Giving Back through Financial Literacy

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. 

As CPAs, we have the unique training and expertise to deliver financial literacy information to people at all stages in life

As November is Financial Literacy month, Canadians are encouraged to embrace this year’s theme “Take charge of your finances” by having a savings and debt reduction plan, making a budget and understanding financial rights and responsibilities. But where to start? Brigitte Lazarko, CPA, CA is one of the many volunteers that deliver the CPA Financial Literacy Program to help Canadians understand these issues and more.

“As CPAs, we have the unique training and expertise to deliver financial literacy information to people at all stages in life,” explained Lazarko. “I’ve presented to various groups and stakeholders, including new Canadians, seniors and others. One thing I’ve learned as a volunteer is that it’s not just one group of people that can use this information – it’s everyone.”

In 2012, the Parliament of Canada proclaimed November as Financial Literacy Month. The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of strengthening an individual’s financial well-being. This goal, along with her own experiences, motivated Lazarko to volunteer for CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy Program.

“Financial literacy is important to me because I grew up in a tough financial situation. Also, I believe giving back to something that touched me personally is important,” said Lazarko.

Her presentations include Saving Strategies, Understanding Financial Statements and Tax Strategies. She’s presented to teachers and economic development organizations, and also presented sessions through the Winnipeg Public Library.

“I'm a real big believer that education is the one thing that nobody can take away from you. And I think knowledge to make informed choices is the most important and powerful tool that you can provide to someone. It’s really important to explain the topics in a way so that attendees can make informed choices regarding their finances and understand the consequences or ramifications of those choices,” said Lazarko.

When she isn’t volunteering with the CPA Financial Literacy Program, she is exercising her accounting skills with GWL Realty Advisors (GWLRA) as the Senior Director of Finance.

“I oversee corporate financial reporting, accounting research and audit coordination, taxation, accounts payable, treasury, centralized processing and Canadian financial reporting with respect to our U.S. business. Our teams are involved with ensuring we support all of the regional finance teams across the country in managing over 235 properties in Canada,” she explained.

In terms of rewarding projects Lazarko has worked on, she would tell you that leading a national transition of assets and helping GWLRA expand into the United States are the most satisfying to date.

“The real estate market in Canada and the United States have some similarities, but they’re also very different. The way business is done in the U.S. is very different than in Canada. The markets are different and even the banking system is different,” she described. “It’s really interesting getting to learn new systems and meet new people across the country.”

These projects tie into what Lazarko values as a CPA.

“When I talk to people about a career as a CPA, I always tell them that the versatility it provides is the best part. CPAs get to play so many roles and our contribution is often what we make of it,” she explained. “You can work in any industry in virtually any management capacity because the designation is so well respected. My opinions are sought after not just for accounting, but when people need to problem solve or when trying to do the best thing for a particular client.”

As Lazarko looks forward into the future, her goals narrow down to one theme, learning.

“The opportunity to continue to learn in my role is really important to me, because the organization I work for is growing and continues to explore different avenues to invest in. Being part of this is really exciting. I think as long as I have the opportunity to learn and grow, I’ll continue towards achieving this goal,” she said with a smile.

If you’re wondering how financial literacy knowledge can make a real-world impact, Lazarko has a memory worth sharing.

“A woman came to a Financial Literacy Tax Strategies session I was giving to ask whether or not her children’s braces were a medical expense. She told me the specifics and due to a number of factors I wasn’t sure – but vowed to get back to her. I ended up emailing her the next day and it ended up saving them a lot of money. She was quite thrilled and was able to tell her husband ‘I told you so’ because he didn’t think the expense could be claimed,” Lazarko said with a laugh.

Financial Literacy volunteers are always in demand. There is a need for session presenters, like Lazarko, who deliver knowledge to small-to-medium sized groups and writers, who provide content for financial literacy blogs and e-newsletters. To find out more, visit CPAcanada.ca/the-CPA-profession/financial-literacy.

Connect with Brigitte on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brigitte-lazarko-cpa-ca-666b9124/