The path of most resistance: how young accountants are disrupting and innovating

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CPA Australia’s Future Thinkers series tells the remarkable stories of members shifting the dial in business, the community and society.

James Young knows that a world of opportunities can spring from the decision to change course. When Young, who’s currently Australia Post’s Operations Manager, Revenue Services, was studying law at Victoria University, he felt uninspired by the static nature of interpreting legislation. He made a switch to business and accounting and he’s now studying the CPA program.

He says:

“In my first year of law, I rapidly realised that I was after something a little more dynamic that gave me the freedom to chase things that I’m really passionate about. I found that I was really excited about the commercial aspects of business and accounting. It allowed me to be creative and make my mark.”

Traditionally, accountants have been seen as trusted advisers, trained to provide organisations with insights into balance sheets and revenue. Young’s trajectory, however, spans some of the most respected multinational organisations in the country. It’s also testament to the fact that finance and accounting professionals are also equipped to innovate and provide strategic direction — whether that means trimming costs, driving productivity or creating experiences that boost customer loyalty and sales.

In his final year at university, Young researched organisations that shifted the economic landscape in Australia. Through this he was inspired by the story of an Australian logistics company with ambitions of achieving world-class efficiency across the country’s ports and waterfronts.

“I wrote to them and asked, ‘how do I work for you?’,” he laughs. “Then, I delivered some of their instrumental supply chain solutions — definitely not standard work for a finance graduate.”

This led to roles in the oil and gas sector, as well as leadership positions in the insights and analytics arena for one of Australia’s most trusted supermarket chains. For Young, a stint working for an international grocery giant deepened his understanding of the relationship between finance and operations, especially when it comes to anticipating ups and downs in the industry. He says:

“Supermarkets are a low-margin, high-volume game — it’s about how many bananas or avocados can be shifted in one day. Being an accountant is really about having a solid understanding of a business and the volume and price drivers which ultimately affect the performance of an organisation.”

These deep insights into how an organisation’s revenue impacts its performance can hone a powerful commercial acumen. Young says that it can also lead to innovative breakthroughs that can help an organisation grow in unexpected ways, while also preparing and capitalising on the forces of disruption. At Australia Post, a company that’s fast being shaped by technological changes, Young has helped turn cost centres into revenue streams.

“If you think about customer facing departments, in many organisations, they are often the first to be outsourced but they are also the first touchpoint for the customer so if the customer has a bad experience, that’s what sticks with them,” says Young, who joined Australia Post in May 2015.

“Instead of reducing costs for back office functions, we offer customers the option to self-serve. But if they want something more tailored, we offer a premium service that they are willing to pay for. So now, our back office function generates revenue for the business.”

Young says that the biggest challenge he faces in his role at Australia Post is serving a wide and varied customer base while making sure that the business responds to seismic consumer shifts. “We have customers as large as the Big Four Banks and as small as someone making candles in their kitchen,” he says.

“The biggest challenge is coming up with a service model that meets as many needs as possible without impacting our customers. As an organisation, we’re facing changes in the way people communicate — people now send emails rather than letters but when they do send letters, they want them sent at a certain speed for a special occasion. When people buy something online, they want to see it every step of the way — one day I can see us moving to GPS-tracked parcels. But we have to put this in the innovation pipeline and there’s a cost [attached].”

Through his career, Young has built his strategic and commercial vision. Now, he says, working towards his CPA is helping him understand the financial and regulatory principles that will empower smarter, more agile decisions.

“It’s giving me the ability not just to talk to the commercial aspects of the situation but to apply the fundamental financial principles,” says Young, who is taking one unit a semester and juggling his studies with the experience of becoming a father for the first time.

“Understanding the legal and regulatory implications is giving me a fundamental framework with which to operate. There are opportunities to improve in every industry, but finance and accounting has a unique lens. We are uniquely positioned to come up with innovative drivers that can shift the dial.”

Start your own inspiring story by becoming a CPA. The CPA program teaches not only accounting, but also the skills to help you reach the next level – leadership, strategy and business. Start your CPA journey today.

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