LOOK BACK AND AHEAD: 12 things I learned in 2018

Every year, I write year in review for VoicePoints – covering every moment that has happened in the Philippines and around the world. This time is different. I am sharing twelve things I learned in 2018 from news and events happened in our country to happiest and challenging moments in my personal and professional life.

  • January – Heed lessons from experiences

We all made mistakes in 2017 and I hope, we took actions in 2018. Every year, this cycle does not change. We continue committing mistakes and we all learn from it. Take for example the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which took effect 1 January this year. It has been widely praised for lowering the income taxes of the vast majority of salaried and self-employed taxpayers. But some also criticize the new tax law for raising excise taxes and lifting the exemption of zero rating of some economic activities from value-added taxes (VAT), which are blamed for the surge in consumer prices.

It was the boldest step made by the Duterte administration for years as the tax system has been widely criticized. As the government is working on legislating future tax packages, it must also focus its attention on lessons from the TRAIN experience. It should make measures to boost revenue collections without sacrificing a wide array of commodities to fill the revenue gap.

Meanwhile, the Filipino people should trust the government. TRAIN law is here to align expectations of the poorer community, to help address health and economic issues. While we embrace our mistakes, we should trust the process. We must believe that mistakes from the past allow us to think for the better future.

  • February – Work-life balance is work-life-choice

In 17 February, I represented KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. as a resource speaker, together with former Professional Regulation Commission – Board of Accountancy member Eliseo Aurellado and other CPA professionals, in the fourth installment of Academic Conference of the National Federation of Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants – National Capital Region (NFJPIA-NCR) Council, held at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

One officer during the open forum asked us about the stand of auditing firms regarding a viral news about an auditor from one of the Big Four professional services firms who died from overwork.

Any job, I believe, has stressful elements even if you love what you do. You may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. How should we deal with this? But I think, a better question is – how should we prevent stress? The answer is simple, ‘work-life balance’ but finding its definition is more difficult. One Advisory Partner shared that her definition is “putting work at the center of our life.” When an Audit Partner shared me his definition last March – “work-life balance is work-life-choice” – I put these two definitions together.

I think finding the balance between work and life is not an easy way as you need to find first your purpose – why are you here? The answer to these questions are questions – what are your needs and the needs of those around you, and what is your passion?

For me, passion is not about doing what you love but loving what you do. Sometimes, there are things we want to do but we were not given a chance to do it. We end up doing the hardest things we could ever have imagined.

We all want the best things in life but the best thing we could have is to give our self and those around us a time. This is where that Audit Partner comes from. The best gift we could give and have is time. Material things are there. A successful career can be built over time but each moment does not come along the way, you create it.

When you put these two things together – passion and time – you’ll be able to find your purpose and create the best formula of work-life balance. Of course, we have our own definition of it. For me, work-life balance is about loving what you do and at the same time, doing what you love.

  • March – Perseverance is key to success

In 11 March, I attended a symposia at the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman as an interviewer of selected NCR Accountancy students to prepare them in the corporate world. Here, I met a graduating student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)-Manila. I intend not to disclose his name to protect his privacy. I was deeply touched by his story. He comes from a broken family. His mother and siblings are staying in their province, while he is studying in Manila.

I remember him asking me, “Tumatanggap po ba kayo ng non-CPA? (Do you accept non-CPA applicants?)” He was planning to work first before taking the October 2018 CPA board examination. I told him that he may want to consider reviewing during weekends and work during weekdays. After this event, I did not hear about him until I met him in an audit convention, where I was a break-out session facilitator, in Century Hotel Manila the following month. He’s an active JPIA member so I invited him to attend an event I created for CPA reviewees in September. When we met then, he shared that he would work on weekdays and attend review school every evening. Every weekend, he would go home to their province. I asked what motivates him. His response: “Para may pantustos sa review, para sa pamilya. (To fund my review, for my family)”

‘CPAs-Reviewees Meet-up’ Project

From the first time we met until now, he never failed to inspire me. I would always share his story to some students. He is now a CPA and works with KPMG in the Philippines as an external auditor.

Success is more a journey with twists, turns, ups and downs. It takes passion, dedication and perseverance to get there. The quality embedded in every successful man is the quality of perseverance, which makes even seemingly impossible event possible. The most important lesson we should learn from this story is the step we can take towards achieving our goal is taking actions but we do not go through with it the whole way simply, we should have a quality of perseverance.

  • April – Choose who you trust

The 2017/18 busy season was my first stint as an Audit Supervisor. My leadership style was challenged. The best thing I learned during my entire three-year (and counting) stay in the firm is that not all people can be trusted, not all people can be considered friends.

When you choose to trust some people, this means that you want to be surrounded with people who you can count on and who know they can count on you. To put it simply, there is no trust without risk – not all people care about you nor help you achieve your goals. Some people around you might want to destroy the foundation that you built. Be mindful of sharing stories as some people tend to share the same stories outside your circle without getting your permission. Some people judge you with your stories without confirming the details with you.

In the end, you can only trust yourself and your family. Always trust your decisions and yourself. Trust yourself despite the mistakes you make because this quality earns great rewards.

Thanks to my mentors who helped me realize this and for putting trust despite the challenges. I learned to trust people who believe in me and the people who trust me.

  • May – Embrace change

During the academic conference in Letran, a student from Far Eastern University-Manila asked during the forum if there is a threat to the accounting profession with robotics and artificial intelligence coming in.

Website willrobotstakemyjob.com predicts that 94% is the likelihood that the accounting profession will be replaced by a robot. Even if you think that this is overstated, there’s no denying that the trend is happening. You can imagine that with this kind of prediction means both what we do and how we do it are subject to great change over the years. This has brought change in how we do things, the tools that we use, the risk areas we look at, the solutions we give and the strategies we implement – for example, the simple robotics processes automation presented by KPMG in Japan during our Data and Analytics Masterclass, along with Audit Partners and Country Innovation Leaders, in Thailand last May as part of KPMG Asia-Pacific Audit and Assurance Conference, where our team from the Philippines placed fifth in the Data and Analytics Challenge (champion, locally).

In every Data and Analytics training I facilitate, I always emphasize that the only thing in this world that is permanent is change. Businesses continue to grow. Whatever the results maybe, transactions are growing constantly, which means to say that data is much bigger than you expect. But the message here is that robots cannot replace how humans perform analysis. But we must leverage on technology to do our jobs faster, smarter and more accurate.  We need to adopt new skills to be able to compete in this new business landscape. We must embrace change.

  • June – When you make tough decisions, weigh the pros and cons

In this mid-life journey, I once said – I go to work, I know my routine, and I repeat this five days a week. There’s nothing new. I came into a point where I want to leave my job. It was a long process of decision making until end of August, I decided to leave in October.

At that time, I only thought of one thing – attending to my church duties. The Tax Partner leading PPC (our firm’s HR department) talked to me. I had several reasons to leave other than my church duties – from audit culture to people behavior. She asked me to think of the things I love to do.

We enter into risky situations for the chance to satisfy our ego by losing sight of the things we really can’t afford to lose. After our conversation, I weighed the pros and cons of leaving my job. Then, I realized that if I leave, I would need to adapt to a new environment and do the same things. I would leave the initiatives I already started in the firm. A lot of meaningful realizations – I stayed but moved to other department. I joined our firm’s Technical Advisory Group, which provides consultations, from accounting, audit and regulatory requirements, to our client-facing teams.

Despite our short-term desires, leaving for the wrong reasons may not be aligned with our long-term goals. Leave if you are not happy with what you are doing, if you want growth. Stay if you feel that you are still growing, if you are still happy, if the passion is still there. Leaving is an option but it is not the only one. Think and assess.

  • July – Build self-confidence, then inspire confidence

July was the start of my second year facilitating trainings for our firm’s audit professionals but it was only then that I trained to be one through a workshop, which build my self-confidence. I started facilitating trainings last year and have been an active resource speaker in some external events. Most people do not agree that I am an introvert whenever I share my story. They don’t agree because they see that I am confident every time I speak before an audience, younger or older.

KPMG inspired me confidence. My mentors always say that “to have a confidence, keep in your mind that you are in front of them because you are more knowledgeable on that field, you were trusted to deliver that topic.”

I always bring the message “inspire confidence” when I sit as a judge in every competition and case study. Last April, there was an audit case competition, participated by NCR schools, in Baguio City. There were four teams from PUP-Manila and UP-Diliman. The other team from UP-Diliman backed out. The teams felt the pressure and planned to back out. I talked to them and gave them time to complete the case. The presentation started late by three hours. After the conversation per team, they were able to deliver what was expected of them.

The lesson from the story is to think positively about yourself. Confidence is not something that can be learned from a manual, or something that can be followed like a set of rules. It is a state of mind. Confidence is about believing in your capability and own ability, skills and experience. If you ask me the secret to building self-confidence, I cannot give a concrete solution. Self-confidence is a work-in-progress even for me. Positive thinking and talking to other people are useful techniques to boost your confidence levels.

  • August – We all have our own season

Teresita de Castro was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 25 August. This was her season in a short ran. Maria Lourdes Sereno had her own as de facto. Viewing it either on a positive or negative side, both women have a fair share of ups and downs.

Without thinking of political views, the message here is: we all experience failures and downfalls but in the end is a season of success. We just need to wait for it.

  • September – Save for future needs

In 29 September, the Christian Family Organization of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) Locale Congregation of Bel-air in Makati City invited me to be talk about managing personal finances. I asked myself if I can deliver – personally, I am not knowledgeable about this topic. I don’t even prepare a budget. But I accepted the invite. After the talk, I learned a lot of things from my personal experience to the stories of the church officers and members in the locale congregation. I am humbled to talk before business leaders and executives in banking, insurance and audit industries.

Allow me to share a summary of my talk. In the guide provided, it discussed six steps in learning personal finances. First, we must have our own short, medium and long-term financial goals but at the same time, knowing our real needs and wants. We might be overspending. When we set our financial goals, we need to determine how much our net worth is (money, properties; less liabilities and obligations). Reassess our spending habits and lifestyle if it is negative. How do we control our spending habits? By ensuring our cash outflow is no more than our cash inflow.

Most people have debts and loans. We can manage these by halting credit card spending (in my case, I do not use credit cards), stop creating new debts, and prioritize needs over wants. It is also important that we have savings for use in case of emergency. Most people use 80-20 rule – 20% of the income are saved.

A CNN article says that “Most Filipino millennials were ‘overwhelmingly optimistic’ about their retirement, with 97 percent of them expecting to lead the same lifestyle – or even better. However, only seven percent of millennials reported having a monthly savings plan and just eight percent had a quarterly plan. Ten percent of millennials don’t save at all. While millennials seem to be aware of their future needs, it still doesn’t seem to translate to regular savings and investment. “

The message is clear – save for future needs. This is one of the most important things I learned this 2018 as this year challenged me, financially – there were unexpected conferences and travels abroad.

  • October – Winning a game is not a success, trying is

In 17 December, when Steve Harvey asked Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray her most important lesson learned in her life, Cat was quick to answer, “I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it. See situations with a silver lining… teach (people) to be grateful.”

These were the lines I love most from Cat’s answer because I always share the same message to younger people I meet every day. But before that, I would like to congratulate Cat for bringing back the crown to the Philippines. You are one of the best examples of a season of success. More than your answer is your love to the Filipino children and to the Philippines by showcasing our history and culture. For me that is your winning piece, plus your confidence, which represents the Filipino spirit.

Let’s go back to the main topic. In the October 2018 CPA board examination, only 25% passed out of 14,358 – the lowest percentage since I got my license in 2015. I did not feel any disappointment. I was even proud of this batch, especially to my ‘anaks’. I never saw hate comments but stories of dedication. I know it was hard keeping the other feelings but they chose to think positively.

I would like to quote the story shared with VoicePoints by Cha, entitled “Finding the Silver Lining”: Cha failed in her first attempt in October 2015. She took the board in October 2016 but failed again. In May 2017, she made it. Cha wrote: “All things have two possibilities – the good and the bad. Each side has an equal chance of coming to life. You have 50% of failing and 50% chance of succeeding. But remember, you have 0% chance if you don’t try at all. It doesn’t matter if you failed before. What matters is that you never let a minor setback hold you back forever. For every failure, find the silver lining. For every storm, look forward for a sunny day. Keep trying.

This is a message of standing up when you fall. Success is not measured by numbers. Success is never about the length of a journey. Success is about the quality of your perseverance. It is a story of a great fighter, who never gave up his dreams. Success is about challenging the challenges. Success is never about winning a game but trying.

  • November – It is not about how much you have but how much you give

In October 18, my birthday, I represented the firm as a resource speaker in PUP-Manila for their Accountancy Academic Conference. It was my first there. I finally saw the situation of each classroom, I was just watching this on television. But the smile and positivity of each student was the highlight. I was touched. Then, I realized where the hardwork of every PUP student comes from.

The PUP experience did not stop there. While taking a break from The Voice JPIA Blind Auditions of NFJPIA-NCR in St. Scholastica’s College in 17 November, I had a chance to talk to a student-leader from PUP-Manila. He shared me the struggles of every Isko – from the education system to their personal life. I felt the tears from my eyes. Two days later, I sent an e-mail to the firm’s PPC Head regarding my plans for the accountancy department in PUP. The long process of this initiative started in 28 November when we met the officers of JPIA PUP-Manila after an audit convention in San Juan campus.

Also, from August to September, I organized and rolled out three events in Maynila and Baguio for October 2018 CPA reviewees. Before the event started, one asked me why am I doing this kind of initiative and advocacy – helping and motivating these students. The answer was simple – to give back because I also experienced the same thing. I want each of them feel that someone believes in them. Then on that night, a video from Community Chest came out and the message was: “Being rich is not about what you have but how much you give. When you give, you’ll be happier.” That video touched me. It has been my devotion since I passed the board to help these students and reviewees in their journey to becoming CPA. I know the act is simple and small but I hope that I was able to touch one’s life without expecting anything in return. The thank you messages I received is enough to continue this initiative. I also believe in a ripple effect that when you do good, people who saw it multiply and do the same.

In 15 December, we went to Banaue to reach out to children who are suffering from cerebral palsy. It was a day full of emotions. Thanks to the people who came to help and donate. The volunteers and director of Noah’s Ark are inspiring. They dedicated their life to help these children.

  • December – More than one perspective needed

A video of a junior high school student from Ateneo de Manila University bullying his fellow student has gone viral in 19 December. It has drawn the ire of netizens.

I want to focus on two different perspectives. I would like to commend the parents of the bullied student for issuing a statement saying that their children should not be seen as a loser but a hero for bringing attention to “an issue that was not discussed and not given a lot of attention it deserves.” The best response is having no retaliation. Making revenge does not make you braver. Sometimes, a reaction is what aggressors are looking for because they think it gives them authority over you.

Getting back at a bully turns you into one. While browsing the social media during that week, I saw friends sharing memes and photos of the student assaulting his fellow student. Sharing those kinds of materials does not help resolve the issue. It does not help stop bullying nor educate the younger generation. You may not be physically attacking an individual but you are becoming an advocate of cyberbullying.

I support the cry of most advocates that the dismissal of the student may not be the right move of the school administration. It might affect the psychological growth of the student. Parents and educational institutions have a major role to play in the development of a child. Well that’s my take. It may be right for me, it might be wrong for you because we are looking into different perspectives.

Having different perspectives does not mean agreeing with a one side and arguing with the other. It means respecting different opinions and views. So whatever statement written in this article, I do not need your approval nor support but an open mind so I could respect yours. I learned this during our audit methodology workshop in Seoul this December. Some countries have a different view on some audit methodology and provisions on draft auditing standards but at the end of the day, the comments were there to help improve the current process.

When I look back at who I was year ago, I am flabbergasted at how much I have changed.

I think, we can all agree that 2018 was not the finest year for most people in the world but it gave us unforgettable experiences – ups and downs, taught us to make choices – right or wrong, allowed us to meet new people – friends and foes, and helped us build confidence. This year was at best unexpected. But despite the doom and gloom, I will take all mistakes with me in 2019, learn from them and solve them, and take note all the greatest things.

What about yours? Share your stories with us by sending your article to desk@voicepoints.org or post your comments below this article.

About the Author

Paul Michael Jaramillo
Paul Michael JaramilloExecutive Editor
Paul is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a youth and environmental advocate, leader, writer, blogger, filmmaker and an organist. He’s the former Chairperson of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Ilocos Chapter. As a writer, he has found focus and interest on reproductive health, deaf rights, youth development. At the age of 14, he has fully embraced the call of leadership by leading student organizations and college publications. He was a recipient of the PGMA Campus Journalism Award. He joined and won national contests and published some articles related to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in a Spanish paper and website. Some of his articles were also published in leading Philippine news websites and featured in international organizations website.

He launched his career as a CPA in KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. Paul is currently leading the Data and Analytics Network (and its university arm) of KPMG in the Philippines. He is also the Business Lead for Innovation. He provides trainings to KPMG professionals in the Philippines. He also joined Financial Services Academy for Shared Service Centres (SSC) as a presenter. He is part of the Technical Advisory Group of the Firm's Department of Professional Practice, focusing on data and analytics, audit methodology, accounting standards, root cause analysis, system of quality management, and financial statement quality control review. He represents the Firm as a resource and motivational speaker, arbiter, adjudicator and judge in academic conferences, audit conventions, accounting and audit cups, and audit case study competitions. He sits as a member of Root Cause Analysis team of the Firm. Paul is an Audit Methodology Champion and Workforce of the Future Champion of the Firm. He is also the Firm's System of Quality Management Implementation Manager.

Paul is the Review Master and Head Coach of PREMIERE Review School.

Paul is a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) and a Church officer in their locale congregation.