‘Surfing’ the Learning Curve as a Young Accounting Professional

By SMU School of Accountancy Social Media Team

It’s hard to leave a good first impression through nothing more than an email exchange, but recent SMU School of  Accountancy (SOA) graduate Neo Yi Ren did exactly that.

The SOA Social Media Team had reached out to Yi Ren for a feature interview following his achievement as Top Scorer at the December 2019 Singapore Chartered Accountant Qualification (SCAQ) Financial Reporting Exam. We were quickly won over by the humility and warmth in his self-effacing responses, a quality immediately evident in how he viewed this accomplishment.


Yi Ren (left) on his overseas community service trip to Ilo Ilo, Philippines


“Well, it was certainly unexpected. Truth be told, my results were average back in school—my SMU Core Accounting modules weren’t exactly stellar. Knowing so, I decided to put in much more effort in my SCAQ Financial Reporting (FR) revision, and that included starting my revision early and keeping a consistent pace,” says Yi Ren.


Balancing Work and Professional Development

Ask any fresh graduate and usually they will acknowledge that the transition from studying to working is no walk in the park. Throw in the pursuit of a professional certification in the mix and you suddenly wish for more than 24 hrs in a day. In particular, for a fresh graduate like Yi Ren who is just beginning his career in the accounting profession, juggling work and SCAQ can be challenging, to say the least.

Yi Ren explains, “It wasn’t easy juggling between work and studies. Compared to the undergraduate FR modules, SCAQ FR condensed topics from all FR modules in a single sitting. It seemed an impossible task consolidating my revision across my undergraduate years. Very often, I wondered if the effort spent revising would translate into decent results, and of course, I had countless thoughts of giving up. Now that the results are out, I’m thankful that I had pressed on, and I’m very grateful that my many late nights and weekend revisions paid off.”


Yi Ren (behind Commencement degree folder) on his graduation shoot with friends


Yi Ren graduated from the SMU SOA in 2019 with a Bachelor in Accountancy and a second major in Accounting Data and Analytics, and is currently an Associate with PwC Singapore’s Financial Services Assurance (FSA) team.  Undoubtedly, his hardwork and diligence helped him achieve Top Scorer in SCAQ, but he also credited his academic training in SMU SOA and the support from his employer, PwC, which enabled him to strike a balance between his work and professional development.

“Many thanks to the academic rigour in the SMU Accountancy financial reporting modules, and the support provided by PwC Singapore. Also, special mention to Associate Professor Pearl Tan, who taught me Advanced Financial Accounting. Her passionate and rigorous teaching laid a firm foundation for my consolidation topics, which proved to be pivotal in my revision for Financial Reporting.”


Yi Ren with Associate Professor of Accounting Pearl Tan at his Commencement


Yi Ren is no stranger to time-management. While in SMU, Yi Ren divided his time between his academics and passion for community service. He was an executive committee member of SMU Caretalyst, a community service club that aims to inspire undergraduates to impact the intellectually disabled, youths at-risk, and the elderly, and eventually went on to lead the club as President. Together with his committee, Yi Ren also led YOLO Camp 2017, SMU Caretalyst’s freshmen camp, with a turnout rate of over 200 campers.


Yi Ren with his SMU Caretalyst Ex-Co at YOLO Camp 2017


“Being the President of SMU Caretalyst was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I had to juggle the heavy responsibilities that came with the position, together with my on-going seminars and assignments (and an internship in the summer), and it was not all that rosy. But, the pressure also taught me more about my strengths and weaknesses. With the support from my Ex-Co, I’ve learnt to become a more compassionate individual and leader. My emotional and work capacity have also expanded, and I have better time-management and interpersonal skills. This helped tremendously when I transitioned to PwC, where I had to manage the demands from both work and preparing for SCAQ.”


Knowledge in Accounting Data and Analytics Gave Him a Boost

As part of the PwC FSA team, Yi Ren shared that his audit specialisation is in Banking and Capital Markets, with some exposure to Insurance and Asset & Wealth Management clients. Yi Ren is also part of a specialised team that leverages data analytics to support the audits of financial institutions.

“My Accounting Data and Analytics (ADA) second major has positioned me very well in my audit work. Modules such as Data Management and Introduction to Programming have built in me a strong foundation in programming logic and code writing for SQL and Python. Separately, Forecasting and Forensic Analytics and Statistical Programming have exposed me to R Studio and its various packages, through which I understood how they are used as powerful machine learning tools. Most importantly, I had a chance to implement analytics work for a real-life client under the ADA SMU-X Capstone module. After graduation, I’ve found these skills very applicable to my data analytics work in PwC.”


With his professors, client and projects mates at the ADA SMU-X Capstone module presentation


According to Yi Ren, these skills will become increasingly relevant and vital for the accounting professional today.

“As companies continue to leverage on technologies and integrate big data into their daily businesses, this has also demanded that auditors utilise data analytics in their regular audit work. For example, instead of picking samples from a certain financial account, I can now use programmes such as SQL or Alteryx to perform reconciliation and re-performance works on the entire population. Deeper insights can also be drawn by tapping on various machine learning tools such as R studio to observe trends and flag out discrepancies. This would result in higher audit quality and greater assurance to stakeholders.”


Staying Ahead

With his background and knowledge, one might assume that Yi Ren is more than ready for any challenges that may come his way. But as expected, Yi Ren feels he can do much more.

“Starting out as a young accounting professional, this is the season for me to learn as much as I can. Thus, it is important for me to keep an open mind and have a positive attitude in everything I do. In PwC, the firm promotes a coaching culture where individuals are encouraged to speak to their more senior and experienced counterparts for advice. The name would suggest that these conversations would only touch on one’s career. However, my coach and various individuals have encouraged me beyond that. In my interactions with people, I’ve also received golden advice in more personal areas such as my life goals and visions, among others.”


Yi Ren (extreme right) with PwC colleagues at the PwC Dinner and Dance 2019


“Ecclesiastes expresses this so honestly: ‘To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.’ I believe there are seasons for me to learn, to apply what I’ve learnt, and to teach others what I’ve learnt.”

Indeed, through our brief but meaningful interactions with Yi Ren, he has taught us the importance of humility and constantly seeking to improve ourselves.


Keen to take the next step with SMU? Learn more about our Bachelor of Accountancy programme today.