributes her success to the comprehensive training and qualifications she obtained through ACCA, as well as her inherently diverse perspective. ‘ACCA, as both a qualification and a culture, offers an excellent foundation for learning and seamlessly integrating into other skills,’ she says. ‘It aligns perfectly with my professional endeavours, addressing challenges faced by multinational companies, understanding multicultural aspects, and connecting with people. This cross-cultural approach resonates with my “always diverse” mindset.’

Forging connections

As a committed and passionate advocate for ACCA in the US, Chu serves as the vice chair of the ACCA US member network and the ACCA chapter head for New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, as well as a member of Accountants for Business Global Forum.  She collaborates closely with the leadership of ACCA North America to ensure that both new and existing members can establish connections, gain access to job and networking opportunities, and secure other resources, ultimately empowering them to advance their careers and build on solid foundations.

‘I encounter people from around the globe, exchanging ideas and perspectives’

‘We recognise the competitive advantages that the ACCA network offers. Every time I attend an ACCA meeting, I encounter people from around the globe, exchanging ideas and perspectives, which creates enriching and quality conversations,’ she says.

‘Embracing a culture of diversity, New Jersey thrives due to a melting pot of ideas. I engage with individuals from various backgrounds every day. Similarly, in accounting firms, I interact with companies from Europe, Asia, and North America. Distinct accents, multicultural backgrounds, and diverse insights constitute an invaluable asset to me. It’s an integral part of my daily interactions.’

In her role within ACCA, Chu supports young professionals by mentoring students and advocating for ACCA members. ‘I help ACCA establish connections with people. I speak at ACCA events, host member events, and bring people together to network, broaden their horizons, and champion the ACCA cause every time.’

Chu also assists younger professionals by mentoring students and helps companies to recruit ACCA members. ‘I help ACCA to connect with corporations. I speak at a lot of events for ACCA in schools and at corporations, and I host member events. Where I can, I bring people together to network and expand their horizons.’

‘Utilising the ACCA network generates a win-win situation for all. It also raises members’ awareness of available opportunities. For example, when a company seeks someone with international accounting and auditing standards experience, I can promptly connect them with US-based members of the global ACCA network.’

Chu views her professional role and ACCA advocacy as two complementary aspects. Both focus on establishing connections and directing individuals toward opportunities and resources, and ultimately lead to growth. However, she acknowledges that there is always room for further growth: ‘It’s never enough. There are countless members, but I strive to do my part and hope that others recognize my efforts.’