Supporting the Community During COVID-19

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. 

All along the way, I've had different people in my life there to support me and help me grow as a professional, so I think that just really inspired me to help give back.

Michelle Bergen, CPA always prides herself on giving back. After having many great mentors over the years, whether at school, work or through the CPA program, it’s no wonder she is paying it forward with The Winnipeg Foundation.

“All along the way, I've had different people in my life there to support me and help me grow as a professional, so I think that just really inspired me to help give back,” explained Bergen.

As a Senior Financial Analyst at The Winnipeg Foundation, she has many jobs which include building relationships with charitable organizations, payroll and much more.

“We have over 200 charitable organizations that we work with and these groups hold permanent agency endowment funds, which provide them with annual streams of income,” said Bergen. “It’s a great experience being able to meet different groups within the city and see what's going on. There's a lot of charitable organizations that I had no idea even existed.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Manitoba, The Winnipeg Foundation shifted gears from its usual granting cycles and set up two different stages of emergency response granting. Immediately as the pandemic was declared, The Foundation made more than $2 million in emergency response grants to front line agencies serving vulnerable populations, and then followed-up with Stabilization grants - which provided another $8.9 million to local charitable organizations affected by revenue loss and unexpected expenses due to the pandemic.

The Foundation also partnered with the federal government to distribute support through its Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) and additional national and community partners -- Community Foundations of Canada, Canadian Red Cross and United Way Winnipeg - to allocate funding for charities and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Canada’s first community foundation, The Winnipeg Foundation Is celebrating its centennial in 2021 and will continue to help ensure ‘a Winnipeg where community life flourishes for all’.

Before Bergen became a CPA and an essential member of The Winnipeg Foundation team, she was enrolled at Providence University College & Theological Seminary. After a year of studies, she transferred to the Asper School of Business.

“In high school, I always thought about pursuing my business degree because, I love numbers. So, accounting was always on my radar,” said Bergen.

The summer before starting at Asper School of Business, Bergen was working in the University of Manitoba Admissions Office when she received some helpful advice from a friend.

“She recommended to me that I look into the Asper School of Business Co-op program. It ended up being a great choice as I was able to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it straight into the workplace,” Bergen explained.

During the co-op program, she spent all three of her work terms at Deloitte and this was followed up by joining the newly formed CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP).

“I was one of the first to go through CPA PEP. It was interesting in the sense that we didn’t have anyone coaching us that had gone through the program before. There were some challenges and things being ironed out, but it was great having friends and colleagues going through the program with me,” said Bergen.

Bergen also recalls how supportive everyone was in CPA PEP.

“Our Deloitte mentors would sit down with us if we had any questions. There were also weekly check-in meetings to make sure we were doing okay. They were even willing to mark extra cases and give us tips,” she said. “The program feels long, but they really prepare you for it. I am grateful for the people who helped me.”

Throughout CPA PEP, Bergen realized two key things that are important for any CPA candidate.

“The program really prepares you for the CFE (Common Final Exam), but the main things you have to learn are time and stress management. If you can’t master those it could all fall through the cracks,” Bergen explained.

Upon successfully writing the CFE and becoming a CPA, Bergen continued to work at Deloitte as a Senior Tax Analyst. From there, she embraced a new career challenge at M Group Chartered Professional Accountants before accepting her current role at The Winnipeg Foundation.

“I think one of the favourite career moments so far is all the people that I’ve met along the way. I still have lots of friends that I went into the CPA program with and Winnipeg is so small you run into people you know all the time. I’ve also been fortunate to work at great firms like Deloitte and M Group,” she said.

Throughout her career, Bergen recalls a few challenges that she had to overcome. She attributes her success to her faith, everything she has learned during her time in the CPA program and to all her mentors/managers.

“Going from audit to tax was a pretty big change, so having colleagues who were there to answer questions and teach me things was a huge help. Next, I switched from public practice to not-for-profit and that was another massive transition. It just goes to show, even though I had at least a few years under my belt, there's still things I’m learning every day,” Bergen noted.

When asked about what she sees as the best thing about her career, she did not hesitate with her answer.

“It’s the versatility of the designation. It gives you a lot of options and you're always going to be able to learn something new,” explained Bergen. “There are jobs that are more independent and then there are others that are very collaborative. It's really up to you to decide what you want to do and how you want to do it.”

Finally, Bergen has some thoughtful advice for anyone considering the CPA program.

“I would definitely recommend students look into the Asper School of Business Co-op program because it gives you firsthand experience in the workplace. For the CPA program, it’s key to have family, friends and mentors to lean on and to help with stress and time management. Your time in CPA PEP goes by quickly and you will get through it. In the end, the CPA designation is worth it,” said Bergen.