Culture code

There’s a secret language spoken inside every Canadian business. For internationally trained accountants, this language can be a barrier to getting — and advancing in — a job. Here’s what CPA Canada is doing about it.

Canada is a nation of newcomers: more than one in five people are born outside the country. Without immigrants, the country’s population growth will be close to zero in 20 years. And without the help of internationally trained accountants, professional accountants will have difficulty meeting the demand for services over the next decade.

“We’ve done the demand analysis, we know our recruitment numbers, we know how many accountants we have domestically and there’s a gap,” says Tashia Batstone, CPA Canada’s vice-president of education services. “We need to make sure the profession is more attractive to internationally trained professionals.”


There are more resources for newcomer professionals now than in the mid-’90s when Hipolito Alibin Jr. arrived from the Philippines. A CPA, CGA, who is also the president of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council, Alibin says he believes that more can be done for internationally educated accountants. “Government agencies do great work and have excellent acculturation workshops but I still hear people say, ‘How do I get that first job in my field?’”

Indian-born Prag Deep, CPA, CA, CGA, is now a senior manager at Ernst & Young in Toronto, but she had to forge her own connections when she arrived in Montreal. Back in Delhi, she had owned an accounting practice and had more than 100 clients. Coming to Canada meant starting over in a temporary, part-time, minimum-wage finance job. “They didn’t have sufficient work for me and that opportunity came to an end,” she laughs. “That was an eye-opener which fuelled my eagerness to pursue Canadian and US CPA designations.”

Canada’s accounting business culture was unfamiliar to Deep, who says she felt uncomfortable calling her supervisor by his first name and didn’t know how to interpret the peaks and valleys in the Canadian accounting year. A buddy at EY — where she found a job after she had learned about recruiters — reassured her that downtime wasn’t anything personal.


It’s important for CPA Canada to support accountants like Alibin and Deep. “We want to make sure internationally educated accountants have the knowledge and skills to be successful in the Canadian context, and that includes getting a job,” says Batstone.

Enter CPA Canada’s Guide to Accounting Business Culture: Adapting to the Canadian Accounting Workplace. The seven-module elearning course, which took 18 months to develop, is now accessible through CPA Canada’s learning management system, Brightspace.

The online sessions give internationally trained accountants and students a crash course in the cultural nuances of Canadian business from an accounting perspective. The course is available free of charge to anyone registered in CPA Canada’s Prerequisite Education Program, Professional Education Program and Advanced Certificate in Accounting and Finance (ACAF). Non-students can obtain the course for a nominal fee.

The content is visual, interactive and based on research that came directly from Canadian employers, internationally trained accountants — both those who were looking for work and those who are established in their Canadian accounting careers — and employees of accounting firms in diverse sectors.

“The data allowed us to see where employers and internationally trained accountants were missing each other,” says Dr. Marie Gervais, an elearning and intercultural competency expert who helped CPA Canada develop the training program. “There are hidden expectations and hidden job markets. We wanted to reveal the unspoken Canadian cultural rules in ways newcomers could access to be more successful.”


While the course offers advice on resumé writing, interview skills, career advancement and ethical dilemmas, it focuses on cross-cultural communication. The course also teaches people how to deal with workplace conflicts.

“The soft stuff is the hard stuff,” says Gervais. “Everyone has soft skills, but they’re pertinent to a particular cultural context. The training helps people translate their skills into the Canadian setting.”

The program was piloted with 10 internationally educated accountants, four of whom found work shortly after completing the course. “One of the women in the pilot told me that it’s the reason she went from having no interviews to getting a job,” says Gervais. “She said she replayed scenarios from the videos in her head during her interview.”

People can complete the business culture course before they arrive in Canada, to prepare them for what lies ahead.

CPA Canada’s new Advanced Certificate in Accounting and Finance (ACAF) program is another initiative that can help newcomers find success in their first Canadian jobs. The ACAF is Canada’s only nationally recognized intermediate accounting and finance certificate and provides comprehensive training for mid-tier positions. Many internationally trained accountants would be eligible for exemptions from some ACAF courses and be able to complete the ACAF in as little as six months.

“The business culture course and the ACAF are important initiatives in a whole suite of opportunities we have to support the success of internationally trained accountants,” says Batstone. “In addition to ensuring people are prepared from an academic or qualifications perspective, we also want to support them in finding jobs and succeeding in the Canadian accounting workplace.”

You can view a promotional video and a link to the course at accountingbusinessculture.


There are three ways internationally trained accountants can have their credentials assessed in Canada. The goal is to offer fair, accurate and timely recognition of their education.

1. Mutual Recognition and Reciprocal Membership Agreements: members of international accounting bodies that had formal agreements with legacy bodies may be eligible for exemptions from CPA Canada’s education or examination requirements. CPA Canada is now renegotiating agreements with international bodies with substantially equivalent qualification processes.

2. Memoranda of Understanding: CPA Canada is also negotiating formal agreements with international bodies with qualification processes that, while not substantially equivalent, meet significant technical standards. Members of these bodies will generally enter the CPA qualification process with advanced standing and clearly defined exemptions.

3. Individual Assessment: internationally trained accountants who are not covered by agreements may have their credentials assessed case by case by the provincial or regional body that they wish to join.

Information on agreements and individual assessments will be maintained in a comprehensive national database developed by the profession’s National Transfer Credit Working Group, which brings together the country’s leaders in assessment to ensure consistency across the country.“We’re proud of this framework,” says Tashia Batstone, CPA Canada’s vice-president of education services.

“We’re one of the few professional bodies in Canada that has coordination and uniformity in standards across the country, so applicants receive fair and consistent assessment of their credentials regardless of where in Canada they apply for membership.”