We spoke with a recent grad about what it’s like to become a CPA

Jan 19 2023, 8:30 pm

If you’re looking to level up your professional career, a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation provides the transferable skills that can launch your career in any industry, anywhere in the world.

At least that was the case for Anas Qartoumeh, a Syrian refugee and 2SLGBTQ+ activist who recently passed the Common Final Examination (CFE).

After immigrating to Canada, Qartoumeh used his previous experience to secure his first jobs with KPMG and the University of British Columbia (UBC). But, feeling limited by his options, he decided to pursue getting a CPA designation.

To help us learn a little more about what it takes to get a CPA designation in Canada, we talked with Qartoumeh about his experience during the program, how he came to this country, and his advocacy work.

Coming to Canada

Prior to the war, Qartoumeh was living in Damascus, Syria, and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2007 and started his career at Ernst and Young — completing his CPA in 2010. 

“I was born in Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world,” Qartoumeh tells Daily Hive. “Before the war, Damascus was full of life and culture and had a lot to offer. A mix of history and modern life. People used to visit Damascus from all around the world to enjoy the scenery, local food and warm weather.”

Since the conflict started in Syria in 2011, the country changed and its rich history was replaced by negative images of death and tragedy.

In 2015, he fled his home to escape mandatory military service and the civil war, and crossed the border into Lebanon, which had been overrun with refugees. He shortly moved to Kurdistan, Iraq, to work at Deloitte and Touche. He came to Canada in 2017 through the Vancouver Rainbow Refugee program and the Central Okanagan Refugee Committee, landing in Kelowna.

“Arriving in Canada was a very emotional moment full of excitement and fear,” says Qartoumeh. “Although I left everything behind me and came to the unknown, I immediately felt safe and loved. The community has welcomed me in Canada and I feel I have a new family here.”

Advocacy in the 2SLGBTQ+ community

During his first few days, Qartoumeh became completely immersed in his new life in Canada. “I met so many local friends who assisted me in getting settled and connecting me with mentors in the community,” he says. “I met their families, shared in the local culture, and became part of their lives. They made me feel proud of who I am as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.”

While he had kept his sexuality a secret for most of his life, Qartoumeh publicly came out as gay in 2018, when he was appointed grand marshal of the Kelowna pride parade. 

“In the Middle East, being gay is stigmatized by society and also criminalized,” he says. “The media and government publish negative information about the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and there is no counterpart platform that helps fact-check and delivers the truth … I felt it was necessary to come out and share my story not only for myself but to make a space for those whom I left behind.”

During his coming out journey, Qartoumeh received nothing but support from his new community in Canada, including those at his first jobs with KPMG and the University of British Columbia (UBC) during his studies in the CPA program.

“Back home, 2SLGBTQ+ members would be kicked out of the practice if employers or CPA Syria learns about their sexuality,” he says. “Both [KPMG and UBC] have provided a very safe, inclusive and diverse environment for 2SLGBTQ+. CPA Canada has also promoted a diverse and inclusive culture in support of people of colour and 2SLGBTQ+. I am very thankful for the work that has been done by such progressive organizations.”

Getting certified in Canada 

While he was already experienced as an accountant and secured a job at KPMG when he first arrived in Kelowna, Qartoumeh still pursued a CPA designation in Canada to refresh his knowledge, integrate with Canadian businesses, and get his career back on track.

“[Getting a] CPA in Canada is slightly different from an international CPA,” says Qartoumeh. “The exam technique is very unique and required comprehensive knowledge and skills. To pass the exam you really need to practice and demonstrate enough depth and breadth. I was very curious to challenge myself and prove I could do it.”

Qartoumeh says that getting his CPA in Canada required him to commit to utilizing CPA resources and following its guidance, as CPA Western School of Business provides several tools to help students navigate the process. There are weekly feedback and study sessions, especially when you get further in the program, while the feedback students get is tailored to their individual needs, helping them improve and do better.

“During the program, I learned a lot about myself and it enabled me to know my strengths and work on my weaknesses,” says Qartoumeh. “In the beginning, I did not take the feedback seriously. I thought I knew how to do it on my own, but I was proven wrong. I came to the conclusion that without this feedback I would not be able to pass each module and make it to the end.”

What to expect from the program

In addition to the feedback and study sessions, the CPA portal and study schedule helped Qartoumeh stay on track during his studies, and helped him gain efficiency throughout the program.

One of the biggest benefits Qartoumeh gained from gaining his certification was his ability to strategically communicate his ideas — which is important when talking with executive management.

“I still remember the notes I used to get in my weekly feedback sessions which opened my eyes to think about the person I am communicating with and delivering a full message,” says Qartoumeh.

It should be noted that Qartoumeh did his certification training during the COVID-19 lockdown while working a full-time job, which caused a great deal of stress while he was working toward getting certified. “Back then, I told myself the CPA was my investment. I needed to be patient and commit my time and energy to achieve my goal and overcome these difficulties.”

After completing the program

Now that he’s passed the CFE, Qartoumeh is grateful he trusted the way CPA structured its program. While his prior experience helped him, he says the study schedule and guidance from his instructors helped him thrive within the program.

“The program is designated to help you to succeed,” says Qartoumeh. “Just because [the CFE] is different from regular exams, does not mean you cannot do it. All you need to know is how to plan your answers and how to think strategically and deliver your message clearly. This can be improved by utilizing CPA resources and following CPA guidance and facilitators’ feedback.”

Qartoumeh’s hard work paid off, as after passing the CPA exam, he became a finance manager at UBC, which finally allowed him to bring his career back to where it was in Syria. He’s also planning on pursuing an educational career to start teaching in the CPA program.

“During the program, I realized the value that CPA facilitators offer to students,” he says “Their dedicated work toward each student is very unique. The notes, feedback, and guidance they provide in each module workshop and through weekly assignment marking support students in doing a better job and improving their results significantly.”

To learn more about the CPA designation, or sign up for an info session or recruitment event, visit CPABC’s website.

Daily Hive

Branded Content

This content was created by Hive Labs in partnership with a sponsor.
Chris MiddletonChris Middleton

+ Venture
+ Sponsored