As ISCA celebrates its 59th birthday, we look at what the accountancy profession means to members – both senior and junior – who also share their best wishes for ISCA and hopes for the future.
A 67-year-old with an affection for beer and an interest in ayurveda; a K-pop-loving 19-year-old digital native. Two people born of different times and separated by almost half a century, management consultant Velloor Krishna Kumaran and university student Tan Hui Teng may seem like individuals with absolutely nothing in common with one another. Yet, they share the same passion for accountancy.
To be certain, the profession has gone through evolutionary changes between the time Mr Kumaran entered the workforce in the late 1970s, and when Ms Tan graduates from the School of Accounting at Singapore Management University in 2025. The shift from an industrial to information-based economy has rewritten the way entities are evaluated. Technological advancements have further transformed the way things are done in the accountancy profession. For one, Miss Tan would never have to handwrite ledgers as Mr Kumaran once did. One might then ask: Accountancy might be a pursuit shared between the industry veteran who wishes to work in this profession to his very last days, and the undergraduate who was first drawn to the industry by a fascination with data-driven trends in pop culture, but is it even the same thing to each of them?
The simple answer is: yes.
For all the changes brought about by new economies and new technologies, accountancy remains a universal language that transcends cultural and even generational differences. Just as accountancy has served ancient Egyptian businessmen and Venetian merchants in the 15th century to the first Industrialists in the 19th century, this evolving profession will continue to play a vital role in taking the economy into the future. The indispensability of the accountancy professional – beyond performing checks and balances – lies in his or her ability to interpret the story behind the numbers and translate it into actionable guidance. This goes beyond just steering organisations to financial success as it extends to social accountability and environmental responsibility.
Just as the accountancy profession has evolved while keeping true to its core responsibilities, we at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) are proud to say that we’ve been growing in more ways than one too. As the national accountancy body driving the advancement of the accountancy profession together with over 33,000 ISCA members across industries and demographics, we stay relevant to all our members in all stages of their career. As we turn 59, we celebrate with the vigour of our youngest within our ISCA Youth Associate programme and look ahead with the wisdom of one of our most senior members.
A LIFE OF SERVICE, ANCHORED IN ACCOUNTANCY
VELLOOR KRISHNA KUMARAN, DIRECTOR, MDRIFT TECHNOLOGIES (S) PTE LTD; MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT, NAVON CONSULTING PTE LTD; CORPORATE TRAINER, ACADEMY FOR CORPORATE MANAGEMENT
As a young chemistry graduate in 1975, Velloor Krishna Kumaran wanted to eventually work in the field of medicine. “I wanted to serve the people,” he shares. But in the midst of deciding on his career, he was given the opportunity to take up a clerical post at a family-run bank in India, where he started working with numbers. Subsequently, an uncle who headed the finance department for a company in Dubai asked Mr Kumaran to join him in 1978. “My uncle, who was a qualified accountant, was a great source of inspiration for me,” recalls Mr Kumaran. It was a huge jump to go from chemistry to accountancy, and it took effort to gain the requisite knowledge and skills for the profession. However, Mr Kumaran firmly believes that anybody can achieve their goals if they put their mind to it, and his conviction came through a deep understanding of the profession from the start. “My uncle had given me a good appreciation of the purpose of accountancy work, so that I could see clearly how it is a profession that also serves people.”
This, he states, might not be obvious especially when one is starting out as a junior accounting staff, “but as one progresses and becomes the head of several organisations as I did, you get to see things at the macro level, and how business and society are interconnected,” he explains. As someone who is steering the corporate governance of an organisation and protecting the interests of the public, the accountant certainly serves the people, be they the entrepreneurs who have poured everything they have into the business or investors who count on the performance of a business to grow their retirement funds. “It was this aspect of the profession that gave me the conviction to work towards becoming a chartered accountant,” says Mr Kumaran.
He proudly recounts how he managed to pass all nine of his management accounting papers in one sitting, and even received a plaque of distinction from the school for this feat. Today, Mr Kumaran is a Chartered Accountant of Singapore or CA (Singapore), a professional accountancy qualification that is globally recognised and internationally portable.
“Accountants play a vital role in all organisations, whether an NGO, MNC or even a non-profit group,” shares Mr Kumaran. “They operate at the centre, where all functions within an organisation have to pass through and converge. Being in this position allows them to get a bird’s eye view of the organisation.” Having come to the realisation that accounting and finance are inseparable, indispensable bloodlines for every entity prompted Mr Kumaran to also gain professional qualifications in finance – he holds a Master of Science (First Class Honours) in Financial Risk Assessment and Management.
Having worked in India, Dubai and United Kingdom, Mr Kumaran relocated his young family to Singapore in 1990 with his Singaporean wife, and promptly applied for an ISCA membership. “Through attending some of the Institute’s events, I had the opportunity to connect with peers and build my contacts within Singapore,” he says, emphasising that the networking opportunities gained through ISCA helped him a great deal professionally. In fact, it was an ISCA member – Ms Felomina D. Rulloda of Navon Consulting – who inspired Mr Kumaran to re-enter the workforce after a one-year hiatus that he took due to health reasons.
Apart from the meaningful relationships and bonds forged through ISCA, Mr Kumaran also relishes the learning opportunities. “I attended several courses and seminars conducted by ISCA to upgrade myself and to know more about the industry, which could span from the latest in ethical standards to corporate tax issues, to deepen my knowledge,” he reveals. The passionate lifelong learner is also an avid reader of the IS Chartered Accountant Journal and publications produced by ISCA: “I find the publications very engaging, and the information within them keeps me abreast of the most current topics. Even at 67 years of age, learning doesn’t stop!”
A COMMITMENT TO ACCOUNTABILITY
With a career that took him across continents, serving companies and charity organisations alike, Mr Kumaran decided to share his knowledge with those aspiring to enter the accountancy profession. Adding to his portfolio of consultant for business management and compliance in financial reporting, he became an educator in 1993. Today, the holder of a Specialist Diploma in Applied Learning and Teaching is a Corporate Trainer at the Academy for Corporate Management, covering areas such as corporate reporting compliance, corporate financial management, strategic management and management accounting.
Beyond imparting technical knowledge that address practical issues, Mr Kumaran also takes it upon himself to counsel his students. “Some might be in a rut because they are foreign students who are feeling homesick, while others might be mid-career switchers wondering if they have made the right choice. My students might be grown men and women, but they can still benefit from guidance,” says Mr Kumaran.
He acknowledges that accountancy is a profession that not everyone is suited for. “You have to be very meticulous; it is not like being a digital artist in a creative firm, where you are free to express yourself and test boundaries. An accountant has to go through a fixed framework to follow standards established globally, and to apply these standards to a situation. There are a lot of rules, and you have to continuously attempt to understand and appreciate them and their applications. It takes dedication.” However, once a student’s mind is set on the career, Mr Kumaran makes sure that, as an educator, he fully prepares them for the challenges beyond the classroom settings. “I always tell them that it takes a lot of commitment. Ultimately, there is no such thing as an easy career. If you want to excel, you have to give it your heart and soul and then go on to master it.”
As ISCA marks its 59th anniversary, Mr Kumaran recognises that challenges abound for young accountants today, who have to navigate an ever-evolving working and professional environment. “This is a very different world, and I have seen the transformation from an industrial to an information-based economy,” he observes. “Twenty years ago, we would estimate the value of companies by the assets they own. Now, rather than tangible assets, they are also evaluated by the proprietary rights they own within their industry.”
The profession has also changed significantly since the time he was a young accountant. “We used to write everything by hand in books, but technology has transformed the way things are done so that it is more accurate and efficient,” Mr Kumaran comments.
Apart from the constant challenge of learning and applying new technology, he also sees a need to guard against those who might attempt to twist or tamper with technology for unethical gains. Thus, Mr Kumaran cautions aspiring accountants against the temptations of reaping rich returns and forgoing their commitment to professionalism. “Ethical standards must be kept high even in the face of financial gains – this is the fundamental character accountants should have when they enter the profession. The first notion they have to discard is that this is a route to making lots of money! Certainly, it is a profession that offers a reasonable livelihood, but it is more than just a job – it is a responsibility,” he says sagely of an accountant’s role in providing independent and ethical services, especially where profitability and ethics are in contradiction. “You must have the heart to stand firm and to uphold the reputation of the entire profession.”
While the undertakings of an accountant are huge, so are the possibilities for those in the profession. For one thing, Mr Kumaran has experienced first-hand how the profession has enabled him to work anywhere in the world. “Accountancy is the universal language of business. There are different standards that might have to be adhered to in different countries but by and large, the industry is regulated by commonly followed international reporting standards.” He notes that globalisation and the criss-crossing of international investors around the world has further accelerated the adoption of universal standards. To this end, Mr Kumaran acknowledges the efforts of ISCA to expand its reach beyond Singapore. “ISCA has been actively associating itself with other professional bodies around the world to maintain standards,” he elaborates. “It has gone outside the confines of Singapore to the region, where it serves a much larger base of professionals and aspiring accountants by providing accreditation for those in ASEAN.”
EMBRACING THE POSSIBILITIES
The possibilities for those armed with accountancy skills go beyond the accounting profession. Mr Kumaran himself has ventured into a holistic wellness business and has started his own F&B outfit – a successful bistro in Little India that serves some 150 brands of beer from around the world. He set up this venture to satisfy his yearning to meet people from far and near in a casual setting. “As an accountant, I definitely have a better idea about risk assessments – and being inexperienced is certainly a risk! But I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing something I am interested in.” Instead, he balances the risks by tapping on the business management skills he has garnered through his work.
However, his heart is firmly in his life’s work of accounting and management consultancy. “I did try to persuade my two daughters to join accounting, but they ultimately chose their own paths,” he says. While the elder followed Mr Kumaran’s paralegal wife’s footsteps to become a lawyer at Health Sciences Authority, the younger inherited his passion for social service, and now serves as a manager at Temasek Foundation, the charity arm of Temasek Holdings. “At this point, I enjoy what I am doing as a management consultant. Every client presents a different challenge, which pushes me to deepen my specialised knowledge in specific areas or even to revisit the fundamentals,” enthuses Mr Kumaran. “I love that and never think of retiring. I certainly wish to work to my very last days!”
GEN Z WITH A VISION
TAN HUI TENG, ACCOUNTANCY UNDERGRADUATE, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY
The daughter of an accountant and an engineer, Tan Hui Teng’s love for mathematics was funnelled towards accountancy by her accountant mother. “My mother made the largest impact on my decision to enter accountancy,” she says. “I told her I was interested in data, and she said, ‘If you don’t understand what the numbers are saying, you won’t be able to do much with the data.’ In addition, she reminded me that I am detailed and meticulous, and these are key traits of an accountant.”
There are a handful of 19-year-olds on LinkedIn, and Ms Tan is one of them. Her view is that no one is too young to get involved in the industries that interest them, as long as there are opportunities for them to do so. “Have you ever seen oddly specific advertisements while browsing the Internet, as if they were tailored just for you?” she asks. “I remember being intrigued by this, which kickstarted my interest in data and how it can be used for business strategy. This eventually led me to pursue a Bachelor of Accountancy at Singapore Management University, with the intention to take a second major related to data analytics.”
Ms Tan readily admits that not that many of her peers immediately think of accountancy when it comes to the industry of their future. “The stereotype is that accountants only like crunching numbers, but that’s not all we do,” she smiles. It is clear she exemplifies a new generation of accountants – one that is informed and enthralled by social media. In her case, this interest is compounded by her love for Korean pop or K-pop and, specifically, the music of EXO and Seventeen. “K-pop has a growing influence around the world,” she notes. “In the 2010s, K-pop groups put out Chinese and Japanese-styled songs. That interested me: why would labels want to spend money teaching their idols different languages? What led them to make these decisions? Now we see groups like BTS gaining tremendous influence around the world, particularly once they launched English songs. I started thinking about how companies like these would use data to increase the influence and success of their clients, because numbers and data alone can help us make decisions – and accounting reveals what these numbers mean.”
Unlike most teenagers, she is as fascinated by data-driven trends in pop culture as she is by the actual group or personality. “If I could get a copy of the prospectus (of Korean music labels that are publicly listed), I could get hold of more specific numbers and see what they reveal,” she says. She adds ruefully, “But they won’t give out their prospectus to any old K-pop fan!”
PREPPED FOR THE JOURNEY AHEAD
Ms Tan’s unusual thought patterns are also well served by her love for computing, a subject she studied for her ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels. “Even though I’m in accounting now, I try to programme something now and then, so I don’t lose touch.” She reveals that she enjoys solving things like mathematics problems using programming.
A natural born leader, Ms Tan was the Deputy Head of Functions in the Student Council at Zhonghua Secondary School. At Anglo-Chinese Junior College, she was the Assistant Class Representative on top of being a First Aid Society member. Now, at SMU, she is a member of the SOA (School of Accounting) Outreach, where she actively engages junior college students to consider accountancy as a career. “Every company needs an accountant,” she declares. “Every company needs someone who can understand accounts and finances, and how to manage finances, because not a lot of people know and understand this. Many science and even humanities students head for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in university, so more awareness about accountancy needs to be raised.”
Given her passion for accountancy, it makes perfect sense that she would join ISCA as a Youth Associate member. Ms Tan had first encountered ISCA during orientation on campus and learnt how the Institute enables its members to upskill and continue evolving in the industry. ISCA’s Youth Associate programme is free and open to all accountancy undergraduates from the various universities in Singapore.
“I believe you don’t have to wait,” says Ms Tan. “Learning can start whenever. You upskill to keep up, and there’s always room to improve.” Now that the limitations set by COVID-19 have been largely removed, she is looking forward to attending ISCA events. Joining ISCA is important, she says, because being a chartered accountant means one is officially accredited, and that creates job opportunities.
The ISCA Youth Associate programme allows for potential employers to easily recognise a young person like Ms Tan as a designated Youth Associate of an established accountancy body. It also provides opportunities for youths to visit companies and network with professionals in the accountancy industry, to deepen their understanding and gain wider industry perspectives. Youth Associates get a head start in their careers when they participate in courses and seminars such as Career Insights Talks for accountancy and finance professionals. For an out-of-the-box thinker like Ms Tan, being a Youth Associate also avails to her the latest industry developments and resources such as the IS Chartered Accountant Journal and technical resources.
Apart from the obvious benefits, ISCA’s social media marketing appeals to Ms Tan’s Gen Z sensibilities. “The information ISCA sends out through its Telegram channel and Instagram is useful,” she says. “They share on things like changes in financial trends, in a way that explains the topic clearly, from an accountancy point of view.”
As she turns 20 this month, Ms Tan’s birthday wish for herself is to be able to explore different aspects of accountancy as she progresses through her studies and soon, into a career in the field, where she plans to head down the Chief Financial Officer route. “I plan to be successful,” she says simply and honestly. “And I hope I’ll be able to use technology, including machine learning, in my future work. My goal of being successful is to keep learning as there is so much more to see and learn. As the saying goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
ISCA, on the other hand, turns 59. Ms Tan’s wish for the profession is this: “The public perception is that all accountants do is crunch numbers, but I hope a new image will emerge: that accountants are able to attain knowledge and interpret and generate insights.”
She foresees accountancy will have a big role to play in important areas such as sustainability. “Global warming is a real issue,” she states. “As accountants understand numbers and data, accountants can help make the change, and help companies make better goods that are sustainable, for example, using materials that are not only lasting but good for the environment. I see that in the future of accountancy.”