Life has undoubtedly changed over the past few months and while it has certainly come with challenges it also offers the opportunity for introspection. After recently moving into a new role within RGAX, I was reflecting on the path I took to get here after starting my career as an accountant. How does one get from working in one of the most traditional roles out there to leading product innovations around the world for a company focused on digital transformation in the life and health insurance space? With digital transformation top of mind for many companies, I figured there might be other CPA’s out there craving the opportunity to step outside the typical accounting role while still being able to contribute to an organization’s digital success and not to mention their own success.
I’m lucky to be a CPA working for RGAX, an organization specializing in helping insurance companies innovate. In fact, in my capacity as Executive Director, Global Product Portfolio Management, I’m deeply immersed in today’s technologies and at the forefront of innovative thinking. Hopefully by sharing my story today, I can help others figure out how they fit into today’s digital world.
Not Your Traditional Accountant
I didn’t grow up wanting to be an accountant. I took an accounting class in high school and found it interesting. The numbers and balancing made sense, and I suppose this part of my story is not uncommon. Most accountants I know did not grow up wanting to enter that career; they simply found they were good at accounting and continued studying. And since most of us have no clue what career we want in high school, we were easily pushed down one path or another.
So, with virtually no deep thinking involved, I majored in accounting in college. I continued my studies and obtained a master’s degree. What I learned during my education was that an understanding of accounting and financial statements was needed in all types of business. And the demand was even higher for employees with a master’s in accounting and a CPA license, which I obtained shortly after graduation. Job opportunities were everywhere, even though the job market was tight in other professions at the time. I had my pick of where to work.
And I worked for some great companies, including PwC, Boeing, and Edward Jones. The problem was that even though I was tactically a good accountant, I had no passion for the profession. I could match debits and credits, but I didn’t love it. Plus, I sat back and witnessed the world around me changing, with a new focus on systems, technology and innovation. I wanted to be a part of that transition rather than perform an accounting role that hadn’t changed much since the 16th century.
Finding My Passion
After leaving a 10-year career at Edward Jones, I spent a year with a startup working to in-source and develop their accounting department from scratch. It was fast-paced and ever-changing, making it one of the hardest years for me professionally. Still, I learned a ton. Being in the startup world allowed me to look beyond the accounting of the business to how business develops and transforms into a platform for growth. I took this as an opportunity to assess what I’d done with my career and what I wanted to do for the next fifteen years. Although I was good at accounting, I realized I was trapped in a profession that didn’t allow me to maximize my skill set. I didn’t want to be stuck behind a computer screen working on financials all day. I needed to marry my passion with my skills.
I knew I enjoyed working with a range of people and challenges. I knew I wanted to use my creative side to foster ideas. And I knew I wanted to use my leadership and communication skills to determine what works and what doesn’t in a business model. These criteria were on my must-have list for my next role, meaning that role might not be a traditional accounting one but take a different direction beyond my “prior” comfort zone. By putting the word out to my personal network that I was seeking a new opportunity, I learned RGAX had just posted an opening for an Innovation Manager, the role I started in at the company.
Now I realize the job title “Innovation Manager” doesn’t sound like the perfect fit for an accountant, but it was a perfect fit for me. It gave me the opportunity to work with numerous startups and, in turn, entrepreneurs. These smaller, fast-growing organizations usually focus on products and getting them to market; however, they’re usually lean on the finance side. Given my background in accounting, I can see the real picture of the business projections and financials more clearly while simultaneously working with my creative side to develop and grow business ideas. Unlike in a traditional accounting role, I work with a diverse group of people and face a variety of interesting challenges. And while my role has recently changed, it incorporates many of these elements and one thing definitely remains the same, even though I’m not a technologist per se, I work with technology daily and I love it.
Digital Transformation Requires Diverse Thinkers
While having an accounting background may seem an odd fit for my role at RGAX, I quickly learned that having an atypical background was the norm among my peers here. We’re an organization who believes that to transform a traditional industry, we must harness talent from varied industries and backgrounds. Certainly, RGAX reinforces that you shouldn’t feel limited by area of expertise because unique perspectives are crucial in an environment seeking disruption and change.
Write Your Own Story
So that’s the quick and dirty of my professional story – how I started out in a traditional accounting role and developed into a leader in innovation and technology. Your story won’t look like mine. After all, every story is different. But the key to success is to stay relevant while doing something you love. And to do that, you may need to blur the lines you draw around yourself.
If I’d thought of myself as strictly an accountant, I’d never have considered the innovation role at RGAX. In my current role at RGAX, I’m helping insurance carriers plan and execute digital transformation initiatives every day. Yet despite having no fear of new technologies and using computers regularly, I wouldn’t define myself as a technologist.
But remember, finding your passion can take time, and that’s a good thing. My path may seem a long, arduous one – believe me, it was at times – but I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything. Having a wide range of experiences makes me a better employee and a stronger manager. Building a broad base is important because it gives you a launching pad to take off from in any number of directions and also, it fosters a much more diverse, open-minded perspective.
Technology in the digital world has changed the rules of success. You no longer need to define your success by your job title or your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have to stay on the straight and narrow. Indeed, as you know, life will always throw you curve balls. Digital transformation is itself a curve ball, re-defining how companies work, how accountants work, ultimately how we all work. I’ve found the best way to help out your organization and yourself is to be open to change (especially the changing culture of technology), find something you’re passionate about, and not be afraid to walk in a different direction.