At a glance
By Caroline Zielinski
It was his father’s meteoric rise from an accountant at EY to the chief executive auditor of a major bank in Bahrain that made Mohamed (Mo) Almulla CPA choose accounting as his major.
The 34-year-old, who now holds the role of relationships director with Judo Bank, started his commerce degree at Griffith University in Brisbane intent on getting the most out of it – which, according to his father, meant focusing on accounting.
“An accounting degree is the most flexible degree you can do,” Almulla recalls his father saying. “If you do that, you can work in-house, you can work in auditing, financing, banking.”
After completing the course in 2008, Almulla – who was an international student at the time – applied for permanent residency in Australia. However, the global financial crisis (GFC) made it impossible for him to find work, so he returned to Bahrain for a stint with KPMG to gain some work experience.
“After a year, I came back to Australia and got an office manager and accounting role at a mining services company in Brisbane, where I cut my teeth and learned how to do bookkeeping, budgeting, etcetera,” he says.
Almulla’s career in professional services started in earnest at advisory firm KordaMentha, where he worked as senior analyst on large restructure projects in the post-GFC era, including managing property restructures and doing due diligence reports for lenders.
However, his big dream had always been to work in a bank. With a few years of experience under his belt, Almulla was able to turn a chat over coffee into his next big opportunity.
“I ended up joining ANZ at the emerging corporate division in Brisbane as an assistant manager, lending money to businesses looking to borrow between A$10 million and A$40 million,” he says.
“I got a lot of experience assessing financials from a lender’s point of view, assisting businesses achieve their financial goals with debt solutions.” It was here that Almulla strengthened his interpersonal and managerial skills – something he realised is invaluable to the modern accountant.
“Relationships became a big part of my role, and I learned to deal with people and manage different clients,” he says. “After one and a half years, I was ready to move up, and became relationship manager in the same division of ANZ, but in the Melbourne branch.”
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Networking for success
Two years with Judo Bank have now provided Almulla with experience at a smaller company, proving what Almulla had known all along – that an accounting degree can lead to a diverse and interesting career path.
However, Almulla warns that, in today’s technology-dominated world, simply relying on number skills will not be enough to cut through.
“For a long time, accountants were in high demand, but now they’re dealing with so much more competition, technological platforms and outsourcing that demand has dropped significantly,” he points out. “People need to distinguish themselves with something else.”
This is where networking and people skills come in.
“The best thing accountants can do now is focus on business development and networking. The people I see succeed in accounting make an effort to know the key people, to know their customers.”
The new generation of consumers want a “good experience, to deal with people who care, who return their calls”, Almulla says, which doesn’t necessarily mean seeking instant gratification in your role.
“The accountant who takes an interest in your business, who becomes a trusted adviser and who remembers your kids’ names is going to be the one who becomes indispensable to a client,” he says.
For those starting their degree, Almulla offers the following advice – always keep an open mind and don’t be afraid of asking questions. This also applies for new graduates.
“Ask to do more than your job involves,” he says, “to see what other opportunities there are out there.”
“Sometimes people get stuck in a role and just do the one thing for a long time, and that’s a problem if they’re ever out of a job, as it’s hard for them to pivot.”
To build a successful accountancy career, it always helps to think broadly.
“It’s about getting to know the businesses you work with inside out, becoming a sounding board and identifying the pain points,” he says.
One piece of advice
A good accountant does more than just numbers and compliance. He or she is a business adviser and a trusted member of the team.