On the surface, Daniel Seah’s story is no different from that of any other young accountant working in a Big Four firm. A Consultant for People Advisory Services at EY, Mr Seah’s job sees him in an advisory capacity to expatriates on their tax-related matters. He handles their regular and ad hoc queries over email and the phone, and when the need arises, he attends client meetings as well. Apart from the rush to file tax returns on behalf of his clients in April, he is kept busy during the year conducting briefings for new clients and helping those who are leaving the country settle their tax matters.
But his story goes beyond that. It is a tale of triumph over adversity and sheer grit, which has cultivated a mindset that has in turn served him well at work. Born with brittle bone disease, which has affected his growth and necessitates the use of a wheelchair, the odds were stacked against him when growing up. But today, he gets to enjoy the fruits of an inclusive workplace culture, which is something EY strongly advocates. To accommodate his condition, EY installed automated doors in the men’s room to enable Mr Seah seamless access. In addition, when they moved the department to a new level, they changed the bar-height tables in the pantry on that floor to standard heights so that Mr Seah is better able to interact with his colleagues.
Getting a job at EY was a defining moment for Mr Seah. “It has been my goal to get into a Big Four professional services organisation ever since I started studying accountancy,” he says. The route to EY was not an easy one though; it was a long and challenging journey that took Mr Seah from the Normal (Academic) stream in secondary school to the polytechnic, and then to university.
A WHOLEHEARTED PURSUIT
Mr Seah was introduced to accountancy in Hillgrove Secondary School, where he was in the Normal (Academic) stream. “I found it quite interesting and easier than mathematics,” he shares, adding that he preferred working with numbers than words, and enjoyed the intellectual challenges accountancy presented. “When the accounts balance, it gives me a certain thrill,” he explains. After doing well in his ‘N’ Levels, he moved on to Secondary 5 in preparation for his ‘O’ Levels. Moving up from the Normal stream was the first hurdle but subsequently, tackling the subjects at ‘O’ Levels proved to be a big challenge. The level of difficulty increased tremendously, and he had to catch up quickly. “I had to start all over again,” he says, and recalls asking many questions in class and attacking the books vigorously. He did well for his national examinations and got a place in the highly competitive Diploma in Accountancy course at Singapore Polytechnic.
“I found (accountancy in secondary school) quite interesting and easier than mathematics,” he shares, adding that he preferred working with numbers than words, and enjoyed the intellectual challenges accountancy presented.
Studying at the polytechnic demanded more of him than merely mastering the academic content. There were many group projects and he had to work with his course mates. “It’s more challenging because you need to know how to deal with people from different backgrounds,” he explains. This was followed by a degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), from where he graduated in 2014. Through the SPD (formerly Society for the Physically Disabled), Mr Seah received a scholarship from the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation that helped defray the cost of his education.
Studying at NTU presented its own set of challenges. Because it is a large campus and classes were held at different venues, getting around was particularly difficult for him. At this point, Mr Seah’s father, a taxi driver, quit his job so that he could bring his son from tutorial classes to lecture halls. Soon, the senior Mr Seah would become a familiar face on campus.
In his second year at NTU, Mr Seah struggled to get an internship. He applied to seven firms but failed to get a position. Thanks to SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities, he was matched to a small audit firm that provided him with the opportunity to put his skills to work and get a taste of working life. Things took a turn for the better in his final year, when he successfully secured a position with EY before he graduated. It has proven to be a happy culmination of his efforts. At EY, he says, the people are nice and the work is challenging and exciting.
SCALING HIGHER PEAKS
To upgrade himself, Mr Seah decided to get his Chartered Accountant of Singapore or CA (Singapore) designation last year. “I felt that it would enhance my credibility in front of clients,” he explains. “Being conferred this designation will increase their trust in me and it also allows me to confidently improve my marketability to potential clients.” He feels that Chartered Accountants can play a vital role in organisations. “They can offer solutions to businesses because they can propose measures to lower costs for companies, given that they know the daily operations, both their profitability and expenses.”
The other benefit of being a Chartered Accountant is that the Institute organises useful courses that members can enrol in to learn about industry trends, he explains.
To those who wish to enter the profession, his advice is that they need to be positive in their thinking. To him, the accountancy journey is not an easy one. “Accountants need to be optimistic as they will face challenges every day. But as long as they believe in themselves, they can overcome those obstacles to allow them to achieve their dreams.”
“Accountants need to be optimistic as they will face challenges every day. But as long as they believe in themselves, they can overcome those obstacles to allow them to achieve their dreams.”
As for his personal goals, apart from continuing to excel in his job, Mr Seah wants to be an advocate for persons with disabilities. “I want more people with disabilities to be embraced by organisations. If there is any outreach effort by EY, I will gladly participate.” He believes that the Job Redesign guide developed by SG Enable and the Ministry of Manpower that was launched in June is a good step forward. “Each person has different capabilities and disabilities. Redefining a job will make it easier for persons with disabilities to be integrated into the workplace,” he says. However, he believes that Singapore should go further. “I feel that there should be a few employees with disabilities in every organisation.” He realises that this is an ambitious goal because it relies on employers to change the way they view the disabled. “If employers’ perceptions do not change, it will be very hard to integrate people with disabilities.” It is indeed a tough challenge, but then again, Mr Seah is no stranger to one.