Like many finance professionals, Angela Bierman, Finance Manager at Calgary West Central Primary Care Network, considers herself a recovering perfectionist.
“I’m an accountant,” she recently explained in an interview with CPA Alberta, “I used to think I don’t have the luxury of ‘good enough.’ Numbers are black and white, and they have to be perfect, but I’ve come to understand that even accountants have to embrace the grey.”
This perspective has led her to develop a specialty in building systems that support complex operations.
“I like being able to support a business in having a more strategic focus,” she shared with the Float team. “Whether we’re in good times or bad, someone always needs to count and report on the money. What’s been really exciting is not just looking backwards, but helping with analysis and projections to help businesses figure out where they’re going.”
Since beginning her career in 2008 at Fitzpatrick & Company, a local public accounting firm in Prince Edward Island, Bierman has built up a reputation as a finance powerhouse who champions innovation, embraces change, and always puts people first. In this interview with the Float team, she shares advice for fellow accountants who are looking to evolve in their careers.
What led you to pursue a career in finance? How did you get your first job?
AG: I love things that are organized and in neat and tidy boxes. I was always very good at math. It’s funny, everyone would always tell me I should be an actuary but I didn’t want to go that route. After studying engineering and psychology, that’s when I found accounting and it was home for me. I actually didn’t find accounting until my third year of university. But once I did, I knew right away it was what I was meant to do.
I worked with a local public accounting firm in Prince Edward Island called Fitzpatrick & Company for about three years. I went through the process to get my CPA designation while I was there as well. When I started with the company, it was actually their first year of operations, so I was able to see a lot of growth firsthand.
Was the job what you expected?
AG: No! A lot of people think there is monotony in accounting but working at a public accounting firm was just the opposite. Our clients were diverse; they ranged from dairy farmers to restaurants. There was so much opportunity to learn and I was really able to expand my skill set there.
At the end of the day, a business always needs a financial system and the finance team is critical in weathering that storm. A lot of organizations see finance and accounting as a cost center, something that they have to do and can’t get away from. Being able to sell leadership and management on the value that finance can bring is a lot easier when we have smart tools to help us automate and integrate our financial processes. It gives us a more strategic lens, while helping us better showcase our value.
What was the first step that you took to advance your career, personally?
AG: Any time someone asks what I’m most proud of, I always tell them it’s my Chartered Professional Accountant Designation. My journey to obtaining my CPA designation was very challenging, but it taught me a lot. I learned how to effectively prioritize and make the best use of my time. I also discovered that critical thinking is not only about what you know today, but how you approach what comes your way tomorrow.
More importantly, my CPA designation has given me the confidence to believe in my skills. Each day, it serves as a reminder that I am capable of overcoming challenges, learning difficult things, and that I deserve to be where I am. This reminder is especially helpful when imposter syndrome creeps in.
As soon as I got my CPA, I moved across the country to Calgary and have loved every second of being out West since. I jumped feet first, moved with a lease, and three interviews lined up, and the rest is history!
What other steps have you taken to level up in your career?
AG: I research software and trends as a hobby. I’m always learning new apps and follow a bunch of creators in the realm of finance business partnering on LinkedIn. For me, I really see technology as the tool that is going to make our lives easier and elevate us to do our best work. Technology is designed to eliminate and reduce data entry and prevent us from making silly mistakes. If we can have system controls that will protect us from ourselves, that’s just the way to go! I’ve been really passionate about learning more and I’m always on the lookout to grow and understand tools and technology that I can introduce to my team. I’ve also been reading about leadership, change management, and how technology serves as a tool to impact people.
What’s challenging about being a leader in finance right now?
AG: It’s a balancing act between building and generating the data and analyzing that data in a way that’s useful to tell stories. When it comes to being more innovative, I am very aware of the pace of change in which new technology is introduced. While the goal is to make everyone’s lives easier, it can also make things harder if we’re changing too much, too fast.
I’ve had to regularly assess priorities and check in on where my team and the organization is at. In my job, I try to maintain three priorities: current financial reporting, strategic focus on how I can help budget holders and leadership make better decisions, and revamping the systems that underpin the first two priorities. Any leader needs to be in the driver’s seat of their own priorities. This keeps you in a proactive instead of reactive mindset, allowing you to move the needle on what’s important to you and the organization as a whole.
What would you say are the toughest decisions finance leaders are making today?
AG: I think deciding where to make long-term investments is one of the toughest decisions. The world has changed so much in the last two to three years and when you’re making a financial decision, it’s hard to hypothesize what the conditions are going to be like in five, 10, or 15 years. Recognizing that, I think it’s important to have wider frames of acceptable risk. If you need a very narrow set of circumstances for something to succeed, your time frame needs to be short. If you’ve got a wider set of circumstances where you can envision success, then you can go a little bit longer term.
What are some of the most interesting projects that you’ve been working on?
AG: I’m really passionate about digital transformations – transforming accounting systems, new applications and innovative processes – I get so excited by all of it! Testing out new technologies and apps allows me a sense of play. Recently, I’ve been involved in several projects related to going paperless, moving to a digital invoicing system, and implementing new apps and processes.
At my current job, we changed accounting systems from a legacy ERP to cloud-based Xero and integrated several apps, including Float, which has been a lot of fun for me. It was a real game changer for my team in terms of simplifying our process, adding greater consistency, and just making our lives easier by reducing the burden of data entry. Now, we’re able to spend more time on analysis, which is where we can bring greater value to the organization.
What have been some of the boldest decisions you’ve made lately?
AG: Our previous system was not user-friendly. I really struggled with it. I couldn’t even figure out how to get my general ledger exported for Excel and do some basic analysis. Despite my level of comfort with technology, I couldn’t get what I needed out of our old system and I grew very frustrated because I knew there was a better way.
I have a healthy appetite for change and innovation, which always go hand-in-hand. When it comes to introducing new technology to my team, I like to collect data on what’s out there and observe what everyone else is doing – which is one of the reasons I initiated our switch to Xero. It had a great reputation and so many cloud-based accounting firms recommended it. There are established gold standards when it comes to apps, so I wanted to go with something that was highly reviewed.
In some ways, it feels like we’re in new finance terrain with so much technology, market volatility, changes to regulation, and other challenges. In your opinion, what steps do you take to ensure you’re making your best possible decision?
AG: Assessing risk head on is key. It’s crucial to critically examine which risks you’re willing to accept and which ones you’re going to actively mitigate. It’s also important to understand your own values and the organization’s values, so that no matter what comes your way, you can use that as a framework to make the right decisions.
Another is pulling the plug on a project I’ve spent money on that’s not working. Sometimes you need to try things out in order to fully understand if it’s going to work and benefit the business. If I spend money and it doesn’t work out, I have no qualms letting it go. I’ve paid to learn something I might not have otherwise known, which has given me direction to look at alternative options. I’m not paralysed by waiting to find the perfect solution. Instead, I move quickly and sometimes that means failing forward.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not flippant with spending money, but it’s critical to take a step back and assess if what we’re doing is really working. Something I always tell my team is to take the hiccups and mishaps as lessons, and make different mistakes, not the same ones.
Being able to sell leadership and management on the value that finance can bring is a lot easier when we have smart tools to help us automate and integrate our financial processes. It gives us a more strategic lens, while helping us better showcase our value.Angela Gill
Are there any mentors who have helped you level up into leadership? What is some of the best advice or guidance that you’ve ever received?
AG: I have an executive coach – her name is Dr. Wilma Slenders. She works for a company called Transcend Management and has been instrumental in my growth as an individual and leader. It’s hard to get that independent lens of what you’re struggling with at work. There’s confidentiality concerns, and seeing somebody that’s completely outside of your organization is really valuable.
Dr. Wilma Slenders has an ability to ask me the right questions and is so helpful with communication. Personally, I want to be more direct in the way I communicate and she’s taught me how to use the correct language and has even recommended great articles and books. She listens and validates, and is able to give me a new perspective on things – because often, the problem is not what we think it is.
What are some of your future aspirations?
AG: I love working in an environment that is collaborative, innovative, and psychologically safe. I’ve been having a tremendous amount of fun with software implementation and systems improvement. I recently started a TikTok channel for tech and productivity tips to help others beat burnout. It has really scratched my creative itch! I’m very eager to share my passion and enthusiasm for technology in ways that help make people’s lives easier.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for aspiring finance leaders?
AG: Assess your people and leadership skills. A lot of finance leaders are incredible with numbers, it’s where our training was focused and where our skill and comfort level lies. Since obtaining my CPA and going into leadership and management, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of lessons, so I’ve invested in improving my skills in that area.
I don’t work in isolation. To achieve, I need a team that is aligned, I need collaboration from peers, and I need support from leadership and management. I don’t have it figured out 100%, but I continue to work on it everyday.
I also think the finance industry can be prone to burn out. We have a lot of deadlines, a lot of expectations, and a lot of manual work that has to happen. I would encourage everybody – especially those early in their careers – to set healthy boundaries and have balance. Understand that the work is going to be there tomorrow.