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‘I came here thinking success would come quickly’

Super

It has taken 20 years but this year’s winner of the top Australian Accounting Award, Natalia Clack, shows hard work and perseverance can pay off against the odds.

By Philip King 12 minute read

This year’s Australian Accounting Awards Excellence winner went from bored energy company executive to leading light in SMSFs after landing in Australia with a few thousand in the bank and almost no English.

Speaking on this week’s Accountants Daily podcast fresh from her win, Natalia Clack said she arrived 20 years ago “with no idea what I am going to do and how I'm going to make a living”.

She quickly realised that her Russian accounting qualification was little use here, her lack of English was a barrier to getting almost any job and the $15,000 in her bank account, which she thought would last a year, ran out in three months.

“I did have a degree in Russia and not only a degree, I also had a very successful career,” she said. “This was one of the reasons why I came to Australia – because I needed a change. I was bored.”

“So when I came here I was thinking that my success will come very quickly. And after months looking for a job, I basically realised it’s a different country and there are different rules and the path to success is not as straightforward as I thought.”

“It took me four months to find my first job: a hostess at a restaurant.”

With a student visa in her passport, she enrolled for a masters in accounting to meet Australian qualification requirements, get up to speed on local tax law and improve her English along the way.

Her first accounting job was with a single-practitioner suburban practice.

“I 'm still very, very grateful to this person for taking me on board without a lot of knowledge,” she said. “I remember the first day, I came to the office and he said, ‘This lady needs to get her individual tax return done … can you please have a look at the electricity bills?’

“And I was thinking, how do they even look like electricity bills? …  I had no idea. So imagine the struggle you're going through – you look at the documents and one simple bill takes you maybe 10-15 minutes to understand.”

Getting her head around Australian tax law was an even greater challenge.

“It’s so much more complex compared to Russia. You cannot, for example, be a good accountant in Russia and come to Australia and just continue working as an accountant – unless you're doing some sort of management accounting. But as a tax accountant, you have to start almost from scratch.”

She grew restless in the small practice but enjoyed working on SMFSs and was “lucky enough” to get picked up by one of the top 20 accounting firms as an SMSF specialist. She had found her niche.

“Back then –  it was 16-17 years ago –  not a lot of accountants wanted to do superannuation, self-managed superannuation funds. I guess I got the job because there weren’t a lot of choices in terms of employees.

“I loved it straight away. I loved the complexity of it. I loved the changing environment. And since then, I've been doing SMSFs only.”

After stepping through another couple of jobs, she realised that working in a corporate or traditional accounting environment would never be enough. And there were life changes, too.

“I got married and I had my first child. And with my first child, I also realised that because I didn't have anyone to help me out, such as a family member or babysitter, and my husband was working six, seven days a week, I realised that I also needed flexibility. I needed to be my own boss.”

Attracting clients from scratch brought a fresh set of challenges.

“Every client just came to me organically or from marketing. I tried all the different marketing, tried all the advertising possible in the last 10 years and it was a lot of learning and trial and error. I spent a lot of money on developing my systems and on developing my marketing.

“It’s just a journey which you go through and you keep pushing – I think this is the most important. You try something, if it doesn't work you have to be flexible and try something else.”

Her business, Easy Super at Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches, now has six staff, a roster of happy customers and nationwide recognition at the Australian Accounting Awards with Ms Clack taking out the gong for superannuation specialist and the top prize, the Excellence Award.

Easy Super specialises solely in SMSFs with advice, accounting, compliance, tax and audits. Ms Clack’s own focus has switched to growth.

“My role at the moment is shifting more towards bringing in new business, bringing in more clients, connecting with people, looking for opportunities such as partnerships, joint ventures and growth.”

She reads all the industry publications, attends conferences, seminars and webinars, and has a voracious appetite for testing new technology and ideas. Her commitment to CPD stood out in her award submission.

“At least couple of hours a day I dedicate to my professional development. It became a habit to be honest. Especially being a sole practitioner you have to do it.”

She wrestles with issues that will be familiar to most accountants, such as the talent shortage, rising salaries and price competition among practices.

“I'm not against outsourcing but the price competition, it's very, very cruel … because obviously from one side you have on the staff issues, from another side you have people shopping around trying to find … the accountant who can do it cheaper.”

But she has a solution.

“If you provide something different, if you provide a service where you add value in some way and you know your clients, you know how you can add the value to the client, which no one else can. So if you do that you will be different, so you can charge more.”

But added complexity – such as revised rules for SMSF balances above $3 million – and the extra time it involves can be difficult to justify to clients.

“I can see how much complexity it’s going to bring to the industry and how much pain we are going to experience. Because it's very hard to justify to some clients an increase in your price because of legislation complexity.”

And after journey like her own, is Ms Clack an optimist?

“Of course! Superannuation is not going anywhere, it is going to get bigger and bigger. It might get more complicated, but there is a lot of money in the industry, a lot of opportunities.”

 

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Philip King

Philip King

AUTHOR

Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

You can email Philip on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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