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Tuesday Transformation - Malika Chow

Accounting & Finance Professional, Cayman Islands

Who is Malika Chow?

Though a Chartered Accountant by profession I wear several hats depending on the time and occasion. I was born and raised in Barbados and I’ve spent most of my professional career in Banking. Not quite the traditional path of an Accountant but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The real value of education comes from application, it was a blessing to be in the Banking industry whilst pursuing a degree in Banking and Finance. I’m a big thinker and a problem solver which has fueled my entrepreneurial spirit over the years. I enjoy teaching and advocating for financial literacy, I publish free content and offer training seminars for interested groups. Growing up I actually wanted to be a teacher, it’s funny how life comes full circle. I am passionate about serving my community and I make time to give back whether it be through mentorship, skills sharing or financial means. One outlet of my volunteering efforts is through a gem of a non profit organization called JCI Barbados; of which I have been a member for just over 5 years and even served as an elected President in 2017.

I love to read and travel, two things I would have a hard time giving up - well played COVID-19. Thankfully this year, I was able to try out new experiences during the lock-down period such as baking and gardening. Hoping 2021 shapes up to be a better climate for travel enthusiasts.

What does a typical day for Malika look like?

I’m a planner and a believer in the power of manifestation. Sundays are my ‘reset’ days and I make a list of action items to set the pace for the week ahead. I’m not a morning person or a night owl, I fit oddly somewhere in between. I wake up with just enough time to make coffee, go through my emails and get ready for work. As refined as this may sound it is a mad rush almost every morning - no exaggeration! I get in from work around 6 pm and detox from my work day with light reading or watching an episode of Black-ish or Modern Family - too funny! After this I head to the gym or attend a yoga class to keep me happy and healthy. I try to incorporate at least one or two working hours at night for my passion projects. I like to read just before bed to wind down and I’m usually sound asleep by 11pm.

What was your first job?

My first job was at Cafe Blue, a coffee and restaurant shop. I worked there for 2 years starting off as a part-time job that slowly transitioned to full time hours. I was then an 18 year old in my final semester at Barbados Community College. I’m not even sure what my title was but needless to say I did it all. Depending on what was required on the shift, I was serving up sandwiches or wraps, foaming milk for lattes or blending the perfect smoothie mix. I mopped floors, stacked chairs and hoisted flags. As you could imagine the pay left very little to be desired but it covered my first year university tuition fees and learning materials. It was also here that I honed my customer service skills and developed a work ethic. Whatever you do; execute to the best of your ability. Now you know the roots of my coffee obsession and why my pasta is so bomb!

Tell us about your transition from Barbados to Cayman Islands.

I knew from early on that I wanted to have the experience of living and working abroad. Cayman was always on my list of places and my partner resided here which made it an even more viable option. Ideally the plan was to secure a job before moving, but I saw an opportunity where for the first time in my life I could take a break to refocus. I made the decision to move at the end of September 2018 and within a month I resigned from my job, sold and donated my possessions, packed up and left. Scariest decision I have made to date, I remember sitting in my empty apartment thinking ‘What have you done, this is crazy!’ Evidently I got over that moment and I lived my best life for just over 3 months. It was 3 months of introspection, I learnt a lot about myself in that down time, discovered new hobbies and traveled to new cities. After a glorious 3 month hiatus I was hired to work in the accounts department at a local law firm and I am currently transitioning to another firm within the financial services sector.

Cayman Islands is a melting pot of cultures, it’s reported to be an island of over 135 nationalities. I have met a lot of interesting people here, constantly entertained by stories of what home is like for them. The island does have some similarities to Barbados, that slow paced, relaxed environment, same island life feel so there hasn’t been any notable culture shocks per se. What I did find interesting is the fact that bars and clubs close their doors at 11:59 pm on Saturdays due to the local laws restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday mornings. The party is literally done at 11:59 pm, a very stark contrast to back home where the party is only now warming up at this time.

How did you remain motivated when pursuing your ACCA qualification?

ACCA isn’t strictly about accounting, I found the coursework to be holistic in nature covering all aspects of finance and I thoroughly enjoyed it for that reason. It is very common for persons to attain the ACCA qualification and then go on to specialize in areas such as investment, auditing, accounting, risk analysis or even law. The exams however, are difficult to pass. Compounded by the fact that I don't perform well in test environments and I was working full time, it wasn’t smooth sailing for me. I have actually never finished any of my exams and I had to resit two papers. Failing an exam, which is more common than you think, in no way reflects on the quality of professional that you could become. This is the thought process that kept me going. I also had great mentorship that supported me and encouraged me along the way. Staying motivated after failing was indeed challenging but giving up was not an option. If you are failing, fail gracefully. I didn’t beat myself up too much about it, I figured out what worked and what didn’t and changed my strategy accordingly.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a career in Accounting?

The accounting profession is changing drastically due to digital innovations and technologies in the workplace but one constant variable is the need for the professional to interpret and make sense of the data. Every industry needs an accounting and finance function proving it to be a worthwhile career, however before you choose to invest your time and financial resources be sure that accounting is a field that you enjoy and want to make a career out of it. I’ve seen too many instances where people get stuck in careers that do not fulfill them. Choose your path and explore the variations within the field; find something that works for you. The support of loved ones and mentorship is also extremely beneficial. A good mentor has walked the path before and will be able to share valuable insight and help to navigate your journey.

Any advice for our readers who may be interested in pursuing employment in Cayman Islands?

The job market in Cayman Islands is highly competitive. Expats account for just over half of the job market here and most hires are done through recruitment firms. Coming from an island, island life is the only way I know but for persons way beyond the shores of the Caribbean, island life is appealing and this is the pitch used by recruiters along with a strong stable currency and tax free income. To compete with applicants from across the world be sure to have your resume impeccably written and sharpen up on your interviewing skills. Having experience in the financial and legal sector is advantageous as well as being on island. The most common success stories have been auditors transferring from Big 4 Accounting Firms.

What do you miss most about home?

Family and friends, 1000%. This is my first real experience of living abroad, all of my memories were made in Barbados. It’s the most simple of things I miss the most. I miss my friends unexpectedly stopping by to go out for food. I miss going out for ice cream and watching movies with my mom. I miss the meeting after the meeting with my JCI family. It has been difficult trying to maintain those relations and finding a way to be present beyond the physical. There is an end goal in mind that I am working towards; sometimes you have to step out in order to determine how best to step back in. Barbados will always be home, I’ll be back soon.


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