Eyes on the prize
For Esther Gutierrez, entering the accounting field was first and foremost a realistic decision.
‘I got into this career path for two things, the practicality and the stability,’ she says. ‘In the Philippines, we are a third-world country, and I’m not from a privileged family. Growing up, I had to work at a wet market with my family to scrape enough money together to survive the day.
It was her job from a young age to record her family’s daily sales on a piece of paper while deducting expenses such as meals or the prices they had paid for goods they sold.
‘We were selling empanadas and basic Filipino snacks that workers need to get on with their day,’ she recalls. ‘I remember my mother always talking about money with her friends because everyone at the market just scraped by to pay their bills.’
Ultimately, though, it helped her carve out a professional career.
‘I figured that every business would need someone to take note of all the transactions and make decisions that would catapult their growth,’ she says. ‘Accountants are very much needed in that most practical sense.’
She also wanted something stable and surmised that people would always need an accountant, especially in the Philippines where many business owners lack the skills to understand tax filings or whether their business is profitable.
2022: Senior associate, PwC Denmark
2022; Audit manager, KPMG Philippines
2018–22; PwC Philippines, started as assurance associate then promoted to senior assurance associate
‘Even when I was little, I was thinking that I needed something that I could apply, that I could use, and something I could actually reach. If I had dreamed that I wanted to become an astronaut, I would not have had the tools to actually do so.’
After looking at LinkedIn profiles and job posts to figure out which role could eventually lead to a career in Europe or America, she realised that accounting could be a gateway to her future. ‘I found out that a lot of Filipinos working abroad are accountants,’ she says.
With one of her sisters already working in the medical field, she decided ‘to diversify our family portfolio and go into business on the accounting side. We were always thinking in practical terms, and that’s how I started my career.’
Entering the University of the East - Caloocan in 2013, she worked hard to win scholarships, and was active in business and debate competitions to help hone her skills.
‘I always loved the business case competitions because I believed those gave me an edge in getting into the Big Four.’ she says. ‘I thought they would provide me with the training I needed to be globally competitive.’
The long haul
After graduating with an accountancy degree in 2018, she was hired by PwC Philippines, where she began as an assurance associate. By 2020, she had worked her way up to senior assurance associate and was looking for a further career boost.
'When you start out in the field of public accounting, the balance between expenses and goals can be tricky. Everything had to come out of my pocket.' she says. When asked by her mother why she hadn't pursued a more high-paying position, she answered that the first three years weren’t about the money but about laying her career foundations. ‘I was in it for the long haul, and I wanted to build my portfolio and build my experience.’
Eager to demonstrate her ability to compete in the global market, the career boost she was looking for eventually came in the form of international certification. For years she set aside money to pursue the ACCA Qualification to give her the edge she was looking for. ‘Nobody in my firm actually knew I was pursuing ACCA.'
The ACCA edge
After she passed her ACCA exams in 2022, a major benefit quickly became apparent. ‘I no longer had to scour LinkedIn job openings,’ she laughs. ‘The moment I had ACCA next to my name, a lot of recruiters reached out to me independently. I can’t tell you how many messages I got for job openings in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world.
‘Getting my ACCA Qualification was the moment I proved to companies that I had what they needed. A lot of openings had ACCA listed. I no longer had to apply; instead, companies approached me, because it’s a hot market now.’
Gutierrez moved from PwC to KPMG Philippines in March 2022, and is currently settling into her new role in PwC Denmark as a senior associate in their top tier department, with a focus on Denmark's top companies.
Happy to help
Throughout the whole process, she embraced mentoring. ‘It started in college when I was a member of the Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants, which is for aspiring accountants,’ she explains. ‘Part of our programme was to mentor junior students, so trying to help out first- and second-year students.
‘This has carried over to ACCA, because I remember when I was starting out, I didn’t know anyone who was pursuing ACCA. I had to search social media platforms and reach out to people who were doing the same.'
She has found, though, that there are plenty of students in the Philippines interested in pursuing ACCA, and she is more than happy to help. ‘They need people to guide them, and I enjoy talking to students and saying, this is what you need to do.’
Filipinos looking to gain their ACCA Qualification now have greater choice in how they study, via a growing number of learning partners or ACCA-accredited universities. When Gutierrez embarked on her ACCA journey in January 2019, she had no option but to self-study, but she adds that student resources from the local ACCA office were invaluable along with the support of tuition provider First Intuition Learning Solutions (FILS), which she credits with helping her to get through the advanced tax exam.
Her move to PwC Denmark is a realisation of a long-held ambition that she believes will help future-proof her position in the industry. 'I believe my path will provide me with valuable professional growth and help balance out and nurture other aspects of my life.'
Author: Michael Tatarski, journalist
This article was first published in AB magazine November 2022