reader question: life after Cayman

In just a few weeks' time, some of our very best friends here in Grand Cayman will be moving again - some back to their home countries, and others launching into new adventures as expats elsewhere in the world. I'm sure there will be plenty of hugs and kisses and tears as they leave us, but this post is not to focus on the emotional wreck I could very well be as we say goodbye. Instead, I want to touch on the career outlook for accountants after moving on from Grand Cayman.

To do that, I first had to ask myself: Is there life after Cayman? Is it possible to move from paradise and find meaning again? I can only assume that for some, the answer is "Yes", and a reader recently emailed me a great question regarding what path an accounting career might take after a CPA spends time in Grand Cayman.
Reader query: "What do most members of Big4/Accounting firms tend to go work at after [their] usually 18-24 months stay at the Cayman when they go back to their respective countries? Based on your experience do most go back to become Managers back at [their] old firms etc or tend to go for some specific industry jobs? Generally [what] would you say are the key skills that you are gaining through your time at the Cayman Island?"
These are terrific questions, because I'd wager that most accountants that sign up for an initial two-year contract with a public accounting firm in Grand Cayman intend to make it just that: A two-year stint in public accounting in the Cayman Islands. For a CPA with a short-term experience in mind, these are questions that should be considered when deciding whether or not to make the initial move. So, after consulting with NS and a Senior Manager at my firm, here's my best attempt at answering these all-important career questions:

1. Where do CPAs work after their stay in Cayman?
All of the accounting firms on island (that I'm aware of) focus on the major professional industry here in the Cayman Islands, which is Financial Services ("FS"). For the most part, the firms hire audit seniors to work in one or more of three primary sub-industries within the FS field: Hedge funds, captive insurance, and (to a lesser degree) banking. While I contend that auditing is auditing wherever you are, there are nuances to these sub-industries that are very important to the success of the audits, and it is in learning these nuances that seniors with no former FS experience begin to become experts in the FS arena.  After a couple years (or more) of auditing hedge funds or captives, and that same audit senior can be quite employable in other jurisdictions that are FS havens.  If the auditor leaving Cayman wishes to abandon public accounting, a common job opportunity might be working for a fund administrator in one of many locations throughout the world. This industry job involves much of the "back office" accounting - producing regular NAV calculations for hedge funds, managing compliance and regulatory requirements for fund clients, and handling hedge fund financial reporting. A parallel job in the captive insurance industry is working for an insurance manager, which involves the regular accounting and reporting functions, as well facilitating new policies between the captive and the parent company. Both fund administration and insurance manager positions can be found in Grand Cayman, so it's not even necessary to leave the island if a break from public is all you're looking for.

2. Do most auditors become managers back at their old firms?
The answer to this question would change on a case-by-case basis, but I have definitely seen seniors move from Cayman back to their home countries and move right into manager positions. The question that firms might ask for these returning seniors is whether or not two years of FS experience is enough to warrant a management position. I maintain that the jump from senior to manager involves a whole lot more than just technical ability, as the required skill set should include leadership qualities, ongoing mentoring, superior client service and interaction, and an eye for additional business opportunities. That being said, auditing is quite a technical field, so time-in-service has a role to play in developing the ability to manage seniors and juniors on a technical audit engagement. So I've basically danced my way around the question of whether or not auditors become managers in order to say: It depends. I will say that there is merit to the idea of leveraging the FS experience gained in Cayman when applying for one's next job; however, an auditor can also successfully return to a non-FS audit role in a home country audit firm.

3. What are the key skills you are gaining in Cayman?
Firstly, I've been exposed to two broad accounting and auditing standards for the first time in my career. Whereas my experiences in the States involved only U.S. GAAP audits using U.S. GAAS auditing standards, I've performed far more audits under IFRS using International Standards on Auditing than anything else here in Cayman. As a matter of comparison, NS is currently working in the fund referred reporting department of his firm, which means that a member firm somewhere else in the international network has performed the audit (under IFRS, U.S. GAAP, or some other local GAAP), and his department is in charge of reviewing those statements under the applicable accounting and auditing standards to determine if the statements appear to be in compliance before the Cayman office can sign the audit opinion.  Working in this department has exposed NS to extensive range of hedge fund strategies under a variety of accounting and auditing standards, which has really expanded the width and breadth of his FS knowledge. In addition to the technical skills gained in Cayman, we've had the opportunity to network with a number of service providers on the island, as most hedge funds are run by an investment manager (usually off-island), but often utilize Cayman-based independent directors, financial institutions, attorneys, and fund administrators. Liaising with these service providers during the course of the audit can be the most rewarding part of the engagement, as each set of professionals focuses on providing high quality service to the client as well as to each other. These relationships go far beyond the audit as well, as casual networking opportunities can be found while on the basketball court, at the rugby pitch, on the water... virtually everywhere on this island. As in most fields, it's all about who you know, and building a professional network is as important as honing technical skills.

I hope that these responses shed a bit more light on the experiences that can be gained by working in the Cayman Islands.  We certainly feel that our careers are benefiting by working here, and if you have a financial services career in mind, this may be just the place to start it.

Besides, how many places can you spend a work day doing this with your firm?

A large portion of the office enjoying a day at the beach and on a boat, with a stop at Stingray City.


Please send your reader questions to us at offshorecpablog[at]gmail[dot]com. We'd love to help!

20 comments:

  1. Nice and interesting your blog :)

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  2. Solid article. A balanced view on the benefits of Cayman experience and how it sets you up for your future.

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  3. Awesome post!! So appropriate for me right now :)

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  4. Thanks all! Keep the comments coming, especially from those who have moved/are moving away from Cayman - would love to hear where you are currently employed!

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  6. Jen- You talk about leaving after the 18-24 month stint and how you have a contract, but I wonder to myself if you can stay there indefinitely? It is Grand Cayman after all. Why would you leave? lol And if you stay, is there opportunity for continued advancement? How likely is one to get hired if they're a newby (and older) CPA with maybe a year under his belt?

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    1. In general, expats are only allowed to stay in Cayman for 7 years, unless they get key employee status or work for the government or something. So the vast majority of people come for a period and then move on to other jurisdictions. Most CPAs that get hired have experienced 2-3 busy seasons before being hired in Cayman, since the firms are looking for experienced, qualified accountants. If you do stay, the accounting firms are set up in a manner that is similar to firms worldwide, with managers, senior managers, directors, and partners, so there is opportunity for upward mobility. Hope this helps!

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  7. I didn't know the 'time limit' aspect. Thanks!

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  8. Great blog, has been a great resource for me as I've been doing as much research as I can about making the move. I know contracts are generally 2 yrs, do you know if its possible to negotiate a shorter term? 2 yrs seems a bit scary to me.

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    1. There are some firms that have shorter contracts - like January 20X1 - June 20X2. But because of the expensive work permits that firms have to obtain for all expat auditors here, you may be hard pressed to find anything shorter than 18 months. If it's any help, I can testify that the first two years flew by.

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    2. Thanks, for the info. btw, what is the penalty for breaking a contract?

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  9. Hi Jen, I have always believed in the ability of many accredited schools who can help me have a degree to pursue an accountant career.

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  10. That’s a very nice post! I have heard a lot about Cayman insurance policies. Which is better for travelling purposes? I am flying to Cayman next month.

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