Trail Blazing CPA Strengthens Indigenous Businesses

CPAs can be found in every industry, being experts at more than numbers – and they’re great with those, too.

Every month, CPA Manitoba spotlights the diverse and dedicated professionals that prove CPA is more than a designation. 

It's exactly why I got my CPA designation. I wanted to help people understand the financial world, which can be complicated and stressful

It wasn’t until grade 11 at West Kildonan Collegiate that Carter Wilson, CPA got a little taste of his first accounting course.

“I really enjoyed the course. It was weird, I liked the monotonous journal entries, writing everything down and calculating equations manually,” said Wilson.

When he stopped to think about what had learned, it sparked a lot of thoughts about his home community of Peguis First Nation.

“It got me thinking about the financial decision-making side of things. I always wondered if there was an innovative way to look at things and a way to make every dollar go further for the community,” explained Wilson. “These are the kind of things my family and I were curious about and I just became even more interested after I started taking accounting in high school.”

From there, Wilson attended the University of Manitoba where he became the first Indigenous representative on the Commerce Students’ Association and was the President of the University of Manitoba Indigenous Commerce Students (UMICS).

UMICS is a student group for those who identify with or have a common interest in enhancing Indigenous culture within the Asper School of Business. As business leaders, they aim to create a sense of community by forging partnerships with organizations within and surrounding the University of Manitoba.

“I was proud of being the first Indigenous representative on the Commerce Students’ Association. Becoming the President of UMICS was interesting because we didn’t have much to work with at first and I saw it more of a bridge building role. We wanted to figure out how to connect with non-Indigenous students, how to get the word out there, how to get everyone into understanding and wanting to listen,” said Wilson. “On a day-to-day basis, we organized lots of events, but on a visionary scale we wanted to change perspectives. We were able to give away free Indigenous food in the main atrium, had dancing lessons in the common areas and by the end of the year, people were much more comfortable chatting with me about Indigenous topics.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting and Finance, he began the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP). During his time in the program, he was awarded the Lorraine Taraska, FCPA, FCA Scholarship and the James W. Clarke, FCPA, FCA Award from the CPA Manitoba Foundation.

The Lorraine Taraska, FCPA, FCA Scholarship is presented to individuals entering the CPA Professional Education Program (PEP) who demonstrate a passion for involvement in community activities and leadership abilities. The James W. Clarke, FCPA, FCA Award is presented to Indigenous candidates who successfully complete the CPA Common Final Examination (CFE).

“The CPA PEP program was tough, but it wasn’t the content that was difficult, it was the time management part. Overall, it was a great experience and it helped significantly improve my communication skills which is key -- especially in my role now -- where I must help people understand complex topics,” he said. “It was a real honour to receive the scholarship and the award from the CPA Manitoba Foundation and to be recognized for all my hard work I had put into CPA PEP.”

Recently, Wilson has also been featured in the CPA Manitoba Foundation’s new video, Purpose. The video highlights the main role of the CPA Manitoba Foundation and how they help candidates fulfill their dreams of becoming CPAs.

“It was a great experience being a part of the Foundation’s promotional video. There’s not much representation of Indigenous people as CPAs across Canada. So, it was nice to be given the opportunity, it really makes you feel like you are in the profession and that it’s attainable for anyone,” Wilson said.

As a CPA, Wilson had several roles at MNP. He started as a summer student and has moved his way up to Staff Accountant, Experienced Accountant, Senior Associate and finally to as the position he now holds as a Designated Professional in MNP’s EASE Indigenous Services program.

“In a nutshell, I work with Indigenous organizations to better their financial functions. Although finance can be the main focus, it often also relates to other functional areas such as Human Resources and Information Technology. It could be many different things like developing financial policies, redesigning processes, reorganizing finance functions, implementing accounting systems and leveraging emerging technologies specifically for Indigenous organizations,” explained Wilson.

For all his hard work, he was featured in this past April’s CPA Canada Pivot Magazine article called Introducing the next generation of CPAs. 

“It was great, I was flattered to be asked to participate and be one of five people across the country picked. Lots of people reached out to me about it including James Clarke who sent me an email,” he said.

So far in his career, Wilson can look to a few different projects that he has found rewarding in his line of work and during his time in university.

“I had started the first version of the Future of Indigenous Business Banquet during my time in UMICS. But, it was nowhere near as good as it is now when they have a around 200 people dinner in normal circumstances,” Wilson said with a laugh. “At work, one of the projects I enjoy the most is working with a group of Indigenous entrepreneurs that are starting up their own business. They need help with taxes, accounting and it can become stressful if it is a new area for you. Especially with First Nations peoples as there are different tax rules that may apply. So, I’m almost like the project manager for them and I ask them ‘what is your biggest concern financially?’ and I find ways to solve it.”

“It's exactly why I got my CPA designation. I wanted to help people understand the financial world, which can be complicated and stressful,” said Wilson.

For future Indigenous CPAs, Wilson has some thoughtful advice.

“You can add value to the world. Most of the time, I've discovered that people who really seem like they know everything might know a lot, but you can always add value in some different way, and you can add a perspective, especially in the Indigenous context. Add an Indigenous layer of culture or your own background knowledge and that will offer amazing value,” stated Wilson.