Last Thursday, January 19th, I had a chance to sit down with, and interview, one of the partners at a local accounting firm, Virtus Group.

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with Mr. Aaron Dillman (CPA, CA, CBV, CFP). I was originally planning on just utilizing my digital portfolio for a final project in my Career and Work Placement 30 class, but when I was having difficulty brainstorming artifacts to display on here, I thought an interview might add to my project (which, frankly, is a combination of about three different ones now). Now, the assignment says to write either a 5-paragraph essay about the interview and what you learned or to piece together interview clips for a digital product to show the class.

Since I didn’t visually record the interview and since I’m not much a paragraph guy (as you can probably tell by now by my use of many – almost – paragraphs and weirdly alone sentences on here…).

Now before I begin, here’s the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read): Accounting is a great profession if you’re interested in numbers, the University of Saskatchewan is very well known for it’s Accounting major (and it keeps getting better), and ultimately, you can decide how successful you want to be by how hard you work. + the difference between Virtus Group and other firms.

Now for the long version (not that long, I promise). EDIT (after writing): It’s pretty long. 1640 words.

As you can probably tell with the number of abbreviations following his name, Mr. Dillman is a very intelligent, educated member of our community. I learned that going through school for years isn’t necessarily a bad idea, especially when it may help clients out in the future. Yet, as he made clear to me throughout the interview: none of the education you do in the classroom to earn those designations will be as valuable as the learning you gain on the job.

The designations give you the foundation… but you still have to know how to apply and practice it [what you’ve learned].

According to him, after accounting, his business valuator designation (CBV) is what he utilizes the most. That’s interesting to me, as it was something I never knew existed but it just gives me another possible route to consider when it comes to my own education. He even spoke to how much his career has adapted since he began – a few things he does aren’t even found in a “textbook” any longer. That again speaks to how much you learn on the job and not in a book – something I’ve realized recently with my own education.

*at this point there was an awkward pause while I tried to recall a question that popped into my head*

My next question for him was what drew him into this business: accounting and Virtus Group. Without even a slight pause, he answered to the effect of how he’s always had an interest in numbers – and less in English [apologizes to my Careers teacher, who’s also my English teacher: I do like math more too (good thing the semester is over before he heard me say that)]. Mr. Dillman also said how his high school Accounting teacher first sparked his interest in the career – now I’m really regretting not taking accounting! For him, his teacher made the class seem fun, practical and effortless (sounds like he was an exceptional teacher but I do bet the class was effortless and fun for Mr. Dillman due to his own drive and intelligence). It was thanks to this class that sparked his interest in choosing Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan (where I’ve also just accepted my offer to) and then his experience with the aforementioned teacher that led him to choose Accounting as his major.

Other than his choice of Accounting as his career, he gave me an insight that has led me to accept my offer of admission earlier today: Edwards School of Business is one of the most renowned schools in Canada for Accounting, and if it’s not the top, it’s definitely in the top few. Thank you for that advice (it temporarily cured some of my indecisiveness).

Changing pacing a little bit – from school to what he actually does – was intriguing.

He spoke to how he handles business for the majority of his time (at first he said 100% of his work focuses on business, then 99% businesses and 1% individuals… we’ll average it out to 99.5% businesses) and focuses on whatever challenges and opportunities come with them. Owner managed, privately owned businesses are his specialty and by the way the company has grown (12 employees when he started to over 100 in two locations now), I’d say him and his colleagues have been relied on by many and from speaking with him, I can see why.

In a time where large, international firms such as KPMG exist – I can see why a locally owned and operated firm could be beneficial. When I asked him about the difference between Virtus Group and the big four, he took the opportunity to tell me all about the differences. Besides from being locally based and having the ability to make decisions on a smaller scale, Virtus Group is a member of a large network of independent firms which gives them the resources of a large company. While it may not always be true, some of the decisions made in an international company may not reflect the local extensions of the company. However, by being local, Virtus Group essentially lives or dies by its decisions. I compare this to myself, previously working for Indigo Books and Music, a large national company and now presently working for a local company, BOURBON Barbershop and Shave Club. You truly get to understand a business when you’re ten feet away from its owner versus a few thousand kilometers. I’ve definitely seen exactly what he means by, “I would personally have a hard time getting told what to do from Toronto.” Having that entrepreneurial vein constantly running through your workforce makes it that much exciting to come to work each day.

Going back to the network of individual firms, he spoke to how that gives them the ability to service their clients in other geographical areas with support from those other firms, giving them the support they need for their clients – regardless of where they’re located. He said it gives them the best of worlds – local, but yet as large as they need to be in order to support their clients. The network of independent firms is called Allinial Global.

“We’re independent and are in control of our own destiny, but have the same support as one of the larger firms because of those affiliations.”

Going on to the future of accounting, I was curious to get his insight into how he believes Accounting and Finance is going to evolve within the next ten or so years – something I was interested to know about seeing as that would be around the time where I would be entering the line of work if I choose to go that way. Other than just the industry being more technology based and commoditized in the future (as in more tax returns being processed electronically by the individual, etc.), he foresees more businesses getting involved in the generalities of the industry – banks offering tax return filing for example. Going further, advisors will have to truly advise on everything they can to help a client. Whether it’s compliance, succession planning, bookkeeping – whatever the clients need of the day may be. Which I, personally think is great – more one-stop shops and less shopping around (I’m one for ease of use and productive hours).

“The accountant of the past will be dead in the future – they won’t have the right skill sets for what I think is coming.”

Accounting gives one a good foundation no matter what realm of business one partakes in. 

That was a statement I heard from a representative of CPA Canada at the See Your Future Career Fair, and it was a statement that Mr. Dillman echoed. Whatever you do in the future, whether it’s being a business owner, an accountant or in management somewhere else – accounting is going to be there in one form or another so knowing how to deal with cash flow, members from a banking institution, etc. is crucial to operating a successful business. As he stated, the clients that are weak on the accounting side of things usually have a difficult time surviving – they may be great at what they’re offering, but without someone to take a deep look into the books, it’s hard to stay afloat.

In terms of job prospects, openings for accountants vary (as with anything connected to the economy). There’s always going to be jobs for accounting, however, the number of jobs varies due to how the economy is doing. With the job prospects, Mr. Dillman did ingrain the benefits of taking part in the Co-op program through Edwards, and that is something I will definitely consider – not only for the possibility of a job offer but for the hands-on experience it offers (he estimates that Virtus Group takes on 5-6 Co-op students a year).

See, I said it wasn’t going to be THAT long. It was pretty long, but hey, it was a productive interview and gave me an incredible amount of insight into what I may consider doing one day.

And with that, a gracious thank you goes out to Mr. Dillman and Virtus Group for giving me this opportunity and your valuable time. I strongly appreciate your insights and the advice you gave me – not only on the career but on what school to attend and a few observations of what it means to be successful.

If you’d like, you can check out the Virtus Group Website here.