UBC alumna shares how she found her dream job at her alma mater

CPA Tino Lo climbs to new heights at UBC with a career in finance



Tina Lo pursued a CPA designation before taking a role at UBC’s Treasury Department, a decision that not only furthered her career, but now influences her projections and hiring mindset

For most, the thought of work piling up 18 storeys high on your desk is unappealing; unless you manage a construction budget of $125.9 million, that is.

“It’s amazing to see the building finished and realize, ‘Hey, that’s what I’ve been working on,'” says former financial analyst at UBC’s Treasury Department and current Finance Manager of the Faculty of Medicine Tina Lo, CPA, CMA. Orchard Commons is UBC’s newest residence, named for the orange Orchard House that used to stand there – coincidentally the same building in which the treasury used to reside.

Lo, who attended UBC as a commerce student, is keeping up with the modernization of the campus. She’s managed daily cash and investments, and maintained financial models, tracking debt, liquidity and other trends for the university.

While Lo has climbed to incredible heights in her career at UBC, she remembers struggling to choose the best path when she was still a student. She pondered pharmacy, accounting and marketing, before settling on finance. Its forward-looking perspective appealed to her sensibilities, and job prospects in Hong Kong — the city she called home until the age of 14 — were great. Following her time at UBC, she pursued a graduate degree in economics at the University of Hong Kong. Afterward, Lo was quickly employed at Goldman Sachs’ Hong Kong office.

While Lo’s career plan had succeeded, she felt something was missing. “I didn’t care for the lifestyle,” she explains. Lo missed Vancouver’s proximity to hiking and snowboarding, as well as her friends from university. But with fewer opportunities in finance on Canada’s west coast, Lo expected to make some compromises.

Lo took a position at KPMG Canada’s Vancouver office, where she specialized in assurance and tax services. It was then — with her job’s focus shifting to accounting rather than finance — that Lo decided to pursue the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation. It was a detour from her original career goals, but one that would ultimately pay off.

The CPA program offers rigorous leadership training for strategic financial management. Essentially, it’s a boot camp aimed at pushing a support-level accounting career up to that of major influencer. Lo, for example, used her accounting experience from KPMG and leadership training as a CPA to propel her into a dream position – financial analyst in the treasury overseeing her much-loved alma mater, UBC.

Lo was able to use tools from her CPA training to tackle the challenge of UBC’s decentralized financial structure. “Each faculty initiates an enormous number of transactions every day, each with its own finance team and director,” she explains.

While tracking key performance indicators for variance, Lo noticed trends that allowed for more accurate forecasting. “I’m also involved in creating a comprehensive cash flow model to generate both long- and short-term forecasts. This will potentially translate into an important piece for high-level strategic and capital planning for the university.”

Without a background in financial reporting, she may not have seen these connections. “Finance may be about looking ahead but you need accounting knowledge,” Lo explains. “You have to know how the numbers look in the ledger to show managers the reconciliation between the budget and the actuals.”

Lo says another valuable skill she learned in her CPA training was public speaking. The CPA module on presentations provided weekly practice and constructive feedback from a moderator. “I really appreciate that CPA pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the confidence to make presentations to senior management and colleagues.”

Lo recently took a management role in the Faculty of Medicine. Having honed her people skills advising UBC’s top executive, Lo is keen to showcase these talents as a finance manager. She’s also sure that, when hiring time comes, resumes with CPA designations will earn a closer look. “If I’m looking for someone who doesn’t just focus on numbers and spreadsheets, but sees things both strategically and financially and isn’t afraid to make changes to status quo, I’d hire a CPA.”