Accounting | The Profession

CFE Governor General’s gold medal winner shares secrets to his success

Here’s what you can learn from the gold medal winners of the 2019 Common Final Examination

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Michael WongMichael William Wong from Deloitte LLP in Toronto, Ontario, is the winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the highest standing in Canada (Image provided)

With the release of the September 2019 Common Final Examination (CFE) results, it’s time to congratulate all the candidates who passed the rigorous evaluation, which forms a critical part of the Canadian CPA certification program.

To attain the CPA designation, individuals must complete the CPA certification program, which consists of education, work experience and examination.

The CFE is known to be a difficult exam and it was especially so this year for students in some writing centres that faced technology-related disruptions, including exam software and Wi-Fi issues, during the three-day sitting. The Board of Examiners, responsible for marking the exam, commended all 2019 CFE writers for their resilience.

The cumulative pass rate for the September 2019 CFE was 76.3 per cent, which was consistent with previous years. Special recognition is in order for the medal award winners and candidates included on the CFE honour roll, which consists of the top one per cent of successful writers.

  • The prestigious Governor General’s Gold Medal (and a CPA Canada cash prize of $5,000) for the highest standing in Canada has been awarded to Michael William Wong from Deloitte LLP in Toronto, Ontario.
  • The CPA Canada regional Gold Medal awards (and a cash prize of $2,500) for achieving the highest standing go to:
    Atlantic Canada: Tiffany Lynn Lowe, EY LLP, Saint John, NB
    - Quebec: François D’Anjou, Deloitte S.E.N.C.R.L./s.r.l., Montreal, QC
    Western Canada: Tyler Laith Yassin, PwC LLP, Edmonton, AB

TOP HONOURS

As is so often the case with Gold Medalists, the news of his win came as a complete surprise to Wong. “I was on my way back from a skiing trip in Mont Tremblant when a partner at Deloitte left a message on my phone saying, ‘Could you please call me back sometime today? It’s somewhat urgent.’ So when you get a call like that, you know it’s important,” he says. 

Once he got the news, Wong immediately felt an enormous sense of relief, just for having passed. But now he is able to see the win as the incredible accomplishment that it is. “It’s a culmination of my time in school and the relationships that I’ve built while there,” he says. “It also sets me up well to be able to make a positive contribution to my field and to my community. I don’t think there are too many better ways to start a career.” 

KEYS TO SUCCESS

For Wong, a disciplined and purposeful work strategy, combined with support from his school, firm, friends and family, were key to his CFE success. After finishing his Master’s degree, he formed a study group with three other classmates, and they worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, for the five weeks before the exam. “Having them there was really helpful,” he says.

As part of their approach, the group wrote case studies, then did debriefings of each other’s work. “This was a great way of finding out not only what you didn’t do well, but also why you didn’t do it well,” he says. “For example, were you not in the right frame of mind? Did you miss an important case fact? Did you just not know the technical guidance? It’s always hard to take an unbiased, critical look at your own work so I think this type of exchange was key.”

“I’ll always be grateful to my study group for keeping me on track and not hesitating to point out where I was wrong, and why. And special thanks are due to my friends, peers and family, for all their support—and for always keeping me sane.”

Wong adds: “I owe a debt of gratitude to my professors at Waterloo, for fielding my countless questions.”

Apart from a solid study strategy, Wong also made sure to set aside time to decompress. “Burnout is the thing that almost everyone faces. Managing it is absolutely critical,” he says.

For Wong, the perfect release was to go rock climbing most days after studying. “Climbing is a bit of a contagious hobby—over time I’ve been able to get most of my friends to try it and more than a few have picked up the hobby as well!”

After writing the CFE in September, Wong took a few months off to travel across Asia, spending time in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and China before taking up his position at Deloitte on January 6. “It was an amazing experience and I am definitely glad that I went,” he says.

MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPLORE

Wong considers himself fortunate to have gained some familiarity with a variety of roles through the co-op program at his university. “It has given me great hands-on experience,” he says. “My mentors, co-workers and seniors really helped me to develop and grow, both personally and professionally.”

Through the Waterloo program, Wong completed 15 months of his practical experience requirements for the CPA certification program, so he still has about another 15 to go. But right now, he says he is mostly interested in a valuation, M&A or private equity role, especially as it relates to building infrastructure—bridges, toll roads, hospitals and so on. For that reason, his position within the infrastructure advisory and M&A group at Deloitte is a perfect fit. “I’m looking forward to exploring those areas, and others as well. There’s so much to see,” he says.


REGIONAL WINNERS

Tiffany Lowe

Tiffany Lynn Lowe, EY LLP, Saint John, NB
Winner of the CPA Canada regional Gold Medal award for Atlantic Canada

Lowe is a senior accountant at EY, and says she was both shocked and very excited to learn she was a regional Gold Medalist.

What does being named as the regional winner mean to you?
It's a great honour to receive this award.

Who or what inspired you to pursue the CPA designation?
My initial interest in accounting, which grew throughout university, inspired me to pursue the designation; and my family, friends, and work family inspired me throughout the program.

Can you tell me how the CPA path has helped you to develop your skills, and how it will help you in your professional career?
The CPA program has helped me develop analytical skills and professional relationships that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It has helped me become a well-rounded professional and prepared me for future opportunities.

What are your career goals for the future as a CPA?
Among other goals, I plan to continue expanding my accounting knowledge in various areas and to keep developing my managerial skills throughout my career.


Francois DAnjou

François D’Anjou, Deloitte S.E.N.C.R.L./s.r.l., Montréal, QC 
Winner of the CPA Canada regional Gold Medal award for Quebec

Now that he has passed the CFE with honours, D’Anjou—a consultant in risk advisory at Deloitte—says he knows his adventure has only just begun.

What does being named as the regional winner mean to you?
I’m thrilled, of course. I was a bit blown away when I received the news. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew it had gone well, but because this exam is like no other, you never know until you get the results.

Who or what inspired you to pursue the CPA designation?
When I started my graduate studies, I was more into IT and engineering, but then I realized that in the long-term, I was more interested in the administration side of things. As soon as I got to HEC Montréal, I understood that the CPA profession would allow me to nurture this interest further, while staying on top of the latest technologies. All of that was confirmed when I got my work term in Deloitte’s Risk Advisory group. It really captivated me. I was able to explore my various interests, while being a part of a dynamic team.

Can you tell me how the CPA path has helped you to develop your skills, and how it will help you in your professional career?
Throughout your studies, you acquire lots of technical knowledge and learn different work methods. You also develop various ways of thinking or analyzing things, and different approaches to identifying issues. All of these tools will help in making the best possible analysis in real-life professional situations. The same is true when preparing for the CFE. Last summer, to motivate us, one of our trainers told us: “Preparing for the CFE allows you to work on tools you will use again for real later on.” And, it’s true. For example, the “weakness-implication-recommendation” approach used to resolve internal control issues can be applied to just about anything and can lead to a more complete analysis.

What are your career goals for the future as a CPA?
To begin with—if I can put it that way—I want to be a licensed auditor. I’m still very keen to work in telecommunications and IT. I’d like to develop my competencies in two specific areas: tests of automated controls and of general IT controls.

I know that I still have much to learn, but the CPA training provides all the tools you need to succeed. Regardless of the situation or the issue at hand, I now know there will always be a solution.


Tyler Yassin

Tyler Laith Yassin, PwC, Edmonton (Alb.)
Winner of the CPA Canada regional Gold Medal award for Western Canada

Yassin, who works in assurance at PwC, says it was a pleasant surprise to learn he was the regional Gold Medalist.

What does being named as the regional winner mean to you?
It’s extremely exciting for me. I’m honoured to be recognized for all the hard work and skills I’ve developed over the past few years through the CPA program and working at PwC.

Who or what inspired you to pursue the CPA designation?
Growing up with parents who were small business owners, I was exposed to the daily operations and finances of their company. This experience sparked my interest in business from a young age and inspired me to pursue a career as a CPA.

The skillset developed from this program is versatile and provides a range of opportunities; therefore, I felt this designation would be a good fit for me.

Can you tell me how the CPA path has helped you to develop your skills, and how it will help you in your professional career?
The CPA path has helped me further my skills in a number of areas such as audit, tax, finance and strategy, as well as in communication and other soft skills. Through the program, I have developed strategies to analyze complex problems, which have assisted me in my work at PwC. Working in public practice, I am exposed to a variety of clients, and the CPA program has helped me to better serve their needs.

In addition, the collaborative approach of the CPA program has helped me understand how to work with different personalities and styles. This experience differed from my time at university, as I often studied independently. However, I now recognize the value of working together as this provides the opportunity to learn from others while reaching the desired outcome.

What are your career goals for the future as a CPA?
My goal is to continue working in a challenging and rewarding environment, where I can further develop and refine my skillset. I look forward to the future opportunities and experiences in my career as a CPA.

With files from Mathieu de Lajarte and Ethan Rotberg

Images: Lowe (Photography Flewwelling); D’Anjou and Yassin (provided)